As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game with Arizona at Mall of America Field, we asked Kent Somers, the Cardinals beat writer for the Arizona Republic, to give us his up-close-and-personal scouting report. Here are four things you need to know …
1. Ryan Lindley best stay loose.
A week ago, the rookie out of San Diego State was Arizona’s third-string quarterback. Now he’s one big hit away from playing. And the Cardinals offensive line has been giving up plenty of big hits on their quarterback recently.
In the past three games, Arizona has allowed 22 sacks. In last week’s loss to Buffalo, Kevin Kolb suffered a severe injury to his ribs, which moves John Skelton back into the starting quarterback slot. Skelton, of course, started the season opener but left that win with a sprained ankle.
Translation: with all the sacks the Cardinals have been surrendering, Vikings defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison should be jacked up, both facing favorable match-ups.
“These elite pass rushers have just been killing the Cardinals,” Somers said. “Even last week, [Buffalo’s] Mario Williams, who hadn’t done anything all season, gets himself two sacks. Arizona gave up five sacks last week and it was considered progress.”
Allen will line up across from left tackle D’Anthony Batiste. Robison gets Bobby Massie.
Arizona’s starting left tackle Levi Brown tore his triceps in the third preseason game and is on injury reserve. Which has thrown Batiste, a seven-year vet, into the fire – especially this week against Allen.
“The Cardinals are going to have to do some special things to avoid getting torched,” Somers said. “I’d imagine we’d see running backs chipping a lot or some tight end help over there.
Massie is a rookie, a fourth-round pick out of Ole Miss.
As for Skelton, Somers calls him “erratic.”
“He misses some really, really easy throws a lot. He’s a young guy who’s up and down and often struggles with his accuracy.”
2. Arizona’s 4-0 start was propelled by its energetic defense.
The Cardinals have yet to allow more than 21 points in a game and rank fourth in the NFL in scoring defense (16.2 ppg). They also have 13 takeaways, fifth best in the league.
Like the Vikings, Arizona has a good blend of established veterans and energetic young players who are coming into their own quickly.
Up front, end Calais Campbell and tackle Darnell Dockett have been terrific.
“Campbell has been a handful for everybody,” Somers said.
Somers also said inside linebacker Daryl Washington “is playing at a Pro Bowl level” right now. And Patrick Peterson may be maturing into a superstar, really coming into his own as a cover corner.
With a defense that keeps them in games, Arizona recorded three of its first four wins by four points or less.
3. A pair of receivers with Twin Cities roots will return home this weekend.
Ninth-year veteran Larry Fitzgerald and his rookie protégé, Michael Floyd, return to Minnesota this weekend.
Fitzgerald, 29, remains one of the NFL’s best, even as he continues to persevere through a career in which he hasn’t had a ton of continuity at quarterback. Through six games this season, he has 36 catches for 430 yards and three touchdowns.
Here’s the log of starting quarterbacks Fitzgerald has had through his career: Josh McCown, Shaun King, John Navarre, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Max Hall.
Yet Fitzgerald went over 10,000 receiving yards for his career last weekend, joining Randy Moss as the only players in league history to reach that milestone in their 20s.
Said Somers: “To do what he’s done with really only two seasons with a settled quarterback situation with Warner [in 2007 and 2008] is pretty incredible. Teams double him all the time and rarely leave him alone. It’s scary to think what he could have done if he had played with a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning or even a Matt Ryan or Matt Schaub.”
As for Floyd, he has just seven catches for 84 yards so far, facing a steep rookie learning curve.
“He’s had a few drops,” Somers said. “And I’m not sure there’s anything that’s really held him back more than the fact that they were pretty deep at receiver with Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts and Early Doucet.”
Having Fitzgerald as a mentor should help.
4. The Cardinals running game has serious issues.
Beanie Wells is currently on injured reserve with a toe problem. And Ryan Williams suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 5.
Next man up? William Powell got the most carries last week and ran for 70 yards on 13 carries against Buffalo. LaRod Stephens-Howling, more of a third down back, was limited to 22 yards on 11 carries.
So much for using a superb running attack to negate the pass rush.
Powell is 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds and actually showed a few signs of promise last week.
Said Somers: “He’s pretty quick and he makes good cuts. So he’s been a recent pleasant surprise. We’ll see.”