Special Teams – A unit that has been a bright spot in 2010 continued to be a major force in Minnesota. LaRod Stephens-Howling returned his second kickoff for a touchdown this season and Michael Adams recovered a fumble during a kickoff return and ran it back 30 yards for a score. Special teams answered when the offense could not and put points on the board, but Arizona can't count on this kind of production every week.
Larry Fitzgerald – The standout receiver had another quality game, catching seven balls for 107 yards against his hometown team. Fitzgerald was double-teamed for most of the game, but showed his ability to create separation and looked like the playmaker of old. Fitzgerald has had several productive games in a row and the Cards will need consistent outputs from the talented wideout to get back in the playoff hunt.
Fourth Quarter Defense – This falls less on the players and more on the change in philosophy by the coaching staff. For three quarters, the Redbirds were successful on defense by consistently blitzing Favre and forcing him into mistakes. They fell back on their heels in the final period, playing not to lose, instead of to win.
Favre picked the Cards' secondary apart to the tune of 446 passing yards for the game and two touchdown tosses in the final five minutes. Arizona's defense was most successful when they pinned their ears back and came after the Vikings' offense. If they can look at the film, use this game as a learning experience and grow from it as a unit, they could be a force down the stretch.
Running Game – Running the ball against the Vikings' talented front-seven was expected to be difficult. But 53 yards on 21 carries won't get it done. Beanie Wells was slowed by a knee injury and carried the ball only once, putting the load on Tim Hightower, who managed only 39 yards.
Although Minnesota was tough up front, the Cardinals went away from the run late and were unable to pick up short yardage when they needed to put the game away. The running game will need to step up its production if the Cardinals are to snap their three-game losing streak and get back on track.
Derek Anderson in the Pocket – While he had his moments, made smart decisions and did not turn the ball over, Anderson looked lost at times in Minnesota. The veteran signal-caller threw for 179 yards and a touchdown, but seemed indecisive in the pocket and missed on some key throws. Anderson also failed to make timely decisions late in the game and was sacked four times in six plays down the stretch. Anderson appears to be the starter going forward and in a league driven by quarterbacks, it will be on him to steer the Cardinals back into the division race.
Kerry Rhodes Interception Return – What should have been a great play early in a difficult road contest turned into a wasted opportunity. Rhodes was about to put the Cardinals on the board following an interception, but Greg Camarillo knocked the ball loose through the back of the end zone for a touchback. This one play sums up much of the Cardinals' season: just when it seems they are on the brink of success, they get caught from behind and lose all momentum.
The Bottom Line
Arizona showed a great deal of toughness and playmaking ability in Minnesota – two qualities that have been lacking this season. However, the Cards have been unable to put a complete game together, despite having the opportunity to prevail in several of their losses. Winning close games had been a benchmark for coach Ken Whisenhunt's teams the past and that ability will need to resurface for the season to be salvaged.
Follow Ryan Knowles on Twitter: @RyKno52
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