Last Sunday, the Vikings gave up 10 first downs and trailed 14-0 at the completion of Washington’s 18th offensive snap of the game. But there’s good news should the Vikings decide to sleep in again when Arizona visits U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
The Cardinals also like to hit the snooze for about 15 minutes or so. When the Cardinals went three-and-out on their opening drive of last week’s 23-20 win over the visiting 49ers, it kept them scoreless on every opening drive this season. The only other team that can make that claim is the 2-7 Jaguars.
Arizona also has scored a league-low 14 points in the first quarter (seven last week). The next lowest total is 21 by the Jaguars.
On the other hand, the Vikings better jump on ‘em quick. The Cardinals have 85 second-quarter parts, the fourth highest in the league.
Overview: The Cardinals’ 1-1-1 record the past three weeks kind of sums up their inconsistency this season. They have the seventh-ranked offense, but rank 20th in scoring because of games like Seattle (6-6 tie). They lost at Carolina when that’s no longer acceptable. And last week, they needed a last-second field goal by Chandler Catanzaro to beat a one-win 49ers team. The Cardinals lost at home to the Patriots without Tom Brady. They were blown out at Buffalo. They don’t have a signature win because two have come against the 49ers, while the other two have come at home against the Jets and Bucs.
To the tape: …
Top thoughts while watching tape of the Cardinals’ 23-20 win over the 49ers at University of Phoenix Stadium last week:
—Part of the reason the Cardinals start slow is they’re an impatient offense. Part of what makes them so dangerous — a consistent dose of deep shots — tends to make them want to force things too much early on. Tom Moore, the former Vikings and Gophers assistant who won a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning in Indy, is an offensive consultant under Bruce Arians. Last week, facing a 49ers defense giving up 193 yards rushing per game and 5.3 per rush, the Cardinals started three-and-out and finished with 80 yards and a 3.5 average, including a 16-yard scramble by Carson Palmer.
—Speaking of Palmer, he’s always been a head-scratcher to figure out. The 49ers game was no different. He has the ability and strength to throw a great deep ball, but doesn’t have the best accuracy. Sunday, the Cardinals threw deep balls on two of their first eight snaps, a third one at the start of the second quarter and a fourth one before halftime. The only completion came when receiver Michael Floyd had to leave his feet and give full extension to pull in a 35-yard catch. A better throw and it would have been a touchdown. Palmer ranks 24th in passer rating (86.0) and his postseason woes are well-known. He’s to be respected, but he’s either a really good average player or an average really good player.
—This probably isn’t something Vikings fans would like to hear considering the current state of the team’s left tackle situation, but Chandler Jones, an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense, had two more sacks, giving him a team-high seven on the season. The 49ers opened the game by going three-and-out when Jones ran around the left tackle for the sack. Colin Kaepernick held the ball too long as well.
—No. 14, J.J. Nelson, can fly. Whether the 160-pounder can catch, establish position or hold on to the ball is another matter. But his value to the offense last week went beyond his two catches for 29 yards. In the first half alone, Palmer threw deep balls to him. None was completed, but one drew a 45-yard pass interference penalty. And another pass interference penalty should have been called. One of the balls Nelson did catch was easily punched away from him for a turnover. Also, one of Palmer’s two interceptions came after bouncing off Nelson’s chest. He can be overpowered, but you gotta catch him first.
—The defense, which ranked tied for third in points allowed, is fast and well-coordinated when it moves laterally. On the 49ers’ second possession, they tried to gain the right edge on Arizona with a quick toss to the running back on third-and-long. D.J. Swearinger, making his first start at free safety in place of Tyrann Mathieu, shot in and undercut the back for a loss.
—Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he’d vote for Larry Fitzgerald Jr. for the Hall of Fame “every time.” Watching the ageless 13-year vet continue to play the way he does, I’m thinking Larry might be one-and-in when it comes to HOF voting. His numbers are staggering, of course, but his style of play at age 33 is more astonishing. If there’s a tougher, stronger, more selfless receiver to have played the game, I sure can’t think of him. Fitz was targeted 18 times Sunday. He caught 12 for 132. Primarily a slot guy, he does all the dirty work. The blocking, the tough catches in traffic over the middle. He also has the great hands and catching radius. He makes Palmer look good, not vice versa, which is often the case in the receiver-QB relationship. Sunday’s game was a really physical game for Fitzgerald. On a scoring drive right before the half, he caught a ball in traffic on the right hash, got undercut, did a full flip onto his back, got up and trotted back to the huddle as if he had been untouched on the play. On the game-winning drive, it’s third-and-four when Palmer and everyone else looks to Fitzgerald. He gained 14 yards. Larry has a streak of at least one catch in 189 straight games, the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. It goes back to his rookie season in 2004.
—Even good defenses have lulls when they get sloppy and flat, as Vikings fans are rediscovering. The Cardinals are no exception. Leading 14-0, the Cardinals gave up two long pass plays to open receivers over the middle. Then the 49ers made it 14-7 when cornerback Marcus Cooper made an unacceptable mistake. He got caught looking into the backfield in man coverage, crept forward and forgot that his receiver was standing in the end zone uncovered for an easy pitch-and-catch 17-yard touchdown.
—Last, but definitely not least, David Johnson will be one of the last guys the Vikings want to see if they continue to be so off-balance in knowing whether a run or a pass is coming next. The second-year showed Sunday why he’s the most complete back in the league. He’s 6-1, 224, but has the feet and hands of a smaller back. I get into his numbers below, but just watching him play, you know defensive coordinators aren’t quite sure what to do with him. Especially when you have all the other weapons to tend to on this offense. When Johnson scored on a 3-yard catch, the linebacker had no chance to the flat fast enough to cover Johnson. Later, on a red-zone pass into the end zone, a safety couldn’t handle him either and ended up mugging the big back for a pass interference penalty in the end zone. That led to a key field goal as the half ended.
Key stat: 13
Number of games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage– in 14 career starts! — for Cardinals running back David Johnson. With 101 yards (55 rushing, 46 receiving) in Sunday’s win over the 49ers, Johnson extended his streak of 100-yard games to nine, the longest active streak in the NFL.