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Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Cardinals?

The Minnesota Vikings (2-2-1) return to US Bank Stadium on Sunday to face off with the Arizona Cardinals (1-4). Here’s how the two teams match up… (all stats via Pro Football Focus and Pro-Football Reference.)

Quarterback

Can the Vikings sustain offensive success around short passing game?

Vikings starter: Kirk Cousins

The Vikings couldn’t ask for much more than what they have received from Kirk Cousins, especially over the last two games. In the split with Los Angeles and Philadelphia, he made a number of incredible throws and totaled 723 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 115.3 passer rating. His connection with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen has driven the success of the offense, which has largely turned to quick passes and the occasional deep shot. Cousins is averaging only 10.5 yards per completion, the lowest of his career as a full-time starter. This week should be another opportunity to put up numbers, but without his starting left tackle, the Vikings will have to again focus on getting the ball out quickly.

Cardinals starter: Josh Rosen

It didn’t take long for Arizona’s rookie quarterback to take over for veteran Sam Bradford, who lost the job after operating the league’s worst offense for the first three weeks of the season. Since Rosen has been inserted into the lineup, they haven’t exactly been a dynamo but the Cards have gained 1.5 more yards per attempt and — despite a struggling O-line — have only seen Rosen sacked three times. He hit on a 75-yard touchdown to Christian Kirk in his first career win last week. The former UCLA star is facing a serious uphill battle with a team that will likely be torn apart and rebuilt after this season. The Vikings should be able to harass Rosen regularly, but if he has any time to throw, the Cards will be looking to take advantage of his terrific arm strength and downfield accuracy.

Advantage: Vikings 

Running back

Can Dalvin Cook get the Vikings’ running game back on track?

Vikings starte: Dalvin Cook

This season has struggled to launch for Cook. He opened the year with two solid weeks, battling through an overmatched offensive line and making an impact in the passing game, but then went down with a hamstring injury that has either kept him out or slowed him down each of the last three weeks. Cook is listed as questionable for the game, which could mean we see more Roc Thomas and Mike Boone if he still isn’t 100 percent. Both players have sparingly seen the field but showed in preseason they have big-play potential.

Cardinals starter: David Johnson

Fantasy owners must be flummoxed by Johnson’s start to the season. He’s gained just 242 yards at 3.3 yards a pop and only averages three catches per game. In 2016, the former Northern Iowa back was a premier all-around player, catching 80 passes and picking up over 1,200 yards rushing. He led the league in touches. Like Dalvin Cook, Johnson’s offensive line hasn’t given him much chance to succeed. At some point, you would expect him to break out in the passing game.

Advantage: Even

Wide receiver/tight end

Should the Vikings stop trying to run the ball?

Vikings starters: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Kyle Rudolph

Here’s your breaking news update on Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen: Still good.

Cousins’ passer rating is 117.3 when throwing to Diggs and 115.5 when targeting Thielen. And John DeFilippo seems to fully understand how to use each. Diggs became a quick-pass option last week and Thielen was the team’s big-play threat, hitting on a 68-yard pass. Their chemistry appears to be improving each week and Cousins’ arm talent maximizes their strengths.

Credit should go to Kyle Rudolph for killing opponents on third-and-short. He has 23 catches and 15 have turned into first downs.

Cardinals starters: Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Chad Williams, Ricky Seals-Jones,

Because Sam Bradford refused to throw the ball down the field, averaging just 5.0 yards per attempt, we don’t quite know yet what Arizona’s set of weapons can be. Of course, Fitzgerald always finds ways to get open, nabbing 17 of 28 passes in his direction this year, but Kirk may just be scratching the surface with his team-leading 19 reception on 24 targets. The rookie was an explosive college player and appears to be carrying his game over to Arizona. Beyond those two, it’s hard to find too many threats. Williams has four catches on 19 throws in his direction.

Advantage: Vikings 

Offensive line

Vikings starters: Rashod Hill – Tom Compton – Pat Elflein – Mike Remmers – Brian O’Neill

Without Riley Reiff, the Vikings’ O-line could be in for a long day against Chandler Jones and Benson Mayowa. Rashod Hill will face off with Jones the most on the left side, where he struggled after being moved into that spot, giving up six total pressures against Philadelphia. On the right side, O’Neill gets his first chance to start after several relief appearances have prepared him for extended playing action. He allowed two hurries and one QB hit in 27 pass snaps against the Eagles.

Still the Vikings have a shot to improve their running game as they will no longer be matching up with elite interior talent like Fletcher Cox and Aaron Donald. We can expect Pat Elflein to have a bigger impact in the screen and zone running game this week.

Cardinals starters: DJ Humphries – Mike Iupati – Mason Cole – Justin Pugh – Andre Smith

If you thought the Vikings had issues up front, welcome to the worst line in the NFL. While the Cards signed Pugh to a big contract this offseason, they didn’t effectively address the other parts of the line. Cole is a rookie from Michigan that wasn’t expected to start, Smith was finished as a quality player five years ago and Iupati’s best days are far behind him. Humphries, a former first-round pick, was limited to only 204 snaps last season after giving up nine sacks in his rookie year.

Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings

Defensive line

Will the Vikings’ defense get back to its 2017 ways after confidence builder in Philly?

Vikings starters: Danielle Hunter, Sheldon Richardson, Linval Joseph, Stephen Weatherly

Last week the Vikings got their groove back, consistently pressuring Carson Wentz and producing a touchdown on a Weatherly strip-sack. If Weatherly continues to perform at the level he has so far, the Vikings can continue to create pressure by rushing four. Hunter has been one of the NFL’s most dominant pass rushers thus far. He’s tied for seventh among edge rushers with 22 total pressures. Richardson has 20, which is sixth among inside rushers.

Cardinals starters: Chandler Jones, Robert Nkemdiche, Corey Peters, Benson Mayowa

Arizona’s defense has kept them in the last three games, allowing just 17 to Chicago, 20 to Seattle and 18 to San Francisco in their lone victory. They have given up a lot of yardage but forced four turnovers against the Bears and have been effective getting after quarterbacks with 14 sacks. Jones is one of the premier players at his position, leading the NFL with 17 sacks in 2017. That was the fourth time in his career that he’s gone over 10 sacks. Mayowa has also created pressure around the edge with 13 hurries and it appears Nkemdiche is finally starting to assimilate to the NFL.

Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings

Linebackers

Vikings starters: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon

While Barr and Kendricks have not been as effective as they were in the past, Kendricks had his best game this season against the Eagles, only giving up 17 yards through the air and Barr has been extremely effective in the pass rush, creating nine pressures on just 40 pass rush snaps. Also Barr was in the spotlight against the Rams because of miscues by the entire defense, but aside from the Rams game he has only allowed 15 yards passing against all year.

Cardinals starters: Deone Buchanan, Haason Reddick, Josh Bynes

Once upon a time, Buchanan was a chess piece for the Cardinals as a hybrid linebacker/safety. But those days appear to be over as he has been the victim of a number of big plays, giving up a 145.5 rating on throws into his coverage. Opponents have also targeted him in their run game. Buchanan is PFF’s lowest rated run defender on Arizona’s roster. Bynes has similarly poor coverage statistics (15-of-16 with a 150.0 rating against) but has performed better against the run.

Advantage: Vikings

Secondary 

Vikings starters: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, Harrison Smith

The Vikings’ secondary appeared to be a strength coming into the season, but that hasn’t been the case so far. Uncharacteristically, Rhodes has allowed a 69.0 percent completion percentage on throws in his direction and Waynes has given up a 157.6 rating against — he will be returning from a concussion this week. The nickel spot still seems to be unsolved as Alexander continues to struggle and Hughes bounces from inside to outside. Without Andrew Sendejo the Vikings will either turn to Jayron Kearse or George Iloka, who has only seen the field on a handful of plays. Kearse hasn’t played safety since 2016.

Cardinals starters: Patrick Peterson, Budda Baker, Jamar Taylor, Antoine Bethea, Tre Boston

There’s no question Peterson is one of the truly elite corners in the NFL and has the ability to instantly change a game with a big play. The rest of the Cardinals’ secondary has its moments. Baker has been crushed in coverage each of the last two years and neither Bathea or Boston have impressive numbers either when targeted. Taylor is an extreme weakness, giving up 16-of-19 for 285 yards this season.

Advantage: Vikings





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