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Saturday before football Sunday: What to watch for in Vikings-Cardinals

Another formidable trio awaits the Cardinals; Patrick Peterson’s reunion with his former team

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The first Arizona Cardinals game of the 2021 season was a memorable one as they cruised to a 38-13 road victory over the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium.

After an amazing Week 1 performance, the Cardinals are returning home to Glendale, Arizona with all the momentum as they host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, September 19 for their first home game of the season at State Farm Stadium.

Taking a look at the other side, Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings are coming off a disappointing 27-24 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Critical self-inflicting wounds in Dalvin Cook’s fumble in overtime along with the team committing the fourth-most penalties (12) in the NFL to start a season cost the Vikings a win.

Patrick Peterson returning to Arizona in purple and gold seems to be the talk around town having played for the Cardinals the first 10 years of his career. Some could call it a revenge game for the former All-Pro cornerback but his performance the last few seasons made his departure inevitable. The NFL is business after all. I know lots of people will be zoning in on the DeAndre Hopkins vs. Patrick Peterson one-on-one matchup on Sunday so that should be fun.

Here are five Arizona Cardinals things to watch for in Week 2:

Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

1. Kyler Murray vs. the Vikings’ pass rush

Kyler Murray had a stellar regular season opener scoring five total touchdowns (4 passing, 1 rushing) in the win. The Titans’ pass rush ranked near the bottom of the NFL last season and it was no better against the Cardinals. This is where the Vikings are a tad bit better as they recorded five sacks on defense against the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend. However, Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr have been ruled out ahead of Sunday’s game. Their front seven have quality players that include Danielle Hunter, Sheldon Richardson and Dalvin Tomlinson. So, can Kyler Murray have similar success on Sunday?

I think so. The Vikings allowed 261 passing yards and two passing touchdowns thrown by Joe Burrow. Their defense seemingly had no answers for rookie Ja’Marr Chase as he finished the game with 101 receiving yards and a touchdown. It will be interesting to see how Kyler Murray handles their pass rush but there is no doubt in my mind he can continue his hot streak by taking advantage of a vulnerable Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland-led Vikings’ secondary. Breeland allowed a 145.8 passer rating on 21.4 yards per reception (5), so I would put my money on any of the Cardinals’ top four receivers having a big day.

Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

2. Chase Edmonds time to shine

Last weekend, Chase Edmonds had 106 total scrimmage yards as he did damage as a ball carrier (63 rush yards) and pass catcher (43 receiving yards) out of the backfield. His partner in crime James Conner had 16 carries for 53 yards. Despite the fairly even share of touches, Edmonds was without question the best running back in the committee.

Taking a look at their next opponent, the Minnesota Vikings have an improved defensive line on paper with the additions of Sheldon Richardson and Dalvin Tomlinson during free agency. Their 2020 defensive unit allowed 134.4 rushing yards per game last season, which was the seventh-most in the NFL. Despite the new acquisitions to revamp their defensive front, their run defense remains an area of weakness as Bengals’ running back Joe Mixon gashed them for 127 rushing yards last Sunday. This can potentially be a breakout game for Edmonds in his first year as a starter,

Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

3. Cardinals’ pass rush vs the Vikings’ offensive line

Last Sunday, the Cardinals’ front seven took advantage of a Titans’ offensive line that allowed the sixth-fewest sacks (25) in 2020. Chandler Jones led the way by setting a career high and single-game franchise record with five sacks to go along with seven pressures and two forced fumbles. J.J. Watt was second on the team in pressures (3).

The Vikings’ starting offensive line had a very disappointing day in their loss to the Bengals. They had a combined 10 allowed pressures, two sacks, and nine penalties. Offensive guard Ezra Cleveland was their highest-graded offensive lineman (60.5) by Pro Football Focus and right tackle Brian O’Neill was their best pass protector with a 79.6 grade in that category. Chandler Jones, J.J. Watt, and the rest of the Cardinals’ defensive front are set well to thrive again. If the Cardinals completely obliterated the Titans’ top offensive line from last season, imagine what they will do against Rashod Hill and the Vikings.

Syndication: The Tennessean George Walker IV / via Imagn Content Services, LLC

4. Cardinals’ run and pass defense to be tested again by another quality trio

A.J. Brown and Julio Jones were considered by many to be the best wide receiver duo in the NFL. Them along with Derrick Henry were praised as the most formidable trio on an NFL offense going into the regular season. Despite all the talk and hype that they received, none performed to expectation in Week 1. Cardinals’ cornerbacks Byron Murphy, Marco Wilson, and Robert Alford held them in check as Brown was limited to only 49 receiving yards compared to Jones’ 29. The defensive front limited the 2019 and 2020 rushing yard leader in Derrick Henry to 58 yards on 17 carries.

Next up, the Cardinals’ defense will take on another impressive trio in Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen. Last weekend, Jefferson finished with 71 receiving yards as Thielen led the way with 92 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Dalvin Cook had 104 scrimmage yards, a touchdown, and a critical overtime fumble in the loss.

Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

5. Offensive and defensive third-down efficiency

In 2020, the Arizona Cardinals were among one of the worst teams in the NFL offensively converting on third downs at only 39.1 percent. In Week 1, they put that stat behind them as they were excellent in this area by converting 7-of-13 (54 percent). Taking a look at the Vikings’ third down defense in their Week 1 loss, they allowed a stifling 3-of-14 attempts (21 percent) to be converted. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals will not have it as easy in Week 2.

In short:

Third down conversion percentage (offense):

Cardinals: 54 percent (7-of-13)

Vikings: 38 percent (6-of-16)

Third down conversion percentage (defense):

Cardinals: 36 percent (5-of-14)

Vikings: 21 percent (3-of-14)

The one thing the Cardinals cannot do is get ahead of themselves and start underestimating their opponents. As we saw last year, they began the 2020 season with a 2-0 record but lost to a previously winless Lions team the following week that they had no business in losing. The Minnesota Vikings present some challenges to the Cardinals, especially with their skill position players on the offense and a better pass rush compared to the Titans on the defense.