By Joseph Gunther
After the first four weeks of the season, this looked like a good, possible playoff precursor, for a pair of surprise teams. However, in the weeks since, the two teams have gone in opposite directions.
The Minnesota Vikings look like a team that still has a chance at making the playoffs, but the Arizona Cardinals have struggled and now appear to be pretenders. Sunday’s contest at Mall of America Field will set the two teams apart in their quest for the postseason.
The Cardinals opened the season with four straight wins. It defeated the Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins at home and the New England Patriots on the road. The two losses have come against the St. Louis Rams on the road and Buffalo Bills at home.
Cardinals on Offense
The Cardinals run two different offenses with their two quarterbacks. With Kevin Kolb not going to play, the Vikings can game plan John Skelton’s offense. Skelton is more aggressive and has a bigger arm than Kolb, but is less accurate as well.
Skelton is a big pocket passer that is not a threat to run. He has a slow delivery and will take more shots downfield than Kolb.
The Vikings have a decided advantage in the trenches. Left tackle D’Anthony Batiste and rookie right tackle Bobby Massie form the worst pair of starting offensive tackles in the NFL. Massie has given up 10 sacks and Batiste nine. Batiste has also committed seven penalties. This is by far the worst unit in the NFL. The best Cardinals’ linemen are average at best. When Jared Allen, Brian Robison and company get to Skelton, he will make mistakes. He has just an 11.9 QB rating when under pressure.
Cardinals on Defense
The Cardinals officially use a 3-4 scheme. The difference between what the Cardinals do and what more traditional 3-4 schemes do is that Ken Whisenhunt’s defensive ends are quick, penetrators instead of huge gap controllers.
The Cardinals have playmakers at three levels of its defense. Defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett are very good linemen. Campbell stands 6-feet-8-inches tall, which allows him to knock balls down at the line of scrimmage and limited quick passes to his side of the field. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington is turning into one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL. On the back end, Patrick Peterson is a star at cornerback. He possesses safety size and corner speed. No one in the NFL has the size/speed combination that he does. Strong safety Adrian Wilson is the leader of the defense. He is another big, fast player. His production has slipped a bit in recent years, but he is still effective at 33-years-old.
Cardinals Players to Watch
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald: The Minneapolis native is one of the best receivers in the NFL. There is not a better playmaker or player on the Cardinals’ offense. He has more than double the targets of any other receiver on the Cardinals roster. With the top two running backs hurt and no other standout receiver, Fitzgerald will be even more of the focal point of the Cardinals offense.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson: The former first round draft pick will cover the opposition’s top receiver on every play. The Cardinals play a lot of press-man coverage. Peterson has no problem stopping the league’s best. A matchup of Peterson and Percy Harvin will be one of the best individual head-to-head battles of the season.
The Vikings defense should be the difference in this game. The Vikings defensive front will have no problem getting penetration and pressure on the quarterback. The Cardinals’ defense will not be able to do enough to get the win.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.