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Converting Third Down

Posted Oct 7, 2011

Notebook: Cards or Vikings will get better Sunday; Keith game-day decision

Wide receiver Early Doucet has been one of quarterback Kevin Kolb's top third-down targets.

The Cardinals are having problems converting third downs. The Vikings are having problems stopping anyone on third downs.

What exactly will that mean Sunday at the Mall of America Dome in Minnesota?

The Cards certainly are counting on it. Against the Giants, the Cards could only convert 3-of-12 third-down chances – one “failure” was a third-and-17 where tight end Rob Housler’s 16-yard reception set up a fourth-and-1 the Cards did convert. Amazingly, the Cardinals had three different touchdown drives in which they never even had a third-down play.

Harder was the knowledge the Cardinals had three third downs of three yards or less they could not finish off.

“We are getting third-and-makeables, but we have to find a way to convert,” offensive coordinator Mike Miller said. “It’s the overall execution, from everyone on the field. It’s focusing on details. We had some opportunities in this last game. We are working on it all the time.

“It’s always frustrating when we leave plays out there and we feel we have done that.”

The Cardinals have converted just 29.8 percent of their third downs on offense, 28th in the league (ahead of Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis and Miami). On defense, the Vikings have allowed teams to convert 45.6 percent of their third downs, 29th in the league (ahead of St. Louis, Indianapolis and New England).

“Our third-down percentage right now is hot garbage,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. “We need to get off the field better on third down. Our first down is great. We need to pick it up on second down and force ourselves into more third-and-long situations.”

That would play to the Vikings’ strength, because Allen leads a formidable pass rush (6½ sacks in four games).

AN ALL DAY EFFORT FOR PETERSON

The Cardinals will face the Vikings – and star running back Adrian Peterson – for a fourth straight season. Peterson will be the Cards’ focus, to no one’s surprise.

“He’s probably the best running back in the league and he runs like it,” linebacker Joey Porter said. “We know we have to stop 28.”

It’s easy to draw some parallels to Peterson’s success against the Cards and the result of the games. In 2008, Peterson ran for 165 yards on 28 carries and the Vikings blew out the Cards, 35-14. The following year, Peterson had just 19 yards on 13 carries as the Cards manhandled Minnesota, 30-17. Last season, Peterson gained 81 yards on just 15 carries and added another 63 yards on four receptions (scoring two touchdowns) as the Vikings came from behind to win in overtime, 27-24.

Interestingly, Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said in a press conference Thursday Minnesota wants to attack young cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and A.J. Jefferson.

"We definitely have a plan to throw on those guys," Musgrave said. "We want to get some balls airborne in their direction. Both their guys are young and talented, but we feel confident with our receivers matching up with them.”

That could ultimately play into the Cards’ favor, with the way quarterback Donovan McNabb has been throwing.

“They are different (from last year) in some ways: Scheme, the way they attack you, quarterback,” Porter said. “But how they win games is still Adrian Peterson.”

KEITH QUESTIONABLE, SO RIGHT TACKLE IS TOO

Although right tackle Brandon Keith practiced fully for a third straight day, he is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with his sore right knee. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the decision to start Keith or Jeremy Bridges will come down to Sunday, as the Cards see how Keith’s knee reacts to flying.

Tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) sat out practice for a second straight day, joining the list of questionable players. Punter Dave Zastudil (knee) also is listed as questionable after missing practice all week.

Running back Beanie Wells (hamstring) and wide receiver Chansi Stuckey (hamstring) are also listed as questionable. Wells is expecting to play.

Tight end Jim Dray (pectoral) remains out. For the Vikings, cornerback Antoine Winfield is listed as doubtful after missing all week with a neck injury. Punter Chris Kluwe is questionable with a hamstring problem.

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