When the offense struggles, the defense needs to pick up the slack. The Arizona Cardinals got a boost from the defense in their victory over San Francisco. The unit caused five turnovers against the 49ers including a defensive score. A new week brings a trip to Minnesota to take on a high-flying Vikings offense. Can the Cardinals defense rise up and slow the potent Minnesota offense? Today we focus on two points for the Cardinals to stymie the Vikings offense.
Put Pressure on Cousins
The Minnesota Vikings offensive line has struggled in pass protection. On the year quarterback Kirk Cousins has been sacked 14 times, ranking eighth most in the NFL. The sack percentage for Cousins ranks in the middle of the pack. However, Cousins has been hit a total of 35 times, tied for seventh. The numbers show a talented quarterback with a poor offensive line. It is a line that may struggle more with starting left tackle Riley Reiff listed as questionable. The Cardinals will have their chances to get to the quarterback and will need to take advantage of those opportunities.
Arizona is likely to get back defensive end Markus Golden and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche from injury. Both players missed the week five matchup against the 49ers. Both players are important pass rushers for the Cardinals. The Arizona pass rush sits tied in sixth place with 14 sacks on the season. Arizona is led by Chandler Jones and his four sacks and five quarterback hits. The Cardinals have the pieces on defense to get pressure on Cousins in addition to having the scheme to do so.
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The best pass rush comes from the front four. If Nkemdiche returns, expect him to line up next to Jones in pass rushing situations. Nkemdiche is aggressive and explosive off the line. Playing next to Jones helps to prevent double teams for both players. If the Vikings use running back or tight end assistance on either or both defenders, Arizona counters with either Golden, Rodney Gunter, or Benson Mayowa on the opposite side. Golden and Mayowa have shown their abilities as pass rushers off the edge and Gunter is another pesky interior lineman who can rush the passer. The Cardinals’ best chance to slow the Minnesota offense is to pressure and bring down Kirk Cousins.
Disrupt the Rhythm
Getting to quarterback Kirk Cousins can be made easier if the defense is able to disrupt the timing of the Vikings passing game. Due to the deficiencies of the offensive line, Minnesota will use a variety of pre and post snap options to give Cousins time to find open receivers. Arizona must maintain their assignments. The Cardinals secondary has talent but will have their hands full with wide receivers Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Laquon Treadwill. Throw in tight end Kyle Rudolph and the Vikings have the receiving weapons to do damage.
Arizona first needs to avoid giving Minnesota receivers a free release. Patrick Peterson and the rest of the secondary must jam receivers at the line of scrimmage before getting into their zones. Zone coverage allows the Cardinals to both disguise their coverage and slow down Minnesota receivers. In the Vikings offense timing is everything. Minnesota wants Cousins to get the football out quickly. Cousins has averaged under three seconds from snap to releasing the football. The Cardinals defense must also mix in some man coverage to keep Minnesota on their toes. Mixing coverage helps to confuse receivers and the quarterback by going against habits.
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Jamming receivers, disguising coverages, the Cardinals defense needs to try different things to slow down the Vikings offense. Zone blitzing helps to take away from short throws underneath. Switching to press-man coverage helps slow receivers at the line and gives time to the pass rush to get to the quarterback. Chandler Jones and Markus Golden have the ability to drop in coverage if needed. Disrupt the rhythm of the offense and the passing game will struggle.
The Cardinals need the defense to have another strong game. Minnesota is the more complete team, but there are areas on both sides of the ball that can be exposed by the Cardinals. Defensively, the Cardinals will need to disrupt the timing of the passing game and put pressure on Cousins. Defensive coordinator Al Holcomb has the talent to give Minnesota headaches. Ultimately the Cardinals are facing an uphill battle against a talented Vikings team in Minnesota. The defense needs to play near perfection and keep the Vikings off the scoreboard.
Prediction: Vikings win 31-13
At the end of the day, points win football games. Minnesota can score them in bunches while the Cardinals offense has struggled to average a touchdown a game. The perfect game for Arizona is their defense creating turnovers and adding a defensive score. Offensively the Cardinals need a clean game. Win the turnover battle and mix things up on offense. The Cardinals need perfection but have failed to show any semblance of mediocrity. On Sunday it could lead to a rout in Minnesota.