The Minnesota Vikings opened their season with a disappointing overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, but they weren’t alone. All four NFC North teams lost in Week 1. The NFC West is the polar opposite, as the entire division remains undefeated.
The Vikings are hoping that changes, as they travel to the desert to take on Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals. Like the Bengals, the Cardinals are a team that relies heavily on the passing game. Both teams have twice drafted a wide receiver in the first two rounds in the last three years. Cincinnati drafted Tee Higgins with the 33rd pick in 2020 before selecting Ja’Marr Chase in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Meanwhile, Arizona drafted Andy Isabella in the second round in 2019, then added Rondale Moore with the 49th pick this year.
Speaking of offseason additions, Arizona gave their offense a boost by signing seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green to a one-year deal along with former Steelers running back James Conner. On defense, they added J.J. Watt and drafted Zaven Collins to help bolster a pass-rushing unit that ranked 21st in the league last year. The Cardinals were one game shy of making the playoffs last season and are undoubtedly a better team now than they were last year.
If Week 1 is any indicator, Mike Zimmer will have his hands full trying to slow down an Arizona offense that put up 38 points against the Tennessee Titans. Coincidentally, the Vikings and Titans both have defensive-minded head coaches and share similar styles of play on offense. Needless to say, facing Arizona’s Air Raid offense will be a litmus test for the Vikings’ secondary.
However, the Vikings’ defense should be much improved from last season. A full offseason recap isn’t necessary, but one of the biggest acquisitions was signing Patrick Peterson to a one-year, $10 million deal. He’ll have an important role to play this week against his former team, lining up against DeAndre Hopkins. The 31-year-old will have Harrison Smith to help him out deep, but the Vikings need Peterson to live up to his contract and limit Hopkins’ impact on offense.
Not only do the Arizona Cardinals have plenty of depth at wide receiver with Hopkins, Green, Christian Kirk, and Moore but they also have one of the best dual-threat QBs in the league in Murray, who almost certainly will make life difficult for the Vikings. Yet despite having all that talent on the roster, there are ways to potentially help slow Kliff Kingsbury’s offense down.
One of the biggest reasons the Vikings lost to the Bengals was because cornerbacks were tasked with one-on-one matchups without any safety help and ended up allowing big plays downfield. That can’t happen against a team like the Cardinals, so Mike Zimmer needs to help his corners out by putting two to three safeties deep. This means the Cardinals will get easier completions on short to intermediate routes, but the sacrifice may be worth it if the Vikings get the pass rush going.
Also, they need to pressure the interior offensive line. Last week, Arizona’s worst two pass-blocking offensive linemen were center Rodney Hudson and right guard Josh Jones, and left guard Justin Pugh wasn’t too far behind. The Vikings need to take advantage of that by playing Sheldon Richardson more. Last week, Richardson only played 22 snaps on defense. Considering that the Cardinals don’t have a great run game, I’d expect Richardson’s snap count to increase.
Although the Cardinals don’t get much production from their RBs, Murray is a dual-threat QB and needs to be held in check. There are a couple of things the Vikings can do to prevent him from scorching them on the ground. One of them is to put a spy on him, preferably a safety. Most linebackers are too slow to run with Kyler, with the exception of Eric Kendricks, who would be good in that role if available. The Vikings should also have DEs keep Murray in the pocket rather than blitzing him straight up and risk him taking off for a big gain.
If the Vikings can prevent big passing plays, exploit the Cardinals’ interior offensive line, keep Kyler Murray in the pocket, and not shoot themselves in the foot with stupid penalties, they’ll be in a good position to pull off the upset.