Arizona may appear to be a bottom-feeder in the NFC. But they are coming off a solid win over a division rival and they have new life with their rookie quarterback. On top of that, the last time the Vikings had a supposed easy win, they had the doors blown off by Buffalo. Nothing is a given in the NFL, especially with top contenders.
Get. To. The. Quarterback.
The Vikings did a surprisingly good job of getting pressure last week while rushing only four. What’s more, they did it without arguably their best pass rusher in Everson Griffen. In his stead, Danielle Hunter has taken the mantle of lead dog, recording a sack in each of the first five games. Stephen Weatherly, little more than a run-stopping specialist last year, has been more than adequate in his three stats. It was his strip sack that gift-wrapped Linval Joseph the fastest-moving 330-pound touchdown in league history. Even without the sacks, the Vikings’ pass rush kept Carson Wentz uncomfortable for the bulk of three quarters. It allowed them to build a sizable lead and ultimately hold off a late Eagles surge.
That said, the Viking pass rush has been hit-or-miss much of the season. The two weeks prior, Jared Goff and Josh Allen were quite cozy in the pocket, and thus consistently made plays. This week, Minnesota welcomes another young passer in Josh Rosen. While his numbers are gaudy–and not in a good way–Rosen is coming off his first career win and has a huge chip on his shoulder, thanks to his slight drop in the draft. His accuracy and pocket poise were his main draws coming out of UCLA, so if the Vikings struggle to get in the backfield, Rosen is certainly capable of making big-time throws. Upset the rhythm, however, and rookies can start to look a lot more like rookies. Rosen lacks the athleticism Allen used to kill the Vikings in the first half of week one, so if they get to him, he will likely either get the ball out or go down. Expect a few more blitzes from Mike Zimmer to test the rookie’s mettle.
Avoid Defensive Mismatches
It happened again Sunday. The Eagles exploited the Viking linebackers in the red zone by sending the running back on a deep route into the end zone. Week four, it was Todd Gurley on Anthony Barr. Last week, Wendell Smallwood burned Eric Kendricks. Few teams in the league utilize their running back as often and with as much variety as the Cardinals with David Johnson, and you can bet that they are looking at ways to get Johnson going in the passing game. Minnesota can counter by bringing Harrison Smith, or even George Iloka or Jayron Kearse down into the box more in passing situations to defend the running back. This would obviously have to be a situational fix, otherwise it would create more mismatches with linebackers elsewhere. Fortunately, the Cardinals have not utilized their tight end as much as Philadelphia, so a linebacker on a tight end is feasible.
Arizona is not dripping with talent at the receiver position, but they certainly have some playmakers. Larry Fitzgerald seems to be immortal, and rookie Christian Kirk had a 75-yard touchdown last week. That said, theoretically, the Vikings should be able to use man coverage to control the Cardinal receivers. That would allow safeties to drift elsewhere to handle tight ends and running backs, and keep linebackers from one-on-one mismatches. This could mean a few more three-safety looks with some more run for Iloka. Linebacker coverage is a weakness the league has clearly discovered, and the Vikings have to find a way to mask it.
Keep Arizona’s Secondary Guessing
The Cardinal defense is rich with solid players particularly in the secondary. Their safeties, particularly Budda Baker, are all over the field, especially since Deone Bucannon has apparently lost his status in Steve Wilks’ defense. Much of the Arizona defense depends on their safeties with Baker, Antoine Bethea and Tre Boston. Minnesota’s week five offense, heavy on play action and misdirections, is the perfect way to counter that. It is an offense that constantly forces the safeties to make reads, and if they read one thing incorrectly, big plays happen. It also helps against pass rush, and the Cardinals have a couple solid ones in Chandler Jones and Haason Reddick.
So yes, in essence, this key is for the Vikings to not change their plan offensively. Keep things quick and moving, force quick reads and allow the weapons to make plays.
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