U.S. Bank Stadium was juiced up on Sunday, and the fired-up Minnesota Vikings home crowd helped induce several pre-snap errors from the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona burned timeouts to avoid delay-of-game penalties, and their offensive linemen occasionally moved too early. Late in the game, backup center Billy Price inexplicably snapped the ball while Kyler Murray was calling signals at the line. The rowdy atmosphere helped the Vikings improve to 6-1 for the first time since 2009 with a 34-26 victory over Arizona.
Minnesota’s defense yielded 375 yards, but they were in the backfield all day. Altogether, they sacked Murray four times while holding the dual-threat QB to only 36 rushing yards. Murray only rushed for 31 yards last season when the two teams played. However, he used his legs to extend plays that proved fatal for the Vikings in a 34-32 loss in 2021.
The Vikings still have issues with putting teams away. Greg Joseph put their lead at risk when he missed an extra point that kept Arizona within one score in the fourth quarter. Minnesota intercepted a pass and forced a turnover on downs in the last seven minutes of the game. Still, they had to sweat out a last-second Hail Mary attempt.
Regardless, the Vikings have a favorable matchup next week against the Washington Commanders and could be 7-1 heading into a massive test against the Buffalo Bills.
Here are five numbers that tell the story of the Vikings’ victory over the Cardinals.
The Vikings’ run game had been inconsistent heading into the bye week. Going into Week 8, Minnesota’s 4.3 yards per rush ranked 21st in the NFL, and there were questions about Dalvin Cook’s effectiveness.
That changed on Sunday, though. The Vikings averaged six yards per rush against the Cardinals, including an 8.5 yards per carry average in the first half. Cook scored once and rushed for 111 yards, his first 100-yard game of the season. Alexander Mattison also ran five times for 40 yards and a touchdown. Even Kirk Cousins got in on the running game, kickstarting the scoring with a 17-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the game.
Unfortunately, Minnesota’s passing game wasn’t as effective as the ground attack. Cousins went 24/36 for 232 yards. With three sacks that lost 24 total yards, the Vikings netted only 208 yards passing on 39 dropbacks, a 5.3-yard average.
Cousins missed his target on several occasions. One drive after his touchdown scamper, he bypassed a potential first-down run by air-mailing a pass over Justin Jefferson’s head on third down. Two drives later, he threw a third-down pass just out of reach of receiver K.J. Osborn on the left sideline.
At other times the offensive line was faulty, though. Cousins did his best to get rid of the ball, but as a traditionally immobile quarterback, he couldn’t escape the inside rush. Rookie right guard Ed Ingram struggled; Hall of Fame defensive end J.J. Watt worked him to the tune of two sacks. The Vikings will likely allow Ingram to try working through his rookie growing pains, but he is the clear weak link on an otherwise solid offensive line.
Despite a 5-1 record, the Vikings had only scored six points during the third quarter heading into their bye week. They changed that trend, though. Mattison and Cook each scored touchdowns during the period. In total, the Vikings scored more than double their season output during the fourth quarter with 14 points.
The first touchdown drive spanned eight plays and 75 yards after the Cardinals briefly took a 17-14 lead. Harrison Smith intercepted Murray on the first play of the ensuing drive, and four plays later, Cook ran in for a four-yard touchdown. While Arizona scored two touchdowns in the third quarter, the Vikings finally pulled through and answered every counterpunch the Cardinals threw at them.
Three of Minnesota’s four sacks came from edge rusher Za’Darius Smith. With the Cardinals down three starters on the offensive line, Ed Donatell used Smith all over the line again. Occasionally, he would rush off the edge. He was lined up over the center and pushed the pocket at other times. His final sack led to a chaotic Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the game.
According to Next Gen Stats, Smith had an Average Separation from QB (defined as the average distance from the passer when the ball is thrown or the QB is sacked) of 4.04 yards. The league average is 4.53. And Smith wasn’t alone in beating the league average here on Sunday. Nose tackle Harrison Phillips (4.14) and fellow edge rusher Danielle Hunter (4.47) were also above average in rushing the passer on Sunday.
Minnesota’s red-zone offense continues to impress. The Vikings entered Week 8 ranking 11th in the league by converting 13 of 21 red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. On Sunday, the Vikings reached the red zone five times and came away with five touchdowns.
On top of their three rushing touchdowns, Cousins added two scores through the air. He connected with tight end Johnny Mundt for a one-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to give the Vikings a 14-3 lead. He then found receiver K.J. Osborn for a five-yard score with 8:36 remaining. The second touchdown gave the Vikings the 34-26 lead, which proved to be enough.
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