There are times when one analyzes an opponent that a mismatch seems obvious. If a team is starting a pair of backup cornerbacks, those players are often targeted to get abused throughout the game. The same goes if a team doesn't have a strong pass rush. Any quarterback can look like Joe Montana when he drops back, has the time to survey the field and pick and choose which receiver is more wide open. When it comes to the Vikings-Cardinals game Sunday at Mall of America Field, there is one position battle that looks, on paper anyway, to be a huge mismatch – making the man-to-man competition between Jared Allen and Arizona left tackle D'Anthony Batiste this week's key matchup.
Much has been made of the Cardinals' recent struggles on the offensive line, having allowed 22 sacks in the last three games and seeing their quarterbacks routinely running for their preservation and taking a legal beating at the hands of opposing defenses.
Vikings guard Charlie Johnson, who spent the early portion of his career protecting Peyton Manning, was part of an offensive line that would allow 22 sacks in a season, much less in three games. He said he has a hard time understanding why the Arizona offensive line is struggling so badly.
"It would be one thing if everybody was really young, if everyone was really old or they had a bunch of injuries that forced guys out of the lineup," Johnson said. "But they've got a good mix of veterans and younger guys. Sometimes you just shrug your shoulders and ask why that is. I don't know why they're having such problems the last few weeks."
The Cardinals' five offensive linemen have all started each of the six games the team has played this season and through the first three games had allowed just six sacks – not bad at all considering they played Seattle, New England and Philadelphia, all teams that bring the heat consistently. This is where Batiste comes in, because he has been as bad an offender as anyone on the Arizona O-line in terms of getting beaten at the line and letting defenders tee off on his quarterback.
Batiste can best be described as a journeyman. He entered the NFL in 2006 and spent one year with Carolina, one year with Atlanta, two years with Washington and split time with Denver and Arizona in 2010. A career backup, in his first six seasons he was active for just 21 games and made only four starts. In many respects, he was viewed as a player of last resort, not the kind of franchise bookend left tackle you want protecting your quarterback's blind side.
Batiste has struggled badly against speed rushers and few players have the speed-rush ability that Allen brings to the table. He can push defenders backward, stunt, use a swim move to get on the inside or use his burst off the line to loop around the tackle and get to the quarterback. He has all the tools and is as polished a defensive end pass rusher as there is in the league and arguably the best 4-3 defensive end in the league.
Compounding Batiste's problems on Sunday is that, not only does Allen have a penchant for getting sacks in bunches when he has his man overmatched, he has an innate ability of ripping at the quarterback's throwing arm an instant before he makes contact with his body. Few players have the ability to deliver the big blindside blow to the quarterback and also knock the ball loose and create game-changing turnovers.
Given the recent history of the Cardinals playing tight, relatively low-scoring games – since the start of the 2011 season, 17 of the 22 games they have played have been decided by seven points or fewer – one or two such plays could give the Vikings the advantage they need to tip the scales of momentum in their favor. Batiste is likely going to get help from tight ends, fullbacks and running backs to chip Allen to slow his momentum, but there should be some plays in which Batiste will be on an island forced to stop Allen one-on-one. The opportunities will be there to change the flow of the game and give the Vikings a huge advantage, making this the matchup to watch on Sunday.
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.
Key matchup: Batiste vs. Allen
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