Scouting report: Terrible tackles might mean big trouble for Cardinals
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The Minnesota Vikings are 0-4 and facing a long season with little to cheer. They next welcome the Arizona Cardinals to the Metrodome, looking to get something in the win column. Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down film from every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Cardinals:
The Cardinals' coaching staff and schemes have stayed remarkably intact for a side that has fallen from Super Bowl participants to a top-10 draft pick in the past few seasons. This is largely due to the belief, rightly or wrongly, that their woes began and ended with the quarterback position. Kurt Warner was one of the best in the league, and when he left, they were left with a series of failed options to replace him.
This offseason, the Cardinals traded to get QB Kevin Kolb (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) and hope he is the guy who can steady things with plenty of help from WR Larry Fitzgerald (6-3, 218) on the perimeter. They run largely man-blocking up front with some inside zone plays and a lot of trap blocks on which they use their tight ends to come across and drive defenders out of the hole at the point of attack. They use play action when they can and will spread receivers out across the field and force teams to defend with their nickel package.
On defense, the Cardinals have become a conventional 3-4 team, having once plied their trade in a hybrid front. This transformation has come not from a change in coaching philosophy, but rather from the acquisition of a legitimate and viable 3-4 nose tackle in the rather large shape of NT Dan Williams (6-2, 327). The only other quirk on defense is the way they use SS Adrian Wilson (6-3, 226), who is far more at home in the box and close to the line of scrimmage than he is away from it in coverage. They're forced to run a lot of single high safety and will use Wilson to cover underneath routes like a more athletic linebacker.
As bad as the Vikings have found their O-line at times this season, the Cardinals can boast something special in that regard when it comes to pass protection. LT Levi Brown (6-6, 324) has consistently been among the worst tackles in football since he was drafted, and that hasn't changed this season. In 2010, he allowed 10 sacks, 10 more knockdowns and a staggering 50 more pressures on the season. Brown doesn't even make up for it with his play in run blocking, where he is also consistently beaten. Vikings RE Jared Allen had a relatively quiet day last week against the Chiefs, especially against the run, but this is a matchup that can get you on "SportsCenter" in a hurry.
Arizona has had a pretty anemic pass rush over the past few years, but there have been signs of life this season. Though he has yet to register a sack, OLB Clark Haggans (6-4, 243) has enjoyed an extremely good start to the season, constantly worrying opposing passers. He registered four knockdowns, 11 pressures and two batted passes over the first three games of the season. Haggans had been consistently poor over the past few seasons, but he seems to be a different player in 2011 and needs to be accounted for, if just because there isn't much pressure coming from anywhere else.
ILB Daryl Washington (6-2, 230) is one of the best young inside linebackers in football. His speed and ability to knife through traffic and make plays in the backfield will test a Vikings line that has been slow-footed for much of the season. The last thing Vikings HB Adrian Peterson needs to see is Washington meeting him in the backfield. The former TCU product also has the type of athleticism that allows him to excel in coverage, allowing less than two receptions a game this season.
Strengths and weaknesses
The Cardinals have issues in pass protection, with four out of their five o-linemen grading negatively in that regard so far this season. But they have a real problem on the edge. Brown and RT Brandon Keith (6-5, 338) operate like synchronized turnstiles at times and seem to be matching each other stride for stride in terms of pressure allowed. The fastest way to limit the threat of a passing game is quick pressure around the edge, and the Vikings have a pair of defensive ends with the speed to apply that pressure and meet at the quarterback.
The defensive line for Arizona has some players that can penetrate in a hurry and disrupt plays. DE Calais Campbell (6-8, 310) is the best of them in that regard. And while DE Darnell Dockett (6-4, 290) is usually vastly overrated, relying on a few highlight, impact plays to stoke a reputation, he has started 2011 very well. Backup DE Vonnie Holliday (6-5, 285) is a great player to have added as depth in that regard, and those three players will test the Vikings guards -- especially with RG Anthony Herrera still looking slow and stiff to react to defenders.
Coverage can be a weakness for the Cardinals, with none of their cornerbacks playing particularly well, and they do expect them to hold up their end of the bargain, frequently leaving them without much safety help because of Wilson being around the line of scrimmage. CB A.J. Jefferson (6-0, 190) is playing the best of the group, with top pick CB Patrick Peterson (6-0, 219) taking a bit of time to find his feet, but they shouldn't be feared. The Vikings can exploit this group, but they haven't shown much desire or ability to attack teams on the boundary so far this season.
The Cardinals are far from a great side, and they have weaknesses that a capable team can exploit. The problem is the Vikings have shown to be anything but a capable side so far this season, and the Cardinals have enough weapons to grab a win on the road.