Typically, the key matchup focuses on two players – one from each team – that will be paired against each other throughout the course of the game. But the Arizona Cardinals are no typical opponent going up against a battered and bruised Minnesota Vikings defense, so this week’s matchup is the Cardinals’ Fab Four wide receivers against an injury-depleted Minnesota secondary.
The Vikings have been hit extremely hard by injuries over the last two weeks, especially at the safety position. Harrison Smith has missed most of the last two games, Andrew Sendejo was sidelined last week, Robert Blanton didn’t practice Monday and Tuesday and was limited Wednesday and Antone Exum was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday, creating a vacuum at the position that forced the team to make no fewer than five roster moves to address the problem.
With Smith, Sendejo and Exum ruled out of Thursday’s game and Blanton listed as questionable, the Vikings have had to scramble simply to find live, healthy bodies to fill the void.
The Vikings went out and signed Shaun Prater, who spent part of the last two seasons with the Vikings, off the street, promoted Anthony Harris from the practice squad and veteran cornerback Terence Newman could see time at safety Thursday against the Cardinals if more things continue to go wrong.
It couldn’t come at a worse time for the Vikings because their safeties and cornerbacks at full strength were going to be facing as daunting a challenge as any receiver corps they have faced this season.
Carson Palmer has thrown for 300 or more yards in eight of 12 games this season and the lion’s share of those yards have gone to their top four wide receivers.
Ageless Larry Fitzgerald has been the primary target of Palmer’s passes. He has 91 receptions for 1,047 yards and seven touchdowns. While his touchdown numbers have leveled off – just one in his last seven games, he has caught eight or more passes in each of his last five games and has been targeted 11 or more times in each of those.
Michael Floyd may be the most talented of the receivers on the squad and, after fighting through injuries early in the season, he has come on strong, scoring five touchdowns in his last seven games and putting up 100 or more yards in three of his last four games, averaging almost 18 yards per reception.
John Brown is second on the team with 51 receptions for 817 yards and four touchdowns. Brown emerged last season as a deep threat and nothing has changed there. In the last seven games he has played, he has at lead one catch of 35 or more in five games and a reception of 45 or more yards in four of them.
The new wild card in the mix is J.J. Nelson. He didn’t have a reception until November, but has become a dangerous deep threat used in spotty duty. He has just 11 receptions in the four games he has played, but has averaged 27.2 yards per reception and has become a one-trick pony that performs a really valuable trick.
Under ideal circumstances, the Cardinals would be a massive challenge for a Vikings secondary at full strength. But, given the depletion of the ranks of Vikings safeties, the battle between the Cardinals Four Horsemen of wide receivers going up against the injury-ravaged Vikings secondary is a frightening matchup to watch this week.