Whenever the Arizona Cardinals and the Minnesota Vikings do battle, crazy things have a habit of occurring. This time the weird and wonderful came by way of a pinball score by undrafted free agent Zach Bauman after a fumbled fourth down snap. The Vikings didn’t fall victim to the bizarre, however. Teddy Bridgewater laid down a marker for the starting job, combining with Rodney Smith to lead a game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes.
Bridgewater’s performance was one of a number of positives to come out of the game for Minnesota, including some notable performances from their front seven that will offer hope for immediate improvements under Mike Zimmer.
On the other sideline the Cardinals again got another touchdown drive from their starters in another brief but encouraging outing from Carson Palmer. On defense there were more solid showings from the reserves with their starters playing a little longer but still not exactly stretching their fitness.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
Keeping Up with the Browns
In Michael Floyd’s continued absence, the Cardinals’ pair of Browns continued to show the strength in the depth of Carson Palmer’s receiving corps. After John Brown starred last week, it was Jaron Brown’s (27 snaps, +0.9 receiving) turn to come up with the big plays in the passing game. Getting started early he took a simple screen pass, broke two tackles, and burst away up the left sideline for a 51-yard gain to spark the Cardinals’ first touchdown drive. He followed that up with a 35-yard gain in the second quarter, getting up above Xavier Rhodes to setup another Arizona touchdown. Only two plays, but two big impact plays to setup scores.
Not So Welcome Return
John Carlson resurrected his career in Minnesota last season with a strong four-game spell from Week 10 to Week 13 where he earned a +11.2 overall grade. That month saw him snag 264 receiving yards but it was his work as a blocker that the Vikings exposed on his return. Staying in to pass protect three times Carlson surrendered a pair of hits, one each to Brian Robison and Everson Griffen in the first quarter. Adding to this he surrendered two stops in the ground game, with Griffen again getting the better of him and the other to Chad Greenway, each off of his inside shoulder.
Reserves Shine Again
A week ago the Cardinals got strong displays from their reserve defenders up front. Last night both Ed Stinson and Alex Okafor backed that up. Stinson (36 snaps, +2.5 overall) registered two hurries in the passing game (one nullified by a penalty) and was a constant thorn in the side of Minnesota’s attempts to run the ball. Though he only registered two stops he was a consistent thorn in the Vikings’ run blockers, standing them up at the line to squeeze, disrupt, and divert running lanes. On the outside Okafor (22 snaps, +2.5 overall) also registered a pair of hurries (against first stringer Phil Loadholt and Rhett Ellison) and added his own pair of stops in the ground game, including a tackle on Matt Asiata for a 5-yard loss.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Sparring Under Center
All three first round quarterbacks from this year’s draft are in a position of having to beat out incumbent starters rather than being inserted as starters. Though the battle in Cleveland might get the most press attention, on performance level the Vikings may just have the best battle. Both Matt Cassel (31 snaps, +3.3 passing) and Teddy Bridgewater (35 snaps, +3.1 passing) put on impressive displays last night with Cassel getting the Vikings off to a strong start and Bridgewater leading the game-winning drive. Bridgewater, who can thank Rodney Smith for his part in that drive, looked composed on the short passes going 7-of-7 for 67 yards and a score (+1.2 grade) on passes short and over the middle. This is an area that young QBs tend to struggle in but Bridgewater has shown no such signs through two games. If you take the opinion that this is Bridgewater’s job to win then this was a step forward, if it is Cassel’s job to lose then last night’s performance strengthened his grip for Week 1. There was some good fortune in his long scoring pass, but he looked very good on intermediate passes as well, doing nothing to make Mike Zimmer’s decision any easier.
Front Seven Steps Forward
Minnesota’s defensive starters were put through a solid workout last night playing just over 30 snaps as a unit. On the defensive line Sharrif Floyd (25 snaps, +2.0 overall) showed signs that the Vikings’ tremendous lineage at defensive tackle is in safe hands after Kevin Williams’ departure with some strong work as a pass rusher. Outside of him Everson Griffen (32 snaps, +3.8 overall) notched five pressures, including three hits, capitalizing on favorable matchups against the likes of Bradley Sowell and Max Starks. Adding to this impact in the passing game was top pick Anthony Barr who recorded a sack for the second week in a row. Catching Drew Stanton as he drifted out of the pocket Barr exploited some sloppy ball security to round out the first half. Mike Zimmer’s defense in Cincinnati was built on strong, consistent play up front and this showing suggests he will carry that blueprint on with the Vikings.
Second String Line Struggles
A week ago against the Raiders, two of Minnesota’s highest-graded defenders were defensive ends Scott Crichton and Corey Wootton. Last night, however, they netted by far the Vikings’ lowest grades on defense after particularly ineffective games as pass rushers. Wootton and Crichton (40 snaps, -3.2 overall) combined to record zero pressures on 33 pass rushes and each had their struggles away from the passing game. While Wootton (39 snaps, -2.6 overall) was solid in run defense (two stops) he committed two penalties and Crichton struggled to hold the edge against both single teams and double teams. In recent seasons the Vikings haven’t rotated their defensive ends a great deal and this pair will need to put in more performances like last week if they are to stake a claim for playing time during the regular season.
– Through two games Bridgewater has gone 20-of-25 for 161 yards and two scores (+2.6) on passes aimed within nine yards of the line of scrimmage.
– Cassel on the other hand is making more plays down the field, through two games he is 7-of-10 for 156 yards and a score (+4.2) on passes aimed ten or more yards downfield.
– Ryan Lindley was given the chance to respond to Logan Thomas in his battle for a roster spot in Arizona but squandered the opportunity (40 snaps, -3.6 passing) with some scattergun accuracy and dubious decision making.
PFF Game Ball
Teddy Bridgewater will take the plaudits for leading the game-winning drive but Rodney Smith made two terrific plays on the ball on the drive’s two biggest plays including the winning touchdown.
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