There are strengths and weaknesses to every defense. The Vikings are one to consistently claim they don't change what they do defensively based on an opponent. It's up to debate whether that approach has worked – being the fifth-ranked run defense in the NFL through four weeks has earned the Vikings no wins.
The Arizona Cardinals would seem to be in a similar situation. They have lost three games by a total of eight points – all games they had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, but they have one significant flaw – their big-play pass defense.
No team in the NFL has allowed more completions of 20 yards or more than the Cardinals, who have allowed 23 such plays – a whopping six per game. By comparison, the Vikings have allowed just 10 such plays in their first four games.
Why? Because the Cardinals have a blitz-happy, risk-taking defense, known both for making big plays and causing turnovers, but also surrendering big plays when those blitzes don't succeed. It's a pick-your-poison style that suits Vikings wide receiver Devin Aromashodu.
Aromashodu was signed after the lockout concluded to provide the Vikings with a deep threat. In last week's game at Kansas City, Aromashodu was given his first chance to be the Vikings' deep-threat receiver and responded by hauling in a 34-yard touchdown pass. He's looking forward to the chance to be part of the vertical passing game that has been sorely lacking from the Vikings through the first month of the season.
"That's one of the things the coaches stressed today in our first meetings about the Cardinals," Aromashodu said. "They make a lot of plays on defense, but they give up a lot of big plays too. We just want to force them into either changing what they do or take advantage of the big plays when they come."
One of the numerous problems with the Vikings offense has been the lack of a vertical passing game. Donovan McNabb has connected on just 2 of 13 passes of 20 or yards and none of them were recorded as receiver drops by the league. They've been high. They've been low. They've sailed out of bounds on sideline passes. McNabb has been at the center of the blame game over the lack of firepower in the offense, but Aromashodu said there is a lot of culpability to go around.
"It's a number of things," Aromashodu said. "I wouldn't just put it on not getting a lot of passes deep downfield. It's a combination of many different things. Everything works together to get an offense going. If we can hit on all cylinders, those big plays will come along with it."
The aggression of the Arizona defense has produced 10 sacks – by nine different players. They blitz linebackers. They blitz safeties. They blitz cornerbacks. When that happens, the requirement is to get to the quarterback within three seconds. If they don't they get scorched, Michael Jenkins said that the Vikings need to take advantage when they have a cornerback singled up on an island.
"You know it's there," Jenkins said. "They're going to bring some pressure. That's what they do. That will give us some opportunities on the back end to make plays down the field one-on-one. Hopefully we can take advantage of that when they show those looks."
Aromashodu said that the Cardinals aren't likely going to change their style when they meet the Vikings. Given McNabb's struggles with accuracy, they may dial up even more blitzes. Aromashodu believes that could open things up if the Vikings can keep the blitzers off McNabb and give him time to deliver the home run.
"On a lot of plays, my role is to get downfield and give a chance to go deep," Aromashodu said. "I know that and I have to make sure that when we do take deep shots, that I'm doing my job. We need to make more big plays and, whether it's me or Bernard or Jenkins or Shiancoe or whoever, we all need to step up."
Aromashodu said the Vikings won't change their style to counteract what Arizona does best – that's not their style – but he said he doesn't expect the Cardinals to change theirs, either. It's a high-risk, high-reward scheme that, when it's working, make the Cardinals look like a playoff team. When it doesn't, it makes them look a draft lottery pick. Aromashodu said every team has its style and being aware of that is what will make the difference between McNabb being sacked and making a big-play connection to his new deep target. The Cardinals are hyper-aggressive on defense, but that leaves openings that can be exploited.
"If it always worked, every defense would do it," Aromashodu said. "They have a history of bringing blitzes from everywhere and trying to force the issue. We know that coming in. What we need to do is take advantage of the opportunities that style will open up and make the big plays we know we can."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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