The third preseason game is typically the closest to what can be seen during the regular season. It is viewed as the final tune-up for teams as they head toward the regular season. For their third preseason game, the Arizona Cardinals are making the trip north to take on the Minnesota Vikings. How can the Cardinals improve after a rocky loss to the Raiders? Today we take a look at what the Cardinals are going to focus on, against the Vikings.
Offensive Line Progression
Through two preseason games, the Arizona offensive line has resembled the mess of last season. Injuries have been the name of the game. Starters, Justin Pugh and D.J. Humphries, have struggled to get on to the field. The lack of playing time from two starters have led to turmoil. Pugh’s absence pushed second-year player Mason Cole to get first-team snaps in the preseason. Unfortunately, Cole has not looked the part of a viable starting left guard.
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Arizona faces an uphill battle against the Vikings. Minnesota has a ferocious front four that will push the issue. The Cardinals need to see the progression from the offensive line. More importantly, the starting unit needs to show up. Against the Raiders, Arizona struggled to establish dominance at the line of scrimmage. On the ground or through the air, the Cardinals offensive line needs to get the job done. The Air-Raid offense negates offensive line deficiencies with large splits and getting the ball out quickly. It has not worked in the preseason. Saturday is another test. Can the offensive line pass?
Slow Down the Ground Game
As frustrating as the offensive line woes are the struggles of the defensive front. On paper, the front seven should not be this bad. They’ve failed to slow down opposing ground games. In just two weeks, the Cardinals’ defense has surrendered just over 300 yards on the ground. The Chargers and Raiders put together multiple drives of over 50 yards against the Arizona first-team defense.
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Part of the issue is a lack of quality depth along the defensive line. Arizona cut starters Robert Nkemdiche and Darius Philon who were involved in separate incidents with law enforcement. A third, Vincent Valentine, was also released after his own legal troubles. The suddenness of the losses left the coaches and front office with little time to adjust. As a result, the defensive line has struggled. The starting three of Corey Peters, Rodney Gunter, and Zach Allen are capable. The depth behind them is what is worrying. Arizona recently added to their group via trade with the Eagles. The Cardinals added second-year lineman Bruce Hector.
The Cardinals begin the regular season without cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford. Peterson sits as part of a six-game suspension after a failed drug test. The latter suffered a leg injury against the Raiders and is expected to miss significant time. Both were the assumptive starting cornerbacks for the Cardinals. The losses have made the cornerback room one of the weakest on the roster. Now the defense must figure out a gameplan without them.
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Arizona enters Saturday’s matchup desperately searching for their top cornerback tandem. It is likely to fall on rookie Byron Murphy and veteran Tramaine Brock. Murphy was drafted in the second round out of Washington. He is an Arizona native and has shown flashes during training camp and the preseason. The defense is predicated on being aggressive upfront. However, the coaches are unable to trust the backend to hold up. A weak secondary prevents aggressiveness upfront. Saturday’s game against the Vikings and their talented receivers will be a great indication.
Third Time’s the Charm
The Cardinals offense showed flashes in the first preseason game. Conversely, the unit struggled in week two. Defensively, the Cardinals have failed to offer a satisfactory showing through two preseason games. The issues on both sides of the ball have become clear. Arizona has two remaining preseason games to find a solution. Perhaps Saturday’s contest will give the team and fans what they’ve been looking for.
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