The Arizona Cardinals (3-4) will face off against the Minnesota Vikings (5-1) on the road in Minneapolis, a place where they have not defeated the Vikings in 45 years.
Kyler Murray is fresh off a 42-34 win over the New Orleans Saints in primetime Thursday Night Football and, in the process, the offensive unit had its best output of the season thanks to the return of All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins to their starting lineup.
The Murray-Hopkins duo did not miss a beat as they connected for 10 passes for 103 yards in his first game back from suspension.
Meanwhile on the flip side, the Vikings have shocked the league with their red-hot start to begin the year led by first-year NFL head coach Kevin O’Connell. The continued ascendance of wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who is third in the NFL in receiving yards (654), has played a big role in their success so far.
Their quarterback Kirk Cousins is 2-3 all-time against the Cardinals and when he last matched up with them, kicker Greg Joseph missed a game-winning field goal as Arizona won 34-33 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.
So what will happen on Sunday?
Here are three things to watch in the Cardinals-Vikings matchup in Week 8:
Eno Benjamin to lead the backfield again for Arizona against Minnesota’s run defense
With James Conner ruled out and Darrel Williams status in question as a game-time decision, Eno Benjamin will draw the start at running back for the Cardinals for a third consecutive game. Last week, the 23-year-old had the best game of his NFL career with 12 carries, 92 rushing yards, and a touchdown. He also caught four passes for 21 receiving yards. He will rotate with rookie Keaontay Ingram if Williams is inactive but Benjamin is quickly starting to show he might be the best running back on their roster.
In comes a Minnesota’s run defense that is ranked eighth-best in rushing yards allowed (675) through six games but are tied for the sixth-most rushing touchdowns (8) allowed during that time. The Vikings’ performance against the run, led by Dalvin Tomlinson and Eric Kendricks, of late has been stout, limiting Dolphins’ Raheem Mostert to 49 rush yards (3.5 YPC) and Bears’ David Montgomery to 20 rush yards (1.7 YPC) in their last two games. The Cardinals have struggled to run the ball this year but with Kyler Murray starting to use his legs again to keep defenses on their heels, Eno Benjamin should have some success on Sunday.
WR DeAndre Hopkins versus former Cardinals’ CB Patrick Peterson part 2
Last year, the Arizona Cardinals escaped with a 34-33 win over the Minnesota Vikings. This was also the first time Arizona played against Patrick Peterson, who spent 10 years with the Cardinals since being their first-round selection in 2011. Peterson did not have a particularly good day against his former team last year as he allowed 98 receiving yards and two touchdowns which resulted in a perfect passer rating of 158.3 when targeted according to Pro Football Focus. So far this season, he is experiencing a renaissance year with an interception and a 55.7 passer rating allowed on 28 targets.
He will be tasked to cover DeAndre Hopkins, who posted a 100-yard game in his season-debut last week. That was the first time Kliff Kingsbury used Hopkins all over the football field instead of restricting him to the left side like the first two years as a Cardinal. It will be interesting to see if Peterson follows Hopkins all game. With Kyler Murray’s most trusted receiver back in the lineup, expect a heavy dose of targets to go Hopkins’ way on Sunday. He had 54 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota last year.
Getting after the quarterback
The Cardinals are a top 10 team in pass rush win rate according to ESPN but have not done a good job at sacking the quarterback as they are tied for the fourth-fewest sacks (11) on defense. J.J. Watt leads the Cardinals with 2.5 but the defensive unit’s struggles to finish plays is ultimately what’s keeping opponents’ offenses on the field for an extended period of time. Last year against the Vikings, pass rush was essentially non-existent as Kirk Cousins threw three touchdown passes and zero interceptions albeit a loss. This means big plays to Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, and Adam Thielen if the Cardinals’ trenches cannot make Cousins uncomfortable. Last week, Arizona picked off Andy Dalton three times but allowed 361 passing yards, four touchdown passes, and had no sacks on the quarterback. Hence Arizona must be buyers for a quality edge rusher with the trade deadline approaching.
Looking at the Vikings’ defense, their pass rush has been a bit inconsistent but they are tied for 10th in the NFL in sacks (17) led by Za’Darius Smith (5.5) and Danielle Hunter (3). One thing to note is Hunter has eight sacks in four games against the Cardinals since 2015 and had three in their previous meeting last year. With left tackle D.J. Humphries questionable with a back injury and center Rodney Hudson and Max Garcia ruled out, the Cardinals will be relying on Cody Ford and former first-round pick Billy Price in the interior with some potential snaps to Josh Jones on the left side. This could be trouble for Arizona, especially with Vikings’ linebacker Jordan Hicks knowing the ins and outs of the Cardinals having spent the last three seasons on their ball club as a team captain.
Quick notes and overall
There remains plenty of factors that could affect the outcome of this game. Matt Prater is questionable with a hip injury so Rodrigo Blankenship, who was signed to the active roster, is now slated to start at kicker again for the Cardinals. Vikings’ left tackle Christian Darrisaw has done a tremendous job protecting Cousins’ blindside this season. Dennis Gardeck is ruled out for a second consecutive game which means more reps for rookie third-round pick Cam Thomas, who has impressed in a limited role with Arizona this year. Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons will reunite with their mentor Jordan Hicks. Lots of quality talent on both defenses with Budda Baker, Byron Murphy, Harrison Smith, and Jalen Thompson.
The Cardinals-Vikings game is scheduled to kickoff in the early window at 1 PM Eastern Time at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.