The Minnesota Vikings are a complete conundrum. Watching them on film belies the record they have posted after the first month of the season: they are talented, relatively young and completely better than 0-4.
The Vikings have some of the best talent in the league on both sides of the ball. Donovan McNabb, Visanthe Shiancoe, Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, Steve Hutchinson and Adrian Peterson are names most NFL fans are familiar with and still make defensive-coordinators fade-to-black.
Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield are the tip of the spear for the Vikings defensively. And although these three players are the Vikings best defenders and have experienced success in the league they also stand as markers for the malaise that has fallen on the Minnesota.
The Vikings are a complete enigma - especially on the defensive side of the ball.
This is a team that has one of the best pass-rushes in the NFL. The numbers don't lie. They are #8 in sacks/pass attempt and are currently tied for #5 in sacks with 12. You watch their front-four on film and see the ability they possess to pressure the QB. Jared Allen has turned opposing left-tackles into putty; his ferocity is back and he is currently on pace to shatter the NFL sack record. He has 6.5 sacks and should have more.
But just as the talent on their team contradicts their record, this formidable pass-rush has not yielded flattering numbers for Leslie Frazier's defense.
The Vikings are #28 in the league in pass defense, yielding 286-yards/game; they have a Defensive Quarterback Rating (DQBR) of 96 which is also #28 in the league; and they are #29 in 3rd Down Conversions, giving up conversions at a 46% clip!
This does not compute. Teams with good pass-rushes are supposed to protect secondaries; good pass-rushes wreak havoc on quarterback ratings; good pass-rushes are the golden key that unlocks the secrets of the third-down paradigm. But the Minnesota Vikings defense can't seem to get off the field.
The usual suspects seem to apply here. Minnesota's secondary has not played well. Antoine Winfield has been to three consecutive Pro Bowls but the rest of the Vikings secondary has struggled - mightily.
Knowing that the Vikings have a great front-seven and boast the #5 rush-defense in the league, one would assume it's going to be difficult to run the ball against the Vikings, even with Beanie Wells running roughshod over the Giants. Hopefully, the running game will be effective enough to put the Cards in many third and manageable situations.
And this will be the key for the Cardinals on Sunday: third-down. In what will admittedly stand as the greatest oversimplification of all time, if the Cards protect Kevin Kolb and win on third-down I think they win the game.
The good news is the Vikings are bad on third-down; the bad news is the Cardinals are too. Arizona is only converting 30% of their third-downs. And protecting Kevin Kolb and his pocket-presence has contributed greatly to their third-down woes.
For both of these teams, what is real and what is just really weird may begin to surface on Sunday. But the reality remains: a season will end.