Three Keys: The Vikings Offensive Line Needs to Step Up Against Cards

Vikings fans aren’t feeling overly optimistic these days. Losing to the Bengals in OT will do that to a fanbase, especially given the 53 penalties we committed (give or take). Our attention now turns to the Arizona Cardinals, a team that played excellently in the opening week. They easily took down the Tennessee Titans, a dark horse candidate to be the AFC’s Super Bowl representative. Last week, Tennessee didn’t look like they were anywhere close to Super Bowl contention. Gotta give credit to Arizona for playing so well. Do our friends in purple stand a chance? Let’s get to the three keys to find out.

Key #1: Phil Rauscher vs. Arizona’s Defensive Line

Phil Rauscher was put in a bit of a tricky situation during the offseason. Rick Dennison was supposed to be our OL coach, but he refused to get his Covid vaccine. The end result was some staff shuffling that has Dennison coaching from afar and a Rauscher promotion. Rauscher’s first test as our OL coach went horribly.

Every single offensive lineman was penalized last week. Most committed multiple penalties. Take a look at what Garrett Bradbury (who may now be called a draft bust) had to say about reviewing the film on Monday with Rauscher: “He wanted to take it on you and understand we had a chance to win the game. The first half, the penalties just killed us. I think we had 11 or something penalties in the first half and seven points, and two penalties in the second half and 17 points. So that kind of stat was the first stat we saw this week: ‘Listen, when we’re playing clean and we’re doing what we’re supposed to, we’re really good. So, let’s build off that.’”

To achieve a better outcome against the Cards, Rauscher will need to find a way to get his guys to avoid the boneheaded mistakes. The first step involves us stopping with the self-inflicted wounds. Merely avoiding false starts, though, won’t be enough against Arizona’s fearsome pass rush.

Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, and J.J. Watt are a handful. I imagine Rauscher and Lil’Kub have lost some sleep trying to figure out a solution. I don’t expect us to win this matchup. Rather, my focus has rested on how we can avoid complete disaster; I’m looking for much more running, screens, bootlegs, and play action.

If our OL can avoid true collapse, Minnesota’s offense will have a chance.

Key #2: Dalvin Cook vs. Kyler Murray

I get that Dalvin Cook is a RB and Kyler is the QB, so allow me to explain myself.

What’s the best way to defend a really good QB? Don’t let him leave the bench. We can accomplish this goal by running the ball early and often. Of course, mere quantity isn’t the same thing as quality. To beat the Cards, we need both a lot of runs and a lot of really good runs. Long, methodical, extended drives can do wonders for a team’s defense. Ask yourself: will the Vikings have an easier time on defense if Kyler is on the field for 25 minutes rather than 35 minutes? The answer is obvious.

If you just looked at last week’s box score, you might quickly assume that Cook was the focal point of the offense. He had 20 carries and 6 catches, so it wasn’t a bad day of work. Unfortunately, Cook’s touches paled in comparison to Kirk’s 49 throws. Our 2-1 pass/run ratio will need to change as we move forward, especially since we all know how Zim feels about offenses that can’t run the ball well.

I’m expecting a heavy dose of Cook to start the game. If he can find room early, Phil Rauscher’s offensive line will have an easier time in pass pro and Zim’s defense will have a much easier time containing Kyler.

Key #3: Minnesota’s DBs vs. Arizona’s WRs

I can almost guarantee Kliff Kingsbury has been putting together plays to get DeAndre Hopkins on Bashaud Breeland. That’s what any sensible coach would do after seeing Breeland struggle so badly in the season’s opening week.

Minnesota knows this, so they’ve surely been looking to find some solutions. Perhaps there needs to be more safety help to Breeland’s side. We could also say that Breeland just needs to find some internal growth. The long Chase TD was largely the result of Breeland having his eyes in the backfield for too long. Avoid this mental miscue and maybe it’s a different game. He has been very good at stepping up in run support, but a corner who can’t cover won’t last very long in Minnesota’s defense.

I’m also really curious to see how Patrick Peterson holds up against his old team. It’s safe to say that both sides know each other really well. Both sides will be looking to get the best of the other. It’s going to be must-see TV. Peterson wasn’t tested last week, but he surely will be against Arizona’s impressive collection of pass catchers.

Finally, I’m looking for Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods to have a big game. The defense is a little dinged up, so our safety tandem will need to be difference makers. Don’t be shocked if Zim uses Smith in really creative ways to try to confuse Arizona’s young, ascending QB.

The Crystal Ball

During the summer, I predicted Arizona. After the opening week, I have very little reason to change my mind. Their strengths are set up perfectly to exploit our weaknesses. I’d be happy to be wrong, but I gotta roll with the bad guys on this one.

Offseason Prediction: Arizona 28 – Vikings 24

Updated Prediction: Arizona 34 – Vikings 24

After last week’s Bengals bungling, I’m 0-1 for my season predictions. Let’s hope I drop to 0-2.