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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Preview: Can Vikings overcome defensive injuries against high-flying Cardinals?

By Andrew Krammer

Minnesota Vikings (8-4) at the Arizona Cardinals (10-2)

When/where: Thursday, 7:25 p.m. CST at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

Line: Cardinals by 8

Series: Vikings lead 15-10

Last meeting: Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson and Harrison Smith scored touchdowns as the Vikings held off the Cardinals, 21-14, at the Metrodome on Oct. 21, 2012.

Coaches: Mike Zimmer (15-13, second season) vs. Bruce Arians (31-13, third season)

Last week: The Vikings were dismantled in every phase, and lost 38-7 to the Seattle Seahawks; the Cardinals held the Rams to 1 of 12 on third downs, and won their sixth straight, 27-3.

A lot to overcome — Without stalwarts at each level of the defense, Mike Zimmer will have a lot of talent handcuffed to the sideline in one of their toughest tests of the season against the Cardinals’ No. 1-ranked offense led by MVP-candidate Carson Palmer. Rookie Edmond Robinson, a seventh-round pick, is expected to make his first career start for Barr, while they’ll be down either Robert Blanton, who is questionable, or newcomers in Shaun Prater and Anthony Harris, a practice-squad promotion, at safety. It’s possible cornerback Terence Newman shifts to safety, with rookie first-round pick Trae Waynes getting the start at corner. Either way, the Vikings’ injury-thinned back end will have their hands full against Palmer and his 8.8 yards per throw, second among all passers. Slot cornerback Captain Munnerlyn will also have a long day against Larry Fitzgerald, who is having his best season in years and runs 60 percent of his routes from the slot, according to Pro Football Focus.

In the trenches — While the Vikings will have a major shake-up at safety, the most impactful losses could come up front where they’ll be without Joseph and Barr again. Russell Wilson and Thomas Rawls had their way with those two sidelined last week, and while Palmer isn’t a rushing threat like Wilson, they’ve got a dynamic rookie back in David Johnson, who averaged 4.5 yards rushing on 22 attempts last week and is averaging 12.5 yards per catch on 21 receptions this season. Zimmer had his work cut out for him this week in trying to devise a game plan without three of his best weapons, and two in Barr and Joseph who were instrumental for an already shaky run defense. The Cardinals lost a rejuvenated Chris Johnson, but don’t have a far drop off with David Johnson in an offense averaging 120 rushing yards per game — eighth in the league.

Back on track? — Adrian Peterson has made his opinion known as he spent a lot of time on the sideline in each of the two losses. The Vikings trailed by at least two scores in each, and Peterson hasn’t been a part of their hurry-up or shotgun offense. When asked this week, Zimmer agreed with Peterson when saying he ‘probably should’ have received more carries in the blowout loss to Seattle. After Peterson called out the coaching following the Nov. 22 loss to Green Bay, he received 29 handoffs in a wire-to-wire victory at Atlanta. The carries might not come so easily against Arizona, and it’ll be intriguing to see Peterson’s workload should the Vikings fall in a hole. Peterson, who leads the NFL with 245 carries, stood by his comments when asked again this week.

Navigating hostile waters — Teddy Bridgewater met with Turner and Zimmer this week, with Zimmer only revealing they wanted to ‘clean up’ some things. The Vikings need better play from their quarterback as he comes off a career-low 118 passing yards and now faces a Cardinals’ No. 4-ranked defense that has only surrendered 17 passing touchdowns to 16 interceptions, the third-most in the league. Arizona safeties Rashad Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu have combined for nine of those picks and will look to prey on a vulnerable Bridgewater, who stands behind a shaky offensive line and with an inconsistent arm that saw him overthrow a deep shot to Earl Thomas last week.

Finding the fluster — Zimmer has backed off the blitz a lot since Anthony Barr broke his left hand in the Nov. 8 win against St. Louis. So it’s likely no coincidence their sack-per-game average has dropped from 2.6 over the first seven games, to 1.8 over the last five. They haven’t been able to generate as much pressure on the quarterback with a defensive front that has dealt with injuries to Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen. They’re facing a Cardinals offense that is vulnerable to pressure, as Palmer is feeling heat on 42.3 percent of his dropbacks, per Pro Football Focus, third-most in the league. Though he’s been tough to bring down as they’ve surrendered just 19 sacks and Palmer is delivering the ball with a league-high 13 throws while being hit, per PFF.

Injury reports

Vikings: LB Anthony Barr (hand/groin), S Harrison Smith (knee/hamstring), NT Linval Joseph (foot), S Andrew Sendejo (knee) and LB Brandon Watts (rib) are out; S Robert Blanton (knee) is questionable; DE Scott Crichton (ankle) is probable.

Cardinals: RB Andre Ellington (toe), CB Jerraud Powers (calf) and DT Frostee Rucker (ankle) are out; TE Jermaine Gresham (knee) is doubtful; S Tony Jefferson (hamstring) and DT Cory Redding (ankle) are questionable; WR Larry Fitzgerald (ankle), WR Michael Floyd (hamstring) and WR John Brown (hamstring) are probable.

Prediction

The Vikings are decimated on defense and struggling on offense, a bad mixture as they travel across the country to face a surging Cardinals team in prime-time. Cardinals 28, Vikings 10

The post Preview: Can Vikings overcome defensive injuries against high-flying Cardinals? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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