The Vikings' offensive problems are many, and if they can't make hay against the Arizona Cardinals, things could get ugly.
Arizona is equally as inept on offense as it is on defense. But none of that should matter to a Vikings team that needs to focus on its own problems.
The Minnesota offense has so many issues right now it's hard to pinpoint any one area. Quarterback Brad Johnson
has struggled at times of late, but he also has receivers who have trouble hanging onto the ball (three drops against Miami) and the play calling coming from coach Brad Childress is about as predictable as it gets.
It's literally impossible to point the finger at any one central problem because of the multitude of inadequacies.
The Cardinals are in the middle of the pack against the pass and simply terrible against the run. The Vikings need to establish they can succeed in both areas Sunday or things could get ugly very quickly.
The Vikings' defense also has some areas it needs work, but at least it's easy to identify the shortcomings on this side of the ball. Starting with an Oct. 30 loss to New England, Patriots coach Bill Belichick
showed the world that if you spread the Vikings out and start passing against them, you're going to move the ball.
Miami came out of the gate doing this with Joey Harrington
on their first series Sunday and easily drove down the field before running back Ronnie Brown
fumbled the ball away on an ill-advised run call. The Vikings eventually tightened things up by playing more man defense and getting physical with Miami's receivers.
Nonetheless, Cardinals rookie quarterback Matt Leinart
likely will be going to the air early and often Sunday.
The threat of the run meant everything last week to the Cardinals offense. With Edgerrin James
gaining 96 yards, poor by his standards but his highest output since joining the Cardinals, it enabled Matt Leinart to return to his comfort zone and the offense finally began to more and score.
Springing James is essential to the well-being of the unit, but that chore is daunting in the face of the league's rushing defense leader, Minnesota. The Cardinals might be well-served by spreading the field with lots of four-receiver sets, trying to dent the Vikings with quick passing and then mixing in the run to achieve some balance.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings NT Pat Williams has made it known on a weekly basis that no center or running back scares him one bit and that certainly won't change this week. Edgerrin James, the Cardinals highly paid free-agent pick up, will come to the Metrodome as the marquee back for the NFL's worst rushing offense. The Vikings are No. 1 in this category and Pat Williams, along with fellow tackle Kevin Williams, are probably licking their chops about the opportunity to go against the Cardinals sub-par offensive line. James, a Pro Bowler still in search of his first 100-yard game with the Big Red, vs. the Vikings defensive front seven, which is the league's stingiest vs. the rush. It's been a tough go for James since he came to the desert as a free agent, although he nearly got his first 100-yard game last week. He posted 96 yards in a win over Detroit that snapped an eight-game skid. In two games vs. Minnesota while with Indianapolis, James rushed for 251 yards and added 135 receiving yards. When James has 100-plus rushing yards, his teams are 43-6 (.878). The Vikings are limiting foes to fewer than 65 rushing yards and less than three yards a carry, bad news for an opponent that still hasn't quite figured it out yet on the ground.
Vikings CBs Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield are part of a secondary that has been picked on regularly since New England gave the rest of the NFL a blue print on how to attack the Minnesota defense in Week 8. The Cardinals are likely to show the Vikings their version of a spread offense and it surely will involve getting the ball to Anquan Boldin (55 receptions, three touchdowns). This means that Smoot or Winfield will be relied on to slow Arizona's top receiver or this could turn into another long day for the Vikings.
Vikings starting DRE Kenechi Udeze is one of only two ends in the NFL who have started more than three games this season and don't have a sack (Oakland's Tyler Brayton is the other). Udeze will try to end that streak against his former USC teammate Matt Leinart. Of course, if that's going to happen he will first need to get around Cardinals left tackle Leonard Davis, the second overall choice in the 2001 NFL draft.
Cardinals DE Antonio Smith, once the pass-rushing terror of NFL Europe, vs. Vikings QB Brad Johnson, who is 5-0 in his career vs. the Cardinals. Smith is expected to take over for injured Bertrand Berry, the team's sacks leader, and its emotional leader. He has big shoes to fill, especially against this opponent. The seemingly ageless Johnson had his first four-touchdown-pass game against the Cardinals — 10 years ago.
Cardinals QB Matt Leinart, coming off his first career win, vs. Vikings DT Kevin Williams, who had three of his team's eight sacks and his first career interception the last time he faced the Cardinals. Leinart is to start his sixth game as a rookie and seemed to regain his confidence last weekend after two poor efforts, largely because the Cardinals kept Lions' pass rushers at bay. But now he faces Williams and a defense that has seen only three of its last 11 opponents reach the 20-point barrier.
DE Bertrand Berry, the right-side starter and a 2004 Pro Bowler, suffered a torn triceps vs. Detroit last weekend, is expected to undergo surgery and is lost for the season. Berry was the team's best pass-rushing threat with six sacks this season and one of its leaders on the field and in the locker room. It was Berry who called out teammates during the bye two weeks ago before they ended an eight-game skid with a win last Sunday over Detroit. This is a big loss as the team attempts to reverse its miserable fortunes over the closing six games. Antonio Smith is expected to move into the lineup with backup help from A.J. Schable, who was inactive last weekend. The Cardinals also might bring back Calvin Pace for limited backup duty. Pace had been Berry's backup for two years before he was moved to outside linebacker during training camp.
WR Troy Walters (hand), the fourth wideout did not practice Wednesday and is questionable vs. the Cowboys. The team will miss his experience and punt return capability. Those duties are expected to go to No. 3 receiver Bryant Johnson.
If CB Cedric Griffin is slowed by a neck stringer, Charles Gordon likely will find himself in the nickel role. Gordon, a rookie free agent, has moved ahead of Ronyell Whitaker in the nickel. The Vikings could feature a different look on the right side of the offensive line if guard Artis Hicks and tackle Marcus Johnson (sprained ankles) are slowed. Hicks appears the most likely to be sidelined. Jason Whittle would take his place.