After notching their first win of the season last week in San Francisco, the Cardinals once again take their show on the road this week to the Twin Cities. This time, we’re 10-point underdogs to the Minnesota Vikings. Although that line is still pretty high, this matchup doesn’t look quite as imposing as it did in the preseason, as the Vikes are scuffling a bit at 2-2-1 instead of looking like the Super Bowl contender many thought they’d be. Which version will we get on Sunday?
It’s hard to tell, but just like we did last week in calling the upset against the 49ers, we’ll compare each team’s QB situation, as well as take a glance at what the analytics have to say about the matchups in each phase of the game. We’ll once again lean on Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, as well as Pro Football Focus’s player grades/rankings. What do the numbers tell us about these desert birds’ chances in the frozen north?
While he did have a 75-yard TD bomb on his first throw of the game last week, Josh Rosen nevertheless regressed in his second career start, completing only 40% of his passes with a YPA of less than 7.00. His QBR plummeted from a sterling 80.4 against the Seahawks to a lowly 33.4 against the 49ers. Whether it was Mike McCoy or road jitters that was to blame is unclear, but the regression was concerning either way.
What will we get out of Rosen on Sunday? Well, through 2+ games, his stat line looks like this: 49% completion rate, 386 yards, 2 TDs/1 INT, good for an above-average 63.5 QBR and 64.0 PFF grade (#26 QB). Looks almost like a Carson Palmer line, doesn’t it? He’ll need to come close to duplicating those stats in a single game for the Cardinals to have a chance this weekend. The only question is will Steve Wilks and McCoy let him? They may not have a choice if we fall behind early.
Leading the other huddle will be Pro Bowler Kirk Cousins. Five games into his Vikings career, Cousins has largely been as advertised: 71% completion rate, 1,688 yards, 11 TDs/ 2 INTs, good for a QBR of 71.7 and PFF grade of 83.9 (#10 QB). He’s on pace for 5400 yards and 35 TDs/6 INTs. Patrick Peterson and Co. will hope to put a dent in those projections on Sunday, but it’s safe to say the Vikings will enjoy a sizable advantage at the game’s most important position this weekend.
Bottom Line: Cardinals fans are rightly excited about Rosen’s potential, but we’ll get to see firsthand what could have been if we had been able to sign Cousins, who should outplay Rosen and get his numbers at home (300+ yards, 2+ TDs).
Cardinals Offense vs. Vikings Defense
I thought our offensive rankings would jump up a bit after last week, but that obviously didn’t happen (#firemikemccoy). That said, there’s obviously nowhere to go but up, and, strangely, the once-vaunted Vikings defense represents an opportunity to do just that. Despite talented players in the secondary like Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Harrison Smith, the Vikings have struggled to stop the pass so far in 2018. That means we should see Josh Rosen top 200 yards passing for the first time in his career, with an outside shot of him getting to 300 depending on game script.
Speaking of which, unless the Cardinals can get an early lead, I wouldn’t expect David Johnson to get a ton of carries here—figure on 12-15 again instead of 18-20. I’d love to see DJ more involved in the passing game, but 1) Mike McCoy, and 2) Minnesota has only given up 18 receptions to RBs in 5 games (3.6 per game). I’m not holding my breath. Expect a lot of Christian Kirk and (health permitting) Larry Fitzgerald in his hometown.
Bottom Line: Our offense has been abysmal, but Minnesota’s defense has been struggling. While it’s possible the Vikings have a get-right game, I’d expect us to at least put up a decent yardage total (even if it comes in garbage time).
Cardinals Defense vs. Vikings Offense
The two key players here are Cardinals CB Bene’ Benwikere and Vikings RB Dalvin Cook. Cousins has amassed the majority of his yards by throwing to Adam Thielen (PFF’s #3 WR) and Stefon Diggs (PFF’s #19 WR). We obviously won’t be able to completely shut these guys down, but assuming Peterson can contain one of them, if Benwikere can keep up his strong play of late and contain the other, it will force Cousins to spread the ball around, hopefully limiting his effectiveness. This passing attack is closer to average than elite per DVOA, which means the Redbirds’ #12 passing defense should be able to hold its own as long as Benwikere is up to the task.
The Vikings rushing attack, meanwhile, has been putrid anyway you look at it (about as putrid as ours, sadly). Game script and poor offensive line play are largely to blame, but so is second-year RB Dalvin Cook’s injury woes. Like Fitz, he’s been struggling with a balky hamstring (he missed the fluky Buffalo loss and last week’s win against the Eagles), forcing the Vikes to use the plodding Latavius Murray. But Cook is back at practice this week, and if he returns at close to full strength, the Vikes might have a semblance of a running game even against our supposedly above-average (per DVOA) rushing defense. If not, I’d expect us to be able to contain Murray and force Minnesota to air it out (where, again, we might have a bit of an edge).
Bottom Line: If Dalvin Cook is out/limited again, expect the Vikings offense to struggle a bit, with the Cardinals defense taking a bend-don’t-break approach. If not, all bets are off—things could get ugly.
The Cardinals actually jumped up a few spots in special teams DVOA (all the way up to #24!) after last week thanks to Andy Lee landing 5 punts inside the 20 and Phil Dawson not having to kick any FGs. The Vikings have also had their struggles on special teams (they’re way down at #29), as they’re on kicker number three for the season. (And the Cardinals just worked out their original kicker this week.) Expect fairly sloppy teams play on both sides.
Bottom Line: Special teams didn’t play a huge factor last week. Call it a hunch, but I think special teams will play a major role this week. (Oh, and let’s hope Kirk has learned how to fair catch.)
I originally thought this game would be a Vikings rout. Given the 10-point Vegas spread and the Redbirds’ obvious struggles, that’s still very much in play. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Vikings played up to their preseason billing in front of their home crowd and after a big win last week in Philadelphia.
But this is the same team that got blown out by the Bills in this very same stadium just three weeks ago. This team has struggled to run the ball as much as we have, and have had their issues defending the pass as well. I don’t think this game will be a gimme for the Norsemen…
…but I also don’t see the Redbirds winning. I do think we’ll beat the spread though, just barely: Cardinals lose, 26-17. The Redbirds acquit themselves well on the road but ultimately head home with their fifth loss of the season.
What say you, Bird Gang? Do we have a snowball’s chance in the desert in this one? Or will Cardinals fans be left feeling frigid once again? Give us your predictions in the comments.