Cardinals’ Thorough Beat Down of Vikings: Report Card- A+
This is as easy as it gets. The Arizona Cardinals passed their stiffest challenge of the season with startling ease.
The Vikings came to town having been anointed the most complete team in the NFL by many pundits, despite their one loss and two undefeated teams ahead of them. The annually under-appreciated Cardinals were supposed to have their hands full against three of the best players in the NFL at any position—Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen. Instead, all three superstars and the rest of the Vikings were completely shut down in a thoroughly dominating performance by the reigning NFC Champions.
Passing Offense- A+
Kurt Warner came back after missing last game with post-concussion symptoms with flying colors—and thankfully the good kind, not the kind that you get when your head is bashed. He threw 3 first half TDs and finished with 285 yards on 22 of 32 passing for a QB rating of 127.7.
But let’s get real here for a second, Warner is capable of that every game. The game ball without question goes to Jeremy Bridges. Bridges stepped for injured and inactive starter Mike Gandy at left tackle, a position he had never played, and battled one of the best defensive ends in the NFL all game. The result? Jared Allen did not register a stat. That’s right, not only did he not add to his 12.5 sacks (second-best in the league), he did not register any stat at all. Bridges received help from TE Ben Patrick and RB Tim Hightower, as Allen was double-teamed almost all game, but for a career back-up journeyman to put on a Pro Bowl caliber performance is miraculous.
It cannot be discounted the job the rest of the O-line did as well. The Vikings came into the game with the most sacks in the league, yet came up empty.
Anquan Boldin appeared 100% healthy and continued his strong play of late. He scored twice for the first time this season, one on a highlight reel catch and run.
Larry Fitzgerald also scored, and was rightfully involved early and often. His 143 yards was a single-game best on the year which included his longest catch so far this season, good for 34 yards.
Despite the heavy reliance on his Pro Bowl wideouts, Warner spread the ball around to 8 different receivers.
Rushing Offense- A
The only reason this is not an A+ is because Tim Hightower fumbled on the second play of the game to continue the Cardinals’ fumblitis. Despite fumbling on the play, Hightower set the tone for the game by rushing for 10 yards on his first carry and he ripped off a 32-yard romp midway through the fourth quarter, finishing with a highlight reel stiff-arm.
Minnesota’s claim to fame even before Favre was their stout rushing defense, annually one of the best. The “Williams Wall” had been allowing less than 85 yards per contest on the ground, and the Cardinals—regularly considered to be a weak rushing attack—put up 113. While that is not huge production, it proves that Arizona’s rushing attack gets a bad rap. Running backs Hightower and Beanie Wells ran hard and physical and did not bow down to the vaunted Vikings.
Starting safety Antrel Rolle was inserted into the offense to run the wildcat for the second time this season. He was looking to pass, but not liking the coverage down field, he managed to actually gain 9 yards on the play even though he appeared to be bottled up well behind the line of scrimmage. Rolle is extremely athletic and has Cardinals’ fans excited for more. Maybe next time he will get to show off his arm. It has been reported that he can throw the ball 90 yards in a tight spiral.
Passing Defense- A+
Two of the Cardinals’ biggest weaknesses have been leaving receivers wide open on occasion and not being able to stop opposing teams on crucial drives. In this game, Arizona’s coverage was like velcro and they stopped the Minnesota offense so aggressively they never had a chance to have a crucial drive. Brett Favre had thrown 3 INTs and left having thrown 2 more. Arizona had 32 sacks—good for third-best in the NFL—and left with 35. Calais Campbell and Bertrand Berry both registered their fifth sacks of the season, Berry’s total achieved by notching two, and Darnell Dockett disrupted the trenches all game.
In the secondary, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie continued his ball-hawking Pro Bowl caliber play, and Michael Adams caught his first interception of his career. Karlos Dansby led the team in tackles with 7 solos, and also picked Favre off. Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle manned the middle of the field like defensive back-linebacker hybrids.
Rushing Defense- A++
Any time a team can make a healthy Adrian Peterson suffer through a 13-carry, 19-yard day is astounding and deserves an extra ‘+’. Especially when you consider AP had an 11-yard run as part of that total. This was team tackling at its best. Arizona had come into the game with the 13th-ranked rush defense, but they had faced 4 of the top 6 RBs. Make that 5 of the top 6 now. I think that has something to do with the ranking don’t you?
Special Teams- A+
Ben Graham and Neil Rackers deserve Pro Bowl consideration. Graham continued his stellar punting by dropping 2 of his 3 punts inside the Vikings’ 20, with a long of 52 yards. Neil Rackers has very quietly missed only one field goal—a 45-yard attempt back in Week 2—and has made all of his PATs this season. Yesterday he made field goals from 31, 30 and 29 yards out, and deftly served the Vikings’ returners difficult balls to return.
Steve Breaston’s 64-yard punt return with the Cardinals trailing 7-0 helped spark the team back into domination mode. On the very next play, Warner hit Boldin for the tying TD. This marks the second straight game a long return has stimulated the team when they needed it most.
No runs, no drips, no errors. Wow, you know I am showing my age when I am quoting Johnny Bench on an ancient spray paint TV commercial. Seriously though, Ken Whisenhunt smartly gave Jeremy Bridges help on Jared Allen all game long, and without it you’d have to expect Allen would have taken advantage at some point. As stated previously, Bridges had never played left tackle before the game. Not to mention, star Kurt Warner coming off of an absence due to concussion. The coaching staff prepared well and helped the team execute to perfection with stellar play calling on both sides of the ball. The defense was aggressive and the coverages held up. The team on the whole was confident and playing with a purpose for the entire game. With the distinctive rump-whopping, the Cardinals have now established themselves as one of the teams to beat heading into the latter stages of the regular season, and beyond.| beat down, Cardinals, report card, Vikings