1. ‘Money backer’ light, but heavy
The Cardinals have quite a unique player in 6-1, 211-pound defender Deone Bucannon. Drafted as a safety in the first round a year ago, Bucannon is listed as the “$LB” – as in “money” backer. He’s the leading tackler on the No. 4-ranked run defense, which was giving up just 89 yards per game. The Vikings, with some power formations and an extremely determined and healthy Adrian Peterson, exposed the drawback to having a 211-pound inside backer early on. Peterson attacked the middle of Arizona’s defense on the first drive, running four times for 38 yards and a touchdown, mostly up the gut. With the Cardinals deep at safety, Bucannon was moved to linebacker when Daryl Washington was suspended and Sean Weatherspoon went down with a hamstring injury in training camp. Bucannon and the Cardinals tightened up after the first drive, holding Peterson to 31 yards on his final 19 carries. Bucannon also had a forced fumble on Jarius Wright in the red zone.
2. Rhodes drops pick six
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes has made significant strides in three NFL seasons. The next step is finishing big plays with the ball in his hands. He dropped what should have been a pick-six late in the third quarter. The Cardinals had just turned a Peterson fumble into a 17-10 lead. Rhodes should have tied it when he made a great jump on the ball near the sideline. But he dropped the ball, allowing the Cardinals to convert on third-and-10 on the next snap en route to a field goal and a 10-point lead.
3. Same situation, but different
Against Seattle, the Vikings started their first possession with two Peterson runs for seven yards and then a sack of Teddy Bridgewater. By the time they got the ball back, Seattle led 7-0 and more than seven minutes had elapsed. Thursday, they started with two Peterson runs for seven yards. Peterson wasn’t on the field for the third-and-three. But this time, they called a quick screen to a wide-open Matt Asiata, who gained 22 yards to sustain a drive that went 80 yards in seven plays for a 7-0 lead. Some would argue that Peterson could have scored rather than getting the 22 yards that Asiata got. But, remember, had it been Peterson, chances are greater that a defender would have covered him.
4. Fitzgerald is one busy fella
Larry Fitzgerald Jr. is athletically gifted. Obviously. But the former Holy Angels standout has to be one smart guy as well to understand all of what coach Bruce Arians asks of him in this explosive offense. Take the first series as an example. Fitzgerald lined up in the same spot on consecutive plays only once during a 14-play, 71-yard field goal drive. He was wide left, wide right, slot to both sides, bunched left, bunched right. He motioned and blocked. Motioned and released inside and outside, which can dictate who covers him. The Vikings didn’t shadow him in part because Xavier Rhodes, their shadow corner, isn’t comfortable playing over the slot receiver. Having a career year in his 12th season, Fitzgerald obviously has taken a liking to playing as mostly a slot receiver. He’s essentially playing what Hines Ward played under Arians in Pittsburgh, and what Reggie Wayne played under Arians with the Colts. Fitzgerald also is a willing and strong blocker. On Michael Floyd’s 42-yard touchdown catch, Fitzgerald led the way by pancaking rookie safety Anthony Harris down the right sideline.
5. Cards deal with injuries, too
Though it was nothing compared to the Vikings playing without four defensive starters and having to line up with three rookies making their NFL starting debuts, the Cardinals also were missing some starters. Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (ankle) missed his third consecutive game. Cornerback Jerraud Powers (calf) missed his second consecutive game. Offensively, the Cardinals were down to their No. 3 running back. But when that guy is a powerful 224-pounder with fresh, 23-year-old legs, that’s not so bad. David Johnson, a third-round draft pick from Northern Iowa, was a player the Vikings liked a lot in the draft. With Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington sidelined, David Johnson provided a nice change of pace to Carson Palmer’s passing. Through three quarters, he had outrushed Peterson 84-48 and his 24-yard burst to the 2-yard line set up the field goal that gave Arizona a 20-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.