Preview: Vikings will look for sacks aplenty against Cardinals' line
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Who: Arizona Cardinals (4-2) at Minnesota Vikings (4-2).
When: Noon Sunday.
Where: Metrodome (capacity: 64,111), Minneapolis.
TV: Fox (Ch. 9).
Line: Vikings by 7.
Coaches: Vikings - Leslie Frazier (2nd season, 10-18); Arizona - Ken Whisenhunt (6th season, 44-42).
Series: The Vikings lead 14-10 and have won the past seven games against the Cardinals at home. The last time the Cardinals won in Minnesota was in 1977, when the franchise was based in St. Louis.
Last meeting: Running back Adrian Peterson rushed for touchdowns of 4, 24 and 14 yards and finished with 122 yards on 29 carries as the Vikings cruised to a 34-10 victory over the Cardinals on Oct. 9, 2011. Quarterback Donovan McNabb completed 10 of 21 passes for 169 yards and ran for a touchdown. It was the only victory McNabb would earn as the Vikings' starting quarterback. He was benched the following week in a game at Chicago in favor of Christian Ponder.
At stake: After winning three games in a row and exceeding their 2011 win total, the Vikings came back to earth last Sunday by losing, 38-26, at Washington. This game will give the Vikings an opportunity to show their resiliency against a Cardinals team that started 4-0 but followed that with losses at St. Louis (17-3) and at home against Buffalo (19-16 in overtime). Two weeks ago, the Vikings earned an impressive 30-7 win over Tennessee at the Metrodome. That was a game the Vikings should have won and they did. This game might not be as one-sided but it's another one that Minnesota should win.
Vikings: S Mistral Raymond (ankle) is out. LB Marvin Mitchell (calf) and RB Matt Asiata (knee) are questionable. DE Jared Allen (groin), S Robert Blanton (hamstring), CB Antoine Winfield (knee), QB Christian Ponder (knee), WR Jerome Simpson (low back), RB Adrian Peterson (ankle) and DE Everson Griffen (not injury related) are probable.
Cardinals: QB Kevin Kolb (ribs) and S Kerry Rhodes (back) are out. FB Anthony Sherman (knee) and CB Greg Toler (hamstring) are doubtful. CB Michael Adams (hamstring), TE Todd Heap (knee) and LB Reggie Walker are questionable. DT Darnell Dockett (hamstring), TE Jim Dray (knee), LB Quentin Groves (hamstring), LB Paris Lenon (knee), LB O'Brien Schofield (knee) and G Adam Snyder (elbow) are probable.
Five things to watch
Golden opportunity: The Cardinals have done an awful job of protecting their quarterback this season. Arizona has surrendered 28 sacks, including 22 in the past three games. The Dolphins had eight sacks against Kevin Kolb in Week 4 and Kolb was sacked nine times by the Rams in Week 5. Kolb will be sidelined for several weeks after suffering a rib injury last week against the Bills, meaning John Skelton will get his second start of the season. Skelton started the regular-season opener against Seattle after beating out Kolb for the job in the preseason, but he suffered an ankle injury against the Seahawks. Skelton, a fifth-round choice in 2010 out of Fordham, is 8-4 as a starter but only 2-4 on the road. Skelton won't have much of a chance of improving on that record if his line can't protect him. One matchup to watch will be Vikings right end Jared Allen against Cardinals left tackle D'Anthony Batiste. Allen, who led the NFL with 22 sacks in 2011, leads the Vikings with four this season. The Vikings, who tied Philadelphia for the league lead with 50 sacks last season, have 15 so far this year. That ties them with Buffalo and Cleveland for 11th in the NFL.
Red-zone issues: The tone for the Vikings' loss at Washington was set in the first quarter when Minnesota got into the red zone three times and came away with three field goals. The Vikings finished with only two touchdowns in seven red-zone trips after entering the game ninth in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage (60). So what happened? A lack of execution didn't help matters, but neither did the fact that wide receiver Percy Harvin, the Vikings' most dynamic player on offense, was off the field for five of the nine snaps in the red zone during his team's opening three drives. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave admitted he wasn't "proud" of that fact and it sounds as if it won't happen again. Musgrave believes in his personnel groupings, but getting too cute by leaving Harvin off the field is never a good idea. The Vikings did spend more time this past week working on their red-zone offense and are hoping that will pay off Sunday.
Getting defensive: The Cardinals got off to a 4-0 start, beating Seattle, New England, Philadelphia and Miami, thanks in large part to a defense that did not surrender more than 21 points in a game. The Cardinals remain the only team in the NFL that has kept every opponent to 21 points or fewer. Arizona has given up only eight touchdowns in its first six games, a figure that ranks as the second-lowest total in the NFL behind Chicago (seven). The Bears, however, have played one fewer game. Among the reasons for the Cardinals' success on defense has been the play of Daryl Washington, a third-year linebacker out of TCU. Washington's next sack will be his fifth this year, tying his career single-season high that he set in 2011. The Cardinals have 19 sacks this season, tying them for third in the NFL with Seattle and behind only Green Bay (21) and Cincinnati (20). Second-year cornerback Patrick Peterson is also a key to the success of this defense. His three picks put him one off the league lead.
Close eye on Simpson: Sunday will mark two weeks since Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson woke up with numbness and weakness in his leg. Tests found that the problem originates in Simpson's back. The issue is believed to be tied into a disc issue. Simpson was the target of only three pass attempts and did not catch a ball in Week 5 against Tennessee and he was inactive last Sunday at Washington. This didn't make Simpson happy, in large part because he earns a $59,375 roster bonuses for each game he's on the 46-man roster. Simpson insisted he could have played against the Redskins, but coach Leslie Frazier did not deactivate his lone vertical threat on offense because he wanted to. Clearly, Frazier was told that playing Simpson wouldn't be a good idea. So is Simpson really fine to play or will he be less than effective? Sunday's game could go a long way toward determining if this issue was a short-term one or one that will be a storyline into the winter months.
Home cooking: Arizona was the only team the Vikings beat at home last season en route to a 3-13 finish. This season the Vikings are 3-0 at the Metrodome, having beaten Jacksonville (26-23 in overtime), San Francisco (24-13) and Tennessee (30-7). Sunday's game will be the first of two in a four-day span at the Metrodome. The Vikings will immediately begin to prepare for a Thursday night game against Tampa Bay after facing the Cardinals. These two games give the Vikings a chance to go to 5-0 at home and 6-2 on the season halfway through the schedule. Three of the Vikings' next four games are at home, including a Nov. 11 matchup against Detroit that will be followed by the team's bye week.
Judd Zulgad: The Cardinals surprised everyone with their 4-0 start, but they have lost their past two and this offense isn't very good. The offensive line is terrible. The Vikings got a reminder that they are a work in progress last Sunday in Washington. However, playing at home and not facing Robert Griffin III will help the Vikings get back on track. Vikings 28, Cardinals 21.
Tom Pelissero: The Cardinals are a mess offensively and inserting low-percentage QB John Skelton probably won't help. As long as the Vikings can move the football with Patrick Peterson shadowing Percy Harvin, they should move to 4-0 at the Metrodome. Vikings 31, Cardinals 17.