The Vikings' pass defense is going to get a big-time test in this game.
Ranked at the bottom of the NFL the past two seasons, the Vikings have moved up to 20th (217.7 yards per game) in part because of a far-more effective pass rush led by Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen.
But the Cardinals have one of the best aerial games in the NFL. Arizona is ranked second in the league in passing offense, averaging 300 yards per game and has several weapons that can burn defenses.
Quarterback Kurt Warner's options include Larry Fitzergald (83 receptions), Anquan Boldin (83) and Steve Breaston (67). The Cardinals are likely to force the Vikings to have their nickel package on the field quite a bit, meaning cornerback Benny Sapp could end up playing a key role.
Arizona is last in the league in rushing, averaging only 75.4 yards per game, but considering the Vikings have one of the NFL's best run-stopping defenses, their ground game wouldn't stand to be much of a factor even if it was ranked in the middle of the pack.
On offense, the Vikings are likely to try to establish their run game with Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson. The Cardinals are 12th in the NFL in rushing defense (96.5 yards per game), but this isn't likely to deter Minnesota from staying on the ground.
This is especially true considering the fact quarterback Gus Frerotte will either try to play through a lower-back injury or be replaced by backup Tarvaris Jackson.
The Cardinals want to improve their running game, but they won't be stupid and try to do it Sunday against the Vikings, who give up fewer yards per rush than any team in the NFL. The Cardinals don't have a physical offensive line, and they don't pretend to be a power running team. They will throw the ball against the Vikings, hoping to get a lead and then maybe grind the clock late.
Defensively, the Cardinals are a decent run defense, especially at home. Their players tend to be jacked up to play big names, so they should be ready for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. The Cardinals' tackling can get sloppy at times, and they tend to run themselves out of their gaps at other times. If that happens against the Vikings, Peterson will have a huge day. Look for strong safety Adrian Wilson to move down close to the line of scrimmage in order to make some plays against the run.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings CB Cedric Griffin vs. Cardinals WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin — Although Griffin has played better in recent weeks, he did give up a 70-yard touchdown pass last Sunday to the Lions' Calvin Johnson. There is no doubt the Cardinals saw this on film and likely will attempt to go deep to either Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin. The preference almost certainly will be to go at Griffin, who is the right cornerback. Griffin isn't in the same class as veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield. The Cardinals also could try to get matchups with the slot receiver against nickel back Benny Sapp.
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Cardinals run defense — Peterson is likely to get the ball early and often in this game and, as usual, he will be a point of emphasis for a Cardinals defense that is likely to put eight-men in the box throughout the afternoon. Among those playing a key role in trying to stop Peterson will be middle linebacker Gerald Hayes, who has 72 tackles in 13 games this season. Peterson, who regularly takes a pounding, also will be running into (and he hopes away from) a tackle tandem of Gabe Watson and Darnell Dockett.
Vikings DE Jared Allen vs. Cardinals OT Mike Gandy — Gandy has faced elite rushers all year and played well. The Cardinals rarely go out of their way to help him. Allen, however, might be the best Gandy has faced, and he'll be coming from Kurt Warner's blind side.
Cardinals SS Adrian Wilson vs. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson — Wilson often moves down near the line of scrimmage to defend elite running backs, so it's expected he will do the same against Peterson. The collisions should be fun to watch.
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Vikings CB Antoine Winfield: Winfield is giving up six inches and 40 pounds to Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald isn't a real burner, but he's adept at using his size and strength to beat smaller corners.
Vikings-Cardinals game plan
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