The Cardinals welcome fans back to State Farm Stadium Sunday following a season NFL teams played in mostly empty buildings due to Covid-19.
For J.J. Watt , the biggest star acquired this offseason, the game against the Vikings is eagerly anticipated. As the Cardinals look to start a second straight season 2-0, when the Vikings visit, Watt thirsts for playing in front of his new fanbase.
"We got a little bit of a taste in the preseason, but I don't think we've seen the full stadium rocking," Watt said. "So I personally can't wait for that."
The fans can't wait to see a homecoming set when the schedule came out -- former Cardinals and current Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson, who figures to shadow former teammate DeAndre Hopkins. The last time Hopkins and Peterson were on the same field as opponents in 2017, Hopkins was targeted nine times, with four catches for 76 yards and a touchdown.
Hopkins had two touchdowns last week, but quarterback Kyler Murray and the Cardinals offense impressed everyone in Week One, accumulating 416 yards and 38 points. Only the 49ers scored more points than the Cardinals on opening weekend. But the Cards will be tested by Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, a defensive mind known to frustrate offenses with his blitz packages. Minnesota recorded five sacks, seven QB hits, and seven tackles in a season-opening overtime loss to the Bengals.
After limiting All-Pro Derrick Henry and the Titans high-octane offense Week One, the Cardinals face another Pro Bowl rusher in Dalvin Cook. Coach Vance Joseph said for a second straight week, stopping the run is the priority.
"Last year, we were just OK in the run game, and sometimes not very good," Joseph said. "And, in our division with San Fran being a run-first offense, the Rams being pretty run-first, Seattle being a run-first offense – we had to be better in the run game."
"Our front-seven is a lot better than we were last year at stopping the run game, and that's going to be key to success," he continued. "If we can stop the run, and we can win first downs, then we can dictate second and third down – which obviously, allows us to rush the passer."
The Cards (1-0) did just that last week, allowing Chandler Jones to have a franchise-tying record five sacks.
It isn't as if the Vikings can't pass the ball. Receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson form one of the better duos in the league, and quarterback Kirk Cousins did end up with solid statistics last week (351 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions).
But the Vikings (0-1) not only have to deal with the Cards' attacking pass rush, but also what figures to be a crowd anxious to get loud as they refill State Farm Stadium.
"That was a big aspect that was lacking last season, particularly at home," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "We have such a great fan base, and the peasantry of the gameday experience is awesome – even being on the road last week, you just felt a different type of energy. So, I can't wait to see what it's like on Sunday."