Arizona Cardinals vs. Minnesota Vikings: Live Game Grades and Analysis

Shaun Church@@NFLChurchContributor IOctober 21, 2012

Arizona Cardinals vs. Minnesota Vikings: Live Game Grades and Analysis

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    Vikings 21, Cardinals 14

    Arizona falls for a third consecutive time, dropping to 4-3 after a 4-0 start. Protection was non-existent once again despite the rushing attack from LaRod Stephens-Howling.

    The line surrendered six more sacks, the majority coming at the most inopportune times possible. All but one were drive-stifling sacks, moving the offense too far to manage too many times.

    LSH carried the load, rushing 20 times for a career-high 104 yards and a touchdown. William Powell hardly played after fumbling a kick return.

    Larry Fitzgerald caught only four passes for 29 yards and was shut out for roughly two quarters before getting a fourth-quarter scoring drive going with a 16-yard reception.

    Andre Roberts led the way—as is the custom when John Skelton starts—with seven receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown. He also led the team with nine targets.

    Inside linebacker Daryl Washington was the team leader once again, racking up nine more tackles and two more sacks. His six sacks are a career-high for a season, and he leads all ILBs in that category. He is having a monster year.

    Here are the game grades for the Cardinals' loss at Minnesota.

John Skelton, C

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    Final Grade: C

    One mistake masked a decent game from John Skelton. He completed 25-of-36 for 262 yards, one touchdown and the pick-six that turned the game. His 69.4 completion percentage for the game is a single-game career-high.

    But he took seven sacks and was under pressure most of the day—is reading that sentence getting old yet? Sure is getting old typing it.

    Skelton looked like his usual self, calm under pressure, made plays when he was asked to. But that interception will be talked about all week—you can bank on that.

    Fourth Quarter: D-

    John Skelton apparently has forgotten how to throw the ball away. Taking unnecessary big hits is how Kevin Kolb was lost for two months; losing Skelton is not an option.

    Skelton led a touchdown drive late in the quarter to give the team hope if an onside kick was executed. It was not, and his interception for touchdown in the third quarter was indeed the difference.

    Third Quarter: D

    A bad start to the second half for Skelton. He threw a bad pass that was picked off by rookie safety Harrison Smith and returned 31 yards for a touchdown. It was one of those throws he tried to force into coverage to make a play because no one was open.

    Skelton continues to be hurried by pressure, and shots downfield are not being taken. He missed Fitzgerald on one opportunity when he had one-on-one coverage.

    Second Quarter: B-

    Continuing his good start, Skelton completed 3-of-5 passes for 35 yards in the second quarter. He looks calm, cool and collected when standing in the pocket and has delivered good passes consistently.

    One misthrow occurred on a third-down situation. Skelton missed Larry Fitzgerald over the middle with a pass that came in too low for the All-Pro to reach, forcing a punt.

    First Quarter: C+

    Skelton has looked good early on, and that is a welcome sight for Cardinals fans. His bugaboo throughout his career has been that he is a slow starter. So far, he is 6-of-8 for 43 yards—a much better beginning than that to which we are accustomed.

    But right tackle Bobby Massie was beaten by Brian Robison on a 2nd-and-10 play from Minnesota’s 14-yard line, and Skelton was stripped of the ball, causing a turnover.

Offense, C+

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    Final Grade: C+

    LaRod Stephens-Howling was the star of the offense all afternoon. He carried the ball 20 times for 104 yards and a touchdown. He added four receptions for 45 yards—his 149 yards from scrimmage are a career high.

    Andre Roberts came to play as well, finishing quietly with seven receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Rob Housler had five receptions for 54 yards, both career highs as well.

    But that offensive line…Something needs to be done about the line. Former Chicago Bears tackle Chris Williams was in for a visit last week; he needs to be at practice Tuesday.

    Fourth Quarter: F

    LaRod Stephens-Howling was the lone bright spot again, surpassing 100 yards rushing during the quarter. There was no passing attack, however. Skelton completed passes, but the yards were not available.

    The line failed Skelton again, getting to the quarterback on a key fourth-down play to try and extend a drive late in the game. Skelton went down three times during the quarter—six times for the game.

    Third Quarter: D

    Arizona is getting creative, but it is not doing anything in the way of points on the board. The pick-six set them back, but they are still moving the ball on long drives. These long drives must start ending in six points.

    Missed field goals will not do.

    Coach Ken Whisenhunt believes in that as well, as he went for it on fourth down well in Feely’s range, but the play did not develop. They turned it over on downs.

    The Vikings’ defense is tightening up, so opportunities are getting slimmer.

    Second Quarter: C

    Offensive line. It is a problem, and it continues to stop drives in their tracks. Robison is handily beating Massie; he has both Vikings sacks today and has four in the past two games against the Cardinals.

    The offense was able to take advantage of a short field following a Paris Lenon interception, punching it in from three yards out on a Stephens-Howling run. LSH has 12 carries for 42 yards and the touchdown.

    First Quarter: C+

    Arizona’s first drive was a dud, as they went three-and-out. But the second drive used a nice mix of run and pass, and they were able to move down the field. A sack/strip from Robison of Skelton, however, ended the drive prematurely. Offensive line woes rear their ugly head once again.

    LaRod Stephens-Howling, who received his second-consecutive start following injuries to Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, has carried the ball six times for 29 yards.

    That 4.8 yards-per-carry average is much improved over what he showed last week, when he mustered only 2.0 YPC during last week’s overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Defense, A-

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    Final Grade: A-

    These guys were great the final 36:26 of the game. They sacked Christian Ponder three times—two by Daryl Washington—but Ponder completed only 3-of-10 for 12 yards and one interception over that time, keeping Arizona’s offense within arm’s reach.

    Ponder finished 8-of-17 for 58 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for a 35.5 QB rating. Before today, he had not completed less than 60.0 percent of his passes (21-of-35 vs. San Francisco), and his 47.1 completion percentage is the lowest since the final game of the 2011 season, a 17-13 loss against Chicago in which he completed just 4-of-10 (40.0 percent) for 28 yards and an interception.

    Adrian Peterson is back to being his old, bad self. He carried 23 times for 153 yards and a touchdown, gashing the defense at times early. They stepped up and slowed him down as the game wore on, however.

    Fourth Quarter: A

    Nothing but three-and-outs for Minnesota this quarter. They buckled down fiercely and stifled Ponder all day—but especially the second half and final quarter. Even Peterson’s attack has been slowed.

    They did all they could do, but there was no help from the offense. Another great performance goes by the wayside.

    Third Quarter: B

    Ponder is having quite a difficult time today. He continues to be under pressure, taking hits and being hurried out of the pocket.

    Peterson is doing what he does best, breaking leg tackles and gaining yards after contact. For the record, I have no idea why defenders continue to dive at his legs; it has never worked, and it is not working today. Hitting him high and holding on to wait for help seems like a better option.

    Second Quarter: B

    An interception by veteran linebacker Paris Lenon on the first play of the second quarter led to the game-tying touchdown. But Peterson is running wild on the Cardinals’ defense.

    Christian Ponder was under pressure all quarter, including being sacked once, but the defense allowed a second touchdown in the first half for the first time this season. Ponder found Percy Harvin streaking across the middle wide open for a 3-yard score.

    A second interception—from Sam Acho—gave the Cardinals an opportunity, but it was squandered.

    First Quarter: D

    Thanks to a William Gay pass interference call, Adrian Peterson scored on a 13-yard run to cap off an impressive second drive from Minnesota. The drive covered 88 yards in just five plays and took 2:57 off the clock.

    It is a disappointing continuation of what was a stellar beginning, as the Cardinals forced a three-and-out on the Vikings’ first drive.

Special Teams, F

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    Final Grade: F

    The missed field goal haunts this writer still. At the end of the half, following Sam Acho’s first career interception, Jay Feely had a 47-yard opportunity, and he missed it wide right.

    There were no other significant plays on special teams, so that missed opportunity will stick out for a while.

    Fourth Quarter: F

    Feely’s missed field goal in the second quarter caused a ripple-effect that forced the offense to go for it on fourth down during the third quarter. Had that FG been made, they would have kicked a short field goal on two more occasions, allowing Skelton’s fourth-quarter touchdown pass to give them the lead.

    Instead, the Cardinals lose, 21-14.

    Third Quarter: F

    Because of Feely’s missed field goal to end the first half, Whisenhunt decided to go for it on a fourth-down in the kicker’s range. Because of that, the grade is what it is.

    Second Quarter: F

    There were two extra points, one each from Cards’ kicker Jay Feely and Vikings’ kicker Blair Walsh. But Feely missed a 47-yard field goal at the end of the half that should have moved the Cardinals closer, to 14-10.

    Feely has now missed two consecutive field goals.

    First Quarter: C

    Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff 103-yard for a touchdown, but it was called back due to a block in the back. No other significant play occurred during the quarter.

Coaching, C

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    Final Grade: C

    The offensive play-calling seems to be a hot-button issue with fans. From not running enough to running too many plays between the guards, not targeting the tight ends enough to not throwing deep often enough—fans have let it be known they are not in favor of coordinator Mike Miller.

    Throwing deep seems to be the lingering issue week-in and week-out, and Skelton did not do that much Sunday.

    I will have to see the tape to know how many routes were missed over the top and how many times they were covered, but I can tell you from my couch I saw Skelton miss Fitzgerald deep twice in one-on-one coverage.

    That falls on Skelton, not on coaching.

    Ray Horton’s defense was stellar. He called a great game, and if not for multiple missed tackles on Peterson, the day would have been even better defensively.

    Fourth Quarter: C+

    The offensive line was a problem once again, but there was no help from tight ends or running backs. Skelton will get all the blame for this loss because of the pick-six he threw in the third quarter, but it was a team effort on offense.

    Play-calling did not help the situation, as Mike Miller continued to call running plays when the team should have been taking shots downfield.

    Horton’s defense played brilliantly in the second half, allowing Ponder to throw for only four yards during the final 30 minutes. Horton once again saves the coaching grade—he could not do it all for the Cardinals, however.

    Third Quarter: C

    Although the fourth-down call did not work, it is what needs to be done from here on out. Jay Feely cannot be trusted. It may be that he does not trust the offensive line after having a potential game-winner blocked last week.

    Horton’s defense continues to surrender yards to Peterson, but Ponder is having the worst game of his 2012 season to date.

    Second Quarter: B+

    The defensive play-calling has been great. They have allowed Peterson to go off but have intercepted Ponder twice.

    The offense has moved the ball some, but the offensive line is failing miserably. The rookie right tackle, specifically. The game plan seems to be working; Massie will need to be given help on Robison to allow Skelton the time he needs to run the game plan.

    First Quarter: B-

    Offensive coordinator Mike Miller called a good first quarter, and his unit executed nicely. If not for another offensive line failure, there would be points on the board for Arizona.

    Ray Horton’s defense has to get it together, however. They allowed the long touchdown drive and are the reason the Cardinals find themselves in a 7-0 hole to begin the second quarter.

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