Cardinals vs. Vikings: 3 Key Matchups to Watch for Arizona

Tyson Langland@TysonNFLNFC West Lead WriterOctober 20, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 26:  Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals attempts to break free from Antoine Winfield #26 of the Minnesota Vikings at the Hubert H. Humprey Metrodome November 26, 2006 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

After a 4-0 start to the season, the Cardinals have dropped off in a big way the past couple of games.

Two weeks ago against St. Louis, it was the offensive line which crumpled under the phantom pass rush of Chris Long and Robert Quinn. Last week, self-inflicted wounds dumped the Cards. Jay Feely's 38-yard kick as time expired to win the game hooked left, and John Skelton's errant throw in overtime sealed Arizona's fate.

Here's the question I have: How does Feely's 61-yard attempt not get blocked, yet his 38-yarder does?

It's obvious the 61-yarder has to have a lower trajectory. Either someone from the Cardinals didn't do their job correctly, or Alex Carrington made an unbelievable play. Without being down on the line of scrimmage, it's hard to tell just exactly led to the blocked kick.

Fortunately for head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Sunday's game provides a fresh start and a chance to move on from last week's late-game debacle. However, being without quarterback Kevin Kolb and safety Kerry Rhodes means Coach Whisenhunt's club will have even more of an uphill battle.

Let's take a look at which three matchups will be the most pivotal come Sunday afternoon.

Larry Fitzgerald vs. Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook

Even though Larry Fitzgerald got off to a rather slow start to the season, his last four games have been phenomenal. In three of the last four weeks, he has seen 10-plus targets and five-plus catches. Not to mention he has scored touchdowns in the last three of four games as well.  

With Kolb out due to injury, Fitzgerald may see an even bigger jump in production come Sunday. There's no hiding the fact quarterback John Skelton favors Fitz. From Week 9 on in 2011, Skelton targeted No. 11 95 times. That's 39 more targets than he received the first eight weeks of the season.

However, the change in quarterback may not matter.

Vikings cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook are both having standout seasons. It's hard to tell who will be on Fitzgerald full-time—just because he moves around so much. He doesn't have a set side of the field like some wideouts do. 

When he draws Winfield's coverage, this may prove to be his toughest matchup of the season. Opposing quarterbacks only have a rating of 61.0 when throwing in his coverage. Also, he has recorded interceptions in back-to-back games for only the second time in his career this season.

Cook isn't having quite the same impact as his counterpart, yet he's still doing a fine job. Even though he has allowed two touchdowns, quarterbacks are still having a hard time throwing his way. They are completing just 59 percent of their passes when targeting him.

It will be interesting to see which corner takes the majority of the reps against the All-Pro wide receiver.

D'Anthony Batiste vs. Jared Allen

What a nightmare this season has been for D'Anthony Batiste. According to Pro Football Focus, He has surrendered nine quarterback sacks, two quarterback hits and 29 quarterback hurries in 273 pass blocking situations.

But really, did Arizona expect him to fill in for Levi Brown and automatically upgrade the position?

He's a 29-year-old offensive tackle who had only appeared in five games prior to the 2012 season. And those appearances were in spot duty—he had never officially started a game until this season.

It just goes to show what the gap is in line play. Even an average tackle like Brown is head and shoulders above a guy like Batiste, who seemingly gets burned every other play.

This week doesn't get an easier, either. He will be squaring off against one of the best right defensive ends in the game, Jared Allen.

Even though Allen bombed in the opener against the Jaguars, his play over the last four games has done a 180. He has recorded at least one sack, one quarterback hit and one hurry four games in a row. That has recently helped his numbers skyrocket.

His impressive play has put him in the top 15 of PFF's positional rankings. Going into Week 7, he has a combined 26 quarterback pressures. Not quite Chris Clemons or Cameron Wake numbers, yet he is slowing working his way back to his 2011 form.

If this matchup is anything like Weeks 1 and 3, Batiste is in for a long day. Batiste allowed a combined three sacks and 10 quarterback hurries to Clemons and Trent Cole—two elite pass-rushers who are similar to No. 69.

Patrick Peterson vs. Minnesota's Special Teams Unit

I know, it's definitely not the sexiest matchup of the game. But when you have one of the best returners in the game squaring off against one of the best coverage units in the NFL, it's worth mentioning.

Patrick Peterson has yet to break off a monster return this year, but his time is coming. His long on the season is 26 yards and his average is 9.7 yards per return. It isn't as long as Joshua Cribbs' 16.6-yard average, but no one has had as many opportunities than Peterson.

He is the most consistent returner in the league. For any of the four returners who have at least 15 returns, Peterson's yards-per-return average is the highest. Javier Arenas comes in a close second place at 8.9 yards per return.

Surprisingly, the three top guys in return yardage haven't taken one to the house yet.

Against Minnesota, it will be tough, but here's my bold prediction: PP will get his first punt return touchdown of the season come Sunday.

Football Outsiders has the Vikings as its second-best special teams unit in the NFL. Only the New York Jets are ahead of them. They have the best kick return coverage in the league, and the fifth-best punt return coverage.

Everson Griffen is the leader of both coverage units. He leads the Vikings with three special teams tackles through the first six games.

Undoubtedly, this game will be decided by field position. If No. 21 has anything to say about it, he will carry Arizona to victory because of his outstanding special teams play.

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