The Minnesota Vikings head to Arizona tomorrow with hopes of erasing the memory of the humbling loss Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks.
Given the laundry list of injuries the defense is dealing with, even Vikings fans may need a roster to recognize some of the faces they will be seeing on the field – much less going on the road to face a 10-2 Cardinals team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations
These are the 10 points of emphasis that will determine whether the Vikings come home with an upset win or continue the disappointing December that started last Sunday.
One For the Thumb – The Vikings have won four straight road games. With one more win, they will tie an all-time franchise record. The Vikings have erased the stigma that they can’t win on the road, but the Cardinals will be the stiffest road challenge the Vikings have had since traveling to Denver in Week 4.
The M*A*S*H Unit – The Vikings have been seeing defensive players drop like flies in recent weeks. With Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo all ruled out for Thursday’s game, the Vikings will be hard-pressed to make the next man up something that can inspire confidence.
Make A Statement – Of their eight wins this season, only one of them (St. Louis) has come against teams that had a record above .500 when the Vikings played them. At 10-2, the Cardinals could be the statement game that has gone by the boards in losses to Denver, Green Bay and Seattle.
The Tonight Show With Carson Palmer – Despite being 12th in pass attempts and tied for 10th in completions, Carson Palmer is third in passing yards (3,693), second in touchdown passes (29) and second in passer rating (106.3). He’s having a career year and with the Vikings defense as injured as it is, Palmer is likely drooling at the prospect of lighting up Minnesota in prime time.
Saddle Up Your Thoroughbred – In all four of the Vikings losses, Adrian Peterson hasn’t been a major factor. The four losses have all result in 16 or fewer carries for him, while the eight wins have all seen him get between 19 and 29 carries. After rushing just eight times last week against Seattle, Peterson claimed the Vikings were “outcoached.” Give the man what he wants, even if he takes a beating because you can rest assured the league’s fourth-ranked run defense won’t give up yardage easy.
Beat the Clock – One of the reasons the Cardinals have been so successful is that the routinely win the battle of time of possession. The Cardinals have held the ball on average five a minutes a game more than their opponents. If the Vikings are going to hang with them, they will need to control the ball and keep the high octane Cardinals offense off the field, something few other opponents have been able to do.
Get Off the Lawn! – No team is better on converting third downs than the Arizona offense at 46.3 percent. Making matters considerably worse for the Vikings, they Cardinals defense is second in the league in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 32.3 percent of their third-down opportunities. It’s one thing when a team can be elite on one side of the ball on third down. But both? No wonder they’re 10-2.
Finish Off Drives – The Vikings have been one of the worst offenses in the red zone in the league this season. They rank 29th in touchdown percentage, scoring TDs on just 13 of 30 drives (43.3 percent). Of all the things the Cardinals do right, one of them isn’t red zone defense. Arizona has allowed touchdowns of 21 of 34 possessions (61.8 percent), which ranks them 24th in the league.
Pick A Card, Any Card – The Cardinals have 16 interceptions this season, thanks to an aggressive defense willing to take chances. Three of those interceptions have been returned for touchdowns. Teddy Bridgewater will need to be careful with downfield passes because the Cardinals are as opportunistic as any defense in the league and, once they get their hands on the ball, bad things tend to happen.
Pick Your Poison – Perhaps no team in the league has more depth among dynamic receivers in the league. Larry Fitzgerald is still elite and proves it on a weekly basis. He is on pace to catch 120 passes for 1,400 yards and nine TDs. John Brown is on pace to top 1,000 yards, so he needs to be covered. Michael Floyd is arguably the most talented receiver on the team, but his numbers have been reduced due to injury. Even fourth receiver J.J. Nelson, who has caught just 11 passes, is averaging more than 27 yards per reception. With a secondary running on fumes, the Fab Four could be too much to handle.