After two consecutive road games, the Minnesota Vikings head home to face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Both teams are struggling but come off big victories, as the Vikings (2-2-1) pulled out a win over the Philadelphia Eagles in a rematch of the 2017 NFC Championship Game while the Cardinals (1-4) defeated the San Francisco 49ers for their first victory of the year.
Minnesota has followed the league's trend to a pass-first offense with quarterback Kirk Cousins and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, and it's hard to see that changing at home against Arizona. The Cardinals have top-notch cornerback Patrick Peterson, but the Vikings can counter with a top wide receiver duo that creates mismatches. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are both among the top 10 in the NFL in catches this season, while Cousins has the second-most passing yards (1,688) in the league.
Cousins has set an NFL record by completing at least 30 passes in four consecutive games.
"I just want to get wins," Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer said. "I don't care how we do it. Obviously, I have a philosophy, but we have to do what we have to do to win football games. If you watch some of these teams that have been great throughout the years, they may throw it 60 times per game then they may run 50 times per game. Whatever we have to do to win the football game is really what is important to me."
The Cardinals' passing attack, meanwhile, has only gotten slightly better since rookie quarterback Josh Rosen replaced Sam Bradford. Arizona ranks second-to-last with just 146 passing yards per game, and veteran Larry Fitzgerald has been held to just seven total catches the past three weeks, albeit while playing with a sore hamstring.
As such, the Cardinals will keep trying to get David Johnson and the running game untracked, but they haven't been able to do it yet, and there's no reason to think it will magically get resolved against a defense like Minnesota's. The Vikings can be susceptible at the linebacker position if the Cardinals can get the right matchups.
The Cardinals rank dead last in the league in rushing offense, averaging just 64.6 yards per game, and Johnson is on pace to finish with just 774 rushing yards and 48 receptions for 384 yards. That's a far cry from his All-Pro season of 2016, when he rushed 293 times for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns and caught 80 passes for 879 yards and four touchdowns.
"Just keep grinding," Johnson said. "Just keep grinding and doing what they pay me to do, doing what the coaches and my teammates expect me to do and we'll get through it for sure."
Minnesota coaches have talked about wanting more balance offensively, and did turn to more of a running attack late in the win against Philadelphia. This week could offer a chance for the Vikings to finally get their ground game going with the Cardinals giving up 142.4 rushing yards per game, the second-highest total in the league. But DeFilippo knows what has worked best for Minnesota this season and that is allowing Cousins and the receivers to hit explosive plays and dictate matchups.
"The thing that I think is the defenses now, there's so many defenses now that are playing single-high (safety)," Zimmer said. "That makes it much more difficult to run the football into, usually. These teams that are checking the ball and throwing it. They're taking a 5-yard throw as opposed to a 2-yard run. I think that's just kind of how it is. I do think it'll get more balanced as the season continues to progress a little bit. I could be wrong, but I think it'll get more balanced."
The Cardinals' defense was on the field for 40 minutes and 12 seconds against San Francisco as the 49ers' offense ran a staggering 92 plays. That's the most of any non-overtime game since 2012 and the most a Cardinals' defense has faced since 1958.
"In regards to the number of plays, we've got to do a much better job of getting off the field," Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks said. "They had a 13-play drive right there, I believe, in the third quarter and they only had one third down. So again, we've got to create negative plays and get these guys in third-and-long and get off the field."
The Vikings have owned the series recently, winning four of the past five meetings and nine straight in Minnesota. A big reason for the success has been a defense that has limited Arizona to an average of 19 points per game in the past five contests.
"We need to execute better," said Rosen, who will make his third career start Sunday. "I think we've just got to play better. ... We've just got to execute better -- offense and defense. I don't think anyone plays perfect games, and even if you do play really good, there's always room to get better."