This week’s three keys to an Arizona Cardinals victory are an attempt to right the ship. The boys have lost two straight games after a 4-0 start, and the culprit is no secret.
Arizona’s offensive line has been atrocious the past three games, starting with a Week 5 win over the Miami Dolphins. That game featured a Cards’ offensive line that surrendered eight sacks—4.5 to DE Cameron Wake by himself—and 15 hurries of their quarterback, the now injured Kevin Kolb.
The next week, a 17-3 loss to the division rival St. Louis Rams on Thursday Night Football, they were even worse, letting in nine sacks and an astounding 34 total pressures.
Last week they were better, but not much.
With Kolb’s rib injury reportedly costing him no less than six weeks of game action, the ship’s captain is now John Skelton once again. How he performs behind the sieve that is his band of linemen could determine the outcome of the game.
To keep the boat afloat and remain in the NFC West race, the Cardinals must have success in these three areas. If not, they will drop a third consecutive game and out of the division lead.
Protect Captain Skelton from the Mischievous Vikings
The two men who were relied upon to block Minnesota defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison during last season’s 34-10 shellacking—Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges—are taking the season off to recover from injuries. Allen and Robison combined to compile all four sacks the line surrendered, and they were in the backfield all afternoon.
That duo is the point of emphasis once again this season, as new tackles D’Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie attempt to stop them in their tracks.
Batiste has allowed at least five pressures every week this season and is second in sacks allowed to his teammate, Massie. The duo of Batiste and Massie has given up the most sacks by far of any tackle combination in the NFL, and if they cannot buckle down and allow Skelton time, it will only get worse this week.
The Cardinals brought in former Chicago Bears 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams Thursday (via Darren Urban, AZCardinals.com), a left tackle who had played virtually everywhere on the line but left tackle during his time in Chicago. If the issues at tackle get worse, Williams could be brought in in an attempt to rectify the situation.
Adam Snyder has been just as bad as his brethren on the line and must shape up in a hurry as well.
One can blame the injured triceps that has been giving him a problem the majority of the season as the reason he has been so shoddy. Or, could it be that the signing of Snyder by the Cardinals’ brass was a bad move to begin with?
While it may be too early to decide that, it is not looking good for either party concerned.
Limit Damage Done by ‘AD’
In last year’s matchup at the Metrodome, Adrian Peterson went off to the tune of 29 carries for 122 yards and three touchdowns. All three scores came during a wretched first quarter in which Minnesota scored four touchdowns to Arizona’s none—current NFL Network analyst Donovan McNabb ran in a TD of his own during that quarter.
Back then, the defense was still learning coordinator Ray Horton’s scheme, which at that point was still sort of an enigma to them.
This time around, the defense is one of the NFL’s best, and it will have its hands full (of Peterson’s jersey, hopefully).
Despite Peterson missing the final four games of the 2011 season with a torn ACL and MCL, he returned for Week 1 ready for action. He is sixth in the NFL with 499 yards rushing and two touchdowns—both scores came during his Week 1 return.
Peterson has been held to under 80 yards rushing just twice this season. The Vikings lost both games.
Limiting him to that benchmark will be a challenge, but to date this season only two running backs have topped the 80-yard mark on Arizona’s defense: Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch and Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller. They have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher on the season and have just three rushing touchdowns against them—two last week in the loss to the Bills.
Stifle the Cannon on the Pond(er)
Getting pressure on Christian Ponder is imperative. Minnesota’s offensive line has been good this season—one of the best. But when Ponder is under pressure, the team tends to lose.
In the Vikings’ four wins this season, Ponder has stayed relatively clean. He was sacked just five times during those games and was hurried an average of six times. During the two losses, Ponder took eight sacks and was hurried an average of 8.5 times.
The difference in hurries may seem minimal, but they mean a lot when talking about getting inside a quarterback’s head. Constant pressure on a QB can increase the “clock” in his head, causing him to flee the pocket or rush a throw.
Cardinals fans know all too well what pressure does to a quarterback, unfortunately.
Arizona averages just over three sacks per game on defense—they are the NFL’s No. 3 pass-rushing unit with 19 sacks through six games.
But this same logic can also be applied to the pass rush itself.
In the Cardinals’ four wins this season, the defense tallied 15 sacks—3.75 per game. They have totaled just four over the past two games, both losses. Two sacks per game will not get it done for this unit. They thrive on pressuring quarterbacks, and when they do it, they win.
Matchup to Watch: Cards’ CB Patrick Peterson vs. Vikes’ WR Percy Harvin
This is a matchup even fans of a casual nature can appreciate. Everyone knows of the athleticism these two players possess. The speed. The quickness. The strength.
Patrick Peterson and Percy Harvin represent two of the NFL’s fastest and most dangerous men with the ball in their hands—especially on special teams. One fields strictly punts. The other strictly kickoffs. The two have combined for 3,971 yards and nine touchdowns throughout their respective careers on special teams.
But this matchup is not to compare yards or touchdowns on special teams.
Harvin leads the NFL with 49 receptions and is seventh with 540 yards receiving.
The two will be joined at the hip Sunday as Peterson attempts to staple his jersey to Harvin’s and slow down the NFL’s all-purpose-yards leader.
The only way Peterson can stop Harvin on kick returns is by shutting off his side of the field on defense, helping his teammates keep Minnesota out of the end zone.
Shutting off Harvin’s side and keeping him at bay will likely be his most difficult assignment to date, but if he does so Arizona’s chances of pulling off another upset go way up.
Prediction: Vikings 20, Cards 17
**Breast Cancer Awareness Update**
Larry Fitzgerald has vowed to donate to breast cancer awareness $1,000 for every reception and $5,000 for every touchdown he scores during the month of October.
Week 5: Eight receptions
Week 6: Six receptions, one touchdown
Up-to-date total: $19,000