Arizona vs. Minnesota Preview: What’s in the Cards for Game 2?
Image courtesy of Matt Kartozian, USA TODAY SportsSeveral of the high-flying Cards’ receivers first got their wings in Minnesota high schools, and the Vikings secondary (which is currently rebuilding and rehabbing some injuries) is hoping to clip those wings.That matchup will be key in this second of four preseason games.
It was once rumored (hoped for, might be more accurate) that Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a former high school football star for Holy Angels in Richfield (and former ball boy for the Vikings), might some day sign with the Vikings and finish his Pro Bowl career with his hometown team. But Fitzgerald (if he ever concerned himself with such a thought) doesn’t really need to worry about playing games in Minnesota—that happens quite often. The Vikings and Cardinals have played each other three times in the past four seasons at the Metrodome and have met five times (twice in Arizona) in the past six seasons--so Fitz has been seen often by his supporters in Minnesota.
Even Michael Floyd, a former Cretin-Derham Hall receiver, is returning to Minnesota with the Cardinals for the second time in three seasons. This year, Floyd is joined by former Litchfield high school player (and recent Vikings tight end) John Carlson. It’s such a Minnesota reunion that there may be a number of conflicted Vikings fans wringing their hands about allegiances over their tailgate menu of tater tot hot dish.
Perhaps the greater point is that these two teams should be familiar with each other—but that is not necessarily true. Roster turnover and head coaching changes by both teams since they last met in 2012 will bring some mystery to the match-up. Still some of the familiar faces--such as Fitzgerald and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson--remain. And even though it’s the preseason, the players still keep an eye on one another.
“We looked at them a little bit, so far,” Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said of the Cardinals. “They actually had a great game against Houston. Those receivers were catching the ball. They’ve got a rookie receiver that’s doing great out there. We know it’s going to be a challenge for us in the secondary. They’ve got Larry Fitzgerald, for one thing. It’s going to be a challenge.”
The passing game of Arizona should feature prominently in the game. Last week against Houston, the Cardinals offense scored 30 points in a 32-0 shellacking of the Texans. They racked up 407 total yards and 326 of them through the air—with rookie John Brown catching five passes for 87 yards to lead the team.
Meanwhile, the Vikings were signing a new player (veteran safety Chris Crocker) and suffering injuries in the secondary, as safety Mistral Raymond (who left last week’s game with concussion symptoms but returned to practice this past week) joining a growing list of defensive backs who have spent time on the injury report during camp. It stands to reason that the Cardinals will continue their passing ways against Minnesota.
“They had a couple great first drives; they’re really a high powered offense,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “They’re just a great challenge at this point. In the preseason, you are trying to build on what you have done in preseason games and training camp, and I think it’s just a great challenge to go out and see where we are at.”
The Vikings offense, meanwhile, scored on the opening drive of their game against the Oakland Raiders last week, but they could only must three more points after that in their 10-6 win. Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel looked surgical in moving the Vikings down the field for the touchdown, but it was his only series (before giving way to rookie Teddy Bridgewater), and he hinted at a desire for more playing time in the Arizona game. Head coach Mike Zimmer, who was coy early in the week about his starting quarterback, might have received the message.
“Let’s see the best way to answer that one is, he has a chance to have the entire first half, yes,” Zimmer said when pressed by reporters about the quarterback rotation.
That could be good news for the Vikings offense, which sputtered a bit under the rookie signal caller. The entire Vikings teams is learning a new system, so even the veterans need plenty of time on the field with their teammates before the real games start.
The Vikings offense will need to keep pace with the Cardinals offense against an Arizona defense that shut out the Texans last week. And Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil isn’t sure whom he will be blocking on Saturday (with linebacker John Abraham just recently returning to camp), but he knows the Cardinals defense will be a challenge.
“They have a great defense,” he said. “They were 10-6 last year, a good team in a tough division. They have a great front. I was focused a bit on Abraham, but I don’t think he’s playing, so whoever I line up against I will be ready for and will go after it.”
Expect to see the Vikings play with more urgency this week. They have a starting quarterback who is eager to establish some rhythm with the first team, a backup looking to move on from his previous performance show his ability to the home town crowd and a defense looking to take another step forward with their rebuild by shutting down a quality opponent.
It’s only the second game of the preseason, so the full rosters of players are still being evaluated before a cut-down day on Aug. 26 (following the third preseason game). The teams will be reluctant to show much of their offense and are not game planning their opponent in great detail, but if the Vikings first team offense with Cassel at the helm plays longer than just a series on Saturday, fans will begin to get a better indication of who they will see playing in September.
And if they can ruin the Cardinals receivers’ reunion, that will be better than a tuna noodle casserole without the peas.