The big question coming into the 2004 Vikings season was how the changes in defense – from new coordinator Ted Cottrell to free agent star Antoine Winfield to rookie Kenechi Udeze – would affect the Vikings as they look to take the next step in their ascent in the NFC.
The first test for the team had to be viewed as a success -- despite a key injury to cornerback Brian Williams (see below). The Vikings registered seven sacks against the Cardinals Saturday – by seven different players. Udeze saw a lot of action and played well, as did linebacker Dontarrious Thomas, who laid a couple of huge hits on Cardinals quarterbacks during his stint.
While the Cardinals are far from a top-flight team – Atlanta and Mike Vick will be a stronger test for the Vikings defense – the performance was very uplifting for a team that knows it has the offensive capabilities to put up a bunch of points but are still looking to find themselves on defense.
* News on the knee sprain on Brian Williams early in the game Saturday was both good and bad. While officially first diagnosed as a sprain, VU was told there were some serious concerns among the coaches and medical staff about the severity of the injury. As it turns out, an MRI Sunday showed no significant damage to the knee. But, enough damage was done that Williams won't play the remainder of the preseason – never a good sign on positions like cornerback and wide receiver, where quick cuts are a prerequisite. Initial word is that Williams will likely be listed on the team's Week One injury report vs. the Cowboys. When asked if pushing Williams back too fast could make a bad situation worse, a shrug was the best answer VU could get.
* Although the television audience and even the unofficial stats people in the press box credited rookie sideshow Brock Lesnar with a tackle Saturday, the team's official stats didn't include anything.
* The Cardinals, already without Anquan Boldin, lost Emmitt Smith and Larry Fitzgerald to minor injuries during the game. Both were announced during the game as probable to return, but neither did.
* The Vikings' domination of the Cardinals was pretty complete. For the game, the Vikings gained 387 yards, as opposed to just 256 for the Cards, who ran 15 more plays (67) than the Vikings (52).
* The yardage disparity was even greater in the first half, as the Vikings outgained the Cardinals 254-79 to take a 13-3 halftime lead.
* Daunte Culpepper finished 8-of-10 passing for 120 yards with a 110.4 passer rating. His only non-completions were on a low flip to Randy Moss on a third-and-2 that was just looking to move the chains and a triple-team jump ball in end the zone – also intended for Moss – on the game's opening drive. Despite trying to "dink-and-dunk" on their first two drives, the Vikings didn't have their 10th rushing play until their 35th play from scrimmage.
* Five different Vikings had receptions of 20 yards or more Saturday – Marcus Robinson (55), Moss (48), Nate Burleson (24), Aaron Hosack (24) and Kelly Campbell (20).
* If their was a disappointment, it was the lack of yardage from Michael Bennett and Onterrio Smith – who combined for eight carries for just 14 yards. Some might point to Matt Birk not being in the lineup, but Cory Withrow was praised with doing a very strong job – one of the reasons the Vikings spent money to keep him on the team as a backup in the event of a Birk injury.
* Fitzgerald's return to Minnesota didn't go as planned – he caught just one pass for 5 yards and was never a factor.
Defense Excels Despite Williams Loss
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