There will be a few intriguing matchups when Sam Bradford and the Vikings offense lines up across from the Cardinals defense on Sunday.
Patrick Peterson following Stefon Diggs might be the most talented. Chandler Jones and Markus Golden against the Vikings tackles could be the most critical. Though an under-the-radar one to watch will be Cordarrelle Patterson against Cardinals cornerback Marcus Cooper.
Much like the Vikings’ collection of defenders, the Cardinals defense doesn’t have many weak spots. Peterson, the 26-year-old, three-time All-Pro, hasn’t been thrown at much this season. He’ll shadow Diggs, according to Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, as he did in the Vikings’ 23-20 loss in Arizona last season. Diggs caught just two passes for 12 yards in that game.
Diggs was a rookie then. Now he’s playing in the slot more and coming off consecutive 13-catch games as the primary outlet for a quick, horizontal passing game under interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. However, a stout Cardinals secondary expects the return of safety/slot corner Tyrann Mathieu, and could present softer areas to target.
This summer, Cardinals corner Justin Bethel, a special teams ace, was beaten by rookie Brandon Williams in camp for a starting job. Then the Cardinals sent a conditional seventh-round pick to Kansas City for Cooper, who quickly took Williams’ spot and has been an often-targeted roller coaster in coverage across from Peterson.
There could be more of the same on Sunday for Cooper, whose highs include a team-leading three picks and valleys of two touchdowns allowed in a loss to the Rams’ Case Keenum. The Vikings once again need to get the ball out quickly against a strong Cardinals pass rush. Those targets could be funneled to Patterson, who has at least three catches in six consecutive games.
In a contract season, the former first-round pick has seen a revival of his role in Minnesota’s offense. Less of a focus on a vertical approach, if only dictated by the offensive line, has helped Patterson stay involved as a dynamic threat in sweeps, screens and other quick routes. On 30 receptions, his average of 6.8 yards after the catch currently ranks fifth among all NFL receivers, according to Pro Football Focus.
Against the Cardinals’ eighth-ranked pass rush (24 sacks), the Vikings will need their receivers, whether it’s Diggs, Patterson or Adam Thielen, to break tackles for impact gains. Again like the Vikings defense, the Cardinals’ tackling has faltered as of late, including their last road game in a 30-20 loss in Carolina.
Patterson, who has caught 30 of his 36 targets, hasn’t broken a bunch of tackles this season. Because of the attention drawn by Diggs, sometimes he doesn’t need to. On the play below, Patterson, lined up at the bottom, picks up nine yards on first down as the Lions linebacker and cornerback converge on Diggs, who is running out of the slot.
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Patterson has become a targeted receiver again, in part, as defenses look to apply pressure on Bradford. And his athleticism that led the Vikings to trade up to 29th overall still flashes as it did on the third down conversion below. Bradford beats the blitz with a screen to Patterson. The Cardinals have leaned heavily on their blitz packages in the past.