A weekly look at the Vikings’ upcoming matchup featuring numbers that shouldn’t give the reader a headache or require an advanced mathematics degree to decipher.
The Vikings couldn’t produce offensively beyond a 20-point second-quarter flurry in losing their fourth straight game, 26-20 at Washington. Arizona survived four turnovers, thanks to Chandler Catanzaro’s 34-yard field goal as time expired in beating San Francisco, 23-20.
Including two playoff games (both won by Minnesota), this will be the 27th meeting between the franchises. The Vikings hold a 15-11 advantage. The most recent matchup occurred in Arizona last December when the Cardinals held on for a 23-20 win.
Despite running just four plays in the third quarter and allowing four consecutive field-goal producing drives in the second half, the Vikings edged Washington in time of possession, 30:04 to 29:56.
Minnesota wideout Stefon Diggs is the first player in NFL history to record 13 or more receptions in consecutive weeks. In his last three games, Diggs has been targeted 42 times and has snagged 34 of those passes.
According to Pro Football Focus, Washington running back Rob Kelley accumulated 73 yards after contact against the Vikings. That figure exceeded Minnesota’s total ground-game output (47 yards).
The Vikings’ average of 69.8 rushing yards per game is nearly 100 yards below Dallas’ average (161).
In the final 22 minutes at Washington, the Vikings ran the ball four times and netted one yard.
Minnesota is scoreless in the first quarter during its four-game losing skid. For the season, the Vikings are 29th in the league, averaging 2.6 first-quarter points.
Minnesota is second in the NFL in terms of average starting position (their own 32-yard line), yet the team ranks 27th in points per drive (1.51).
Arizona is last in the league in average first-quarter points (1.6), but ranks sixth in first-quarter time of possession percentage (55.79).
The Vikings remain second in the league in turnover differential at plus-12. Arizona is 15th with an equal number of giveaways and takeaways.
If there is a positive in the loss at Washington, the Minnesota offense continued to improve its first-down production. A week after averaging 6.59 yards on first down versus Detroit, the Vikings averaged 6.71 yards against Washington. Most of that damage was through the air. Minnesota averaged 8.68 yards on its 19 first-down passes but a measly 2.3 yards on 12 first-down runs.
The Vikings kept Washington guessing on first down during the first half by running nine times and passing eight. In the second half, Minnesota became one-dimensional on first down. The Vikes passed 11 times on 12 first-down snaps.
Breaking Down Bradford
According to the stat sheet, Minnesota’s Sam Bradford had a sparkling afternoon in the nation’s capital. He compiled a 104.9 rating in completing 31 of 40 passes for 307 yards (6.6 per attempt) with two touchdowns and an interception.
However, those numbers were inflated by a short-passing attack. Per PFF, Bradford’s average depth of target was a mere 5.3 yards, the lowest in the league in Week 10. Of course, the short, quick passing game relied on by the Vikings is necessitated by an ineffective offensive line, which PFF ranks 30th in pass-blocking grades. That shortcoming was very apparent during Minnesota’s potential game-winning drive. When Bradford desperately needed time to throw, the line surrendered two consecutive sacks that extinguished any chance for victory.
For the season, Bradford has completed 197 of 283 attempts (69.6 percent) for 2,022 yards (7.1 per attempt) with 11 TDs and two interceptions. He’s definitely in a groove with Diggs, who has 26 catches the past two weeks and ranks third in the league with 61 receptions.
The Arizona defense has been strong all season, ranking second against the pass (195.2 yards a game) and 12th versus the run (100 yards a game). The Cardinals’ 1.35 points allowed per drive is best in the NFL. The Vikings, who appear to be going back to T.J. Clemmings at left tackle, will be challenged by Arizona’s explosive linebackers Markus Golden and Chandler Jones. The two have combined for 13 of the club’s 24 sacks.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson also should prove to be a challenging matchup for Diggs. Against the 49ers, the perennial All-Pro gave up only five yards in 41 snaps in coverage, according to PFF.
The Vikings thought they had an opportunity to finally establish a running attack against Washington, which was surrendering 123.8 yards a game and 4.9 yards per attempt. However, the ineptitude continued for Minnesota with just 47 yards (2.2 a carry). The Vikings’ propensity of running Matt Asiata up the gut on third-and-1 situations continued to cost them, as he was stuffed twice in the second half. Earlier in the game, it took him three attempts to score from the 1-yard line.
Asiata and fellow running back Jerick McKinnon have combined for 481 yards and a 2.98 per-carry average. As a team, the Vikings are averaging a historically low 2.7 yards a carry.
If the Vikings couldn’t run on Washington, they shouldn’t expect much success against the Cardinals. Arizona is eighth best in the league, allowing just 3.8 yards per rush.
Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer has battled back from a tough start to play solid football during the past several weeks. He threw for 376 yards against the 49ers and for the season is 207 of 331 (62.5 percent) for 2,444 yards (7.4 per attempt) with 11 TDs and eight interceptions. His rating is 86.0.
Palmer’s primary target is nine-time Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald, who is second in the league with 68 catches for 687 yards (10.1) and five touchdowns. Other dangerous downfield targets include John Brown, who has 30 catches for 380 yards (12.7) and one score and Michael Floyd, who has snagged 24 passes for 358 yards (14.9) and three touchdowns.
While the stationary Palmer has plenty of weapons, he is prone to taking sacks and committing turnovers. He’s been sacked 26 times in 2016, and in addition to his eight interceptions, he’s fumbled 10 times.
Palmer is a tempting target for Minnesota’s floundering pass rush. The Vikings have just seven sacks in their past six games. Against Washington, they blitzed Kirk Cousins 45.7 percent of the time but recorded just 14 pressures and one sack, according to PFF. The lack of pressure certainly hurt the Vikes on third down as Washington converted six of 12 attempts in compiling 388 yards (260 passing and 128 rushing). The Minnesota defense now ranks sixth against the pass, giving up 211.8 yards a game.
Minnesota struggled against Washington’s mediocre running game, allowing Kelley to gain 97 yards on 22 carries and the team to average 4.6 yards per attempt. Missed tackles continue to plague the Vikings, notably Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith. PFF calculates that Smith has missed seven tackles the past three games, which matches his 2016 full-season number.
The Vikings defense is 10th in the league, giving up 97 yards a game on the ground. Minnesota is allowing 4.1 yards a carry, which ranks 14th.
The Vikings will face a significant challenge in trying to stop Arizona running back David Johnson, who paces the team in rushing with 760 yards (4.3 a carry) and is the club’s second-leading receiver with 40 catches for 453 yards (11.3). Johnson has scored 10 touchdowns.
Best of the Rest
Vikings on offense
Vikings points per game: 19.4 (26th)
Arizona points allowed per game: 17.8 (third)
Vikings total offense: 302.3 yards (32nd)
Arizona total defense: 295.2 (second)
Cardinals on offense
Arizona points per game: 22.4 (20th)
Vikings points allowed per game: 16.9 (first)
Arizona total offense: 382 yards (eighth)
Vikings total defense: 308.8 yards (third)
According to FiveThirtyEight, Minnesota has a 54 percent chance of beating Arizona.
‘s NFL simulation engine had the Vikings winning 44.7 percent of the 501 simulated matchups with the Cardinals. The average score had the Cardinals prevailing, 25-23.