Same but different: Cardinals face similar test as Week 1 in Cook, Vikings

Sep 17, 2021, 4:27 PM
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) carries for a touchdown in front of New Orleans Sai...

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) carries for a touchdown in front of New Orleans Saints free safety Marcus Williams (43) in the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

(AP Photo/Brett Duke)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The blueprints of the Arizona Cardinals’ first two opponents look pretty repetitive on paper.

A lot like the Tennessee Titans, the Minnesota Vikings bring a heavy dose of the running game, paired with two impressive wide receivers and a capable quarterback.

It all starts with running back Dalvin Cook.

Similar to the Titans’ Derrick Henry, Cook averaged under four yards per carry in Week 1, rushing for 61 yards on 20 carries. He also had a fumble. The Vikings did, however, find the end zone, something Henry was unable to do against a stout Cardinals defensive line.

“I gotta take care of [the football] and I’m moving on,” Cook told reporters Wednesday. “I’m ready to go get that bad taste out of the team’s mouth and go get a win.”

The biggest difference between the two backs was in the receiving game on Sunday. What Cook lacked in the running game, he made up for as a pass-catcher, snagging six of his seven targets for 43 yards. He was third on the team in catches and fourth in receiving yards. Only once last season did Cook record at least six receptions.

If the Cardinals come out limiting Minnesota’s rushing attack like the Titans, Cook could be in store for more looks through the air, especially after Henry — who hadn’t recorded at least three catches more than three times in his career entering play Sunday — caught three balls for 19 yards in the 38-13 loss to Arizona.

The Cardinals will take that all day.

“Our front seven is a lot better than we were last year at stopping the run game,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday. “That’s gonna be the key to our success. If we can stop the run and we can win first down then we can dictate second and third down, which obviously would allow us to rush the passer.”

If halting Minnesota’s rushing attack is the first thing on the to-do list for the defense, getting the better of quarterback Kirk Cousins and the duo of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen is right up there at No. 2.

The Vikings failed to take home the overtime win against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, but Cousins still put together a respectable stat line. The signal-caller threw for 351 yards and two scores on 73.4% passing (36-of-49).

“He’s just been doing it a high level for a long time,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Friday. “Really consistent whether he’s in Washington or Minnesota. Every year you look at the stats, he’s one of the top guys.

“Very accurate passer, very smart, cerebral, athletic enough to move around and make plays. I’ve always been impressed with him and how he goes about his business.”

Leading the way among Viking receivers was Thielen, who snagged nine balls for 92 yards and the first two touchdowns of the day for Minnesota. Jefferson was third on the team with five catches for 71 yards.

And despite Minnesota’s first three drives ending with punts, the Vikings were able to right the ship as the game went on, forcing overtime after facing a 21-7 deficit to start the third quarter.

The Cardinals defense will need to not only start fast, but also have the longevity to play their style of football for a full 60 minutes against a Vikings team with more than enough firepower to come back and make a team look silly.

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Same but different: Cardinals face similar test as Week 1 in Cook, Vikings