Today’s Vikings-Cardinals tilt in Arizona was originally scheduled to go down starting at 3:15 central time, but because the Vikings are an elite team featuring two of the top offensive stars in the NFL, the league used their flex scheduling powers and gave the game a prime time showcase.
This is wonderful validation for the Vikings and their position on the national sports landscape, but it bites for those of us who hate waiting all those extra hours to see our team in action.
Thankfully, this year, the Vikings are a team worth waiting for. They win, and do so in an entertaining, often dramatic fashion.
Although, lately, the drama has been somewhat missing from the Vikings formula. Over the last three games, the average margin of victory for the Vikes has been 23 points. Among those three, only the Detroit game was close going into the 4th quarter.
Tonight’s match-up with Arizona figures to be a different matter.
The defending NFC champs are, at 7-4, far and away the best team in the NFC West once again. They feature a potent passing offense led by wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is having another brilliant season. Their defense gets torn up some by the pass – exhibit A: Vince Young last week – but, in classic bend-but-don’t-break fashion, surrenders less than 20 points-per-game.
If form holds for the Cardinals and Vikings, passing should be the story of the game tonight.
Brett Favre, if he receives the kind of protection he’s seen for most of the year, should have a relatively easy time racking up yards and points on the Cardinals. The Cardinals, likewise, should be in good shape against the Vikings D, if Kurt Warner has recovered from his concussion and is able to start. All indications right now are that Warner will indeed be behind center, leaving Matt Leinart on the bench.
Then again, if we think back to last year’s Vikings game in Arizona, perhaps we have reason to believe Warner and the passing attack won’t be as deadly as we fear.
In that mid-December match-up, a 35-14 victory for the Vikings, Minnesota’s defense clamped down on Larry Fitzgerald, holding him to 52 yards on 5 catches. Warner was relatively inefficient that day himself, going 29-for-45, and throwing a pick. The Vikings pass rush had a lot to do with Warner’s bad day: They sacked him 4 times, 2 of those coming courtesy of Jared Allen. The Cardinals running game, never much to begin with, was completely stifled that day, managing just 43 yards on 7 attempts.
The Vikings, meanwhile, put much of the load on Adrian Peterson, who ran for 165 yards on 28 carries. That fine AD performance set up Tarvaris Jackson to throw a career-high four touchdowns, two of the 40-plus variety, while Bernard Berrian added a fifth TD via punt return.
The old Chillyball was in effect that day in Arizona, as evidenced by Tarvaris’s 17 pass attempts. I will go out on a limb right now and predict that Brett Favre will have more than 17 pass attempts tonight.
Add it all up, and we have every reason to expect some kind of epic shoot-out between Favre and Kurt Warner. Both quarterbacks are blessed with weapons aplenty. The X-factor, though, is the Vikings’ run game, which unlike the Cardinals run game, actually exists.
Despite the well-publicized struggles of Adrian Peterson, the Vikings still have one of the top rushing attacks in the league, both yardage-wise (9th) and touchdowns-wise (tied for 6th). The Cardinals, on the other hand, are still without a reliable #1 runner, and once again languish near the bottom of the rankings.
Cardinals fans will point out that having no running game didn’t stop them from making, and almost winning, the Super Bowl last year, while having Adrian Peterson failed to get the Vikings past the first round. Fair enough. However, when a team rushes the passer with their front four as effectively as the Vikings do, it helps to run the ball more than 7 times, unless you enjoy watching your aging quarterback spend most of the day on his butt.
The Cardinals clearly love passing, but I’m guessing they will at least attempt to run early. I’m guessing the Vikings’ run defense, which has been rounding into shape after some uncharacteristic early problems, will have little trouble stuffing the Cards’ nondescript backs.
Likewise, the Cardinals will almost certainly load up to stop Adrian Peterson…like every team does. This will leave the Vikings’ underrated receivers in single coverage situations. Brett Favre vs. single coverage usually equals big yards and big points.
The only thing standing between the Vikings and another huge offensive day could be health. Visanthe Shiancoe and Chester Taylor, two of Favre’s favorite short-range targets, are nursing rib injuries, and slant-specialist Bernard Berrian is once again not 100%.
The pressure this week, much more so than in recent games, will be on the Vikings defense. They haven’t faced a passing game this outstanding since their visit to Lambeau in November, when Aaron Rodgers, despite lack of pass protection, rang up 287 yards and 3 TDs.
The living’s been easy for the Vikes lately, against lame, one-dimensional teams like the Bears and Seahawks. The Cards could easily become one-dimensional if the Vikes once again stone their running game, but that one dimension is so outstanding that the Vikes could still be in trouble.
It all boils down to the pass rush. Get to Kurt Warner and the Vikes should be in the happy zone. Let him work and we could see some major league gashing in the desert.
If the game does indeed turn into a shoot-out…I like my chances, with Brett Favre on my side.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers Adrian Peterson Arizona Cardinals Bernard Berrian Brett Favre Chester Taylor Chicago Bears Jared Allen Kurt Warner Larry Fitzgerald Matt Leinart Minnesota Vikings Seattle Seahawks Tarvaris Jackson Vince Young Visanthe Shiancoe