The Arizona Cardinals found themselves in unfamiliar territory against the 49ers. Arizona’s offense exploded on the first play of the game with a long touchdown. The offense however sputtered the rest of the game and relied on the defense to carry the team to its first victory. On Sunday the Cardinals fly north to Minnesota and take on the Vikings. Here are two points for the Arizona offense to survive the Viking hordes.
Take Advantage of Vikings Linebackers
Minnesota linebackers have struggled in pass coverage. Against the run the unit has been strong and productive. However, the unit has been unable to defend opposing receivers in the passing game. Tight ends and running backs have played the part of the boogeyman for Minnesota linebackers. Against the 49ers, tight end George Kittle caught five passes for 90 yards. Green Bay’s Jimmy Graham finished with six catches for 95 yards. Philly’s Zach Ertz broke the century mark with 10 catches for 110 yards. These are just the tight ends.
Todd Gurley and Cooper Kupp combined for over 230 yards receiving and 13 receptions. Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr has been the main culprit in the coverage woes. He has been slow to react and pickup his assignments in the passing game. The unit as a whole lacks the ability to play the pass in space. Aside from ability, the issue is the defensive scheme used by the Vikings. Minnesota primarily employs man coverage. The secondary is talented with players like Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, but the key for offenses is to get athletic pass catchers matched up against Minnesota linebackers.
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Arizona has the personnel to take advantage of Minnesota’s weakness. Running back David Johnson moving into the slot or coming out of the backfield will put pressure on Minnesota linebackers. If the Vikings attempt to put a safety on Johnson, the Cardinals can then isolate Ricky Seals-Jones or Jermaine Gresham against one of the linebackers. Both tight ends are athletic and have enough speed to cause problems in the passing game. If Arizona wants to be creative they can use Christian Kirk or Larry Fitzgerald coming out of the backfield. Even if the Vikings go into a five or six defensive back alignment, they will likely need a linebacker in the game or risk the Cardinals running the ball out of passing formations. The Cardinals need to scheme against the Minnesota linebacker corps and take advantage of a glaring weakness.
Arizona did a superb job of avoiding turnovers against the 49ers. The Cardinals offense may not have moved the ball well, but they were able to punt the football rather than giving the 49ers a short field. Against Minnesota, the Arizona offense will need to continue the trend of being safe with the football. The Vikings are currently 2-2-1 on the season with wins against the 49ers and Eagles. Their two losses have come against the Bills and Rams, with the tie against the Packers. In the two victories, Minnesota’s defense have forced six turnovers. They forced zero in the other three games.
The Vikings are good at putting pressure on the quarterback. Head coach Mike Zimmer is known for his exotic blitzes. Against Zimmer and the defense, pass protection will be at a premium. The easiest way to create turnovers is to pressure the quarterback. Arizona may be without guard Mike Iupati and tackle Andre Smith. The Cardinals will likely replace both linemen with John Wetzel and Daniel Munyer. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy needs to find ways to protect quarterback Josh Rosen. Arizona can protect Rosen by mixing up protections and spreading out the defense.
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Part of mixing up protection schemes comes in utilizing both chips and double teams against defensive end Danielle Hunter. Hunter leads the Vikings with five sacks on the year and has the ability to move around the line. On the outside expect Arizona to chip with either a tight end or running back before leaking out for a route. It is also possible for Fitzgerald or another receiver to crack back at the snap to slow down Minnesota edge rushers.
Spreading out the defense with multiple receiver sets can help Rosen identify coverage and which defenders may be coming on the blitz. It is difficult to disguise a blitz when defenders need to turn and run to cover a receiver in open field. Spreading the field allows for a focus on quick passes which in turn limits the amount of time Rosen is holding the football. Quick and accurate passes can act as a supplement to the run game. This in turn helps to slow down the pass rush and limit risk for the Arizona offense.
Need a Chance
The Arizona offense will need to show up and perform on Sunday. Minnesota has a strong offense that can put points on the scoreboard. Expecting the Cardinals defense to save the day in consecutive weeks is not a viable option. McCoy and the offense need to avoid costly mistakes. Attacking Minnesota’s largest weakness is a good start. Spreading out the defense and going with a quick passing game will help move the football and keep the potent Vikings offense on the sidelines. Arizona does not need to score 30 points and win in a shootout. What is needed however, is an Arizona offense that can pressure the Minnesota defense and control the football. On Sunday the Vikings present another opportunity for the Arizona offense to earn their paychecks.