Five things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota:
Cousins, pressure, and a defense seeks consistency
Teams can get to Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Minnesota offensive line is not great, and there have been times in the past – the Cardinals did this when playing Cousins when he was in Washington – when Cousins can be rattled. But this season, even though Cousins has been pressured more than any other quarterback, he has performed – the second-highest passer rating in the league when pressured. It doesn’t hurt that he has top receivers like Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Chandler Jones and company need to find a way to get Cousins off his game and perhaps into some turnovers, especially since the Vikings have had all kinds of trouble running the football this season.
The breaking out of David Johnson
New week, same question: How can the Cardinals get the production needed out of David Johnson? In theory, Johnson could have better success split out as a receiver this week if he can be matched up on a linebacker, since coverage is not the strength of that Vikings’ unit. Running the ball is going to be difficult again, given the Vikings’ personnel and the troubles the Cards have had all season creating running lanes for Johnson. Johnson has averaged more than 3.7 yards a carry in just one out of five games this season, he has yet to rush for more than 71 yards and the man who made 100 yards from scrimmage a regular occurrence in 2016 has reached that just once (112 against Seattle.)
Josh Rosen and the middle ground
In his first start, Josh Rosen was excellent. His numbers were stunted by drops, but practically every one of his throws were on point. In his second start, that first bomb, that was on point. The rest of his day, not so much. It was odd to see Rosen miss as many open receivers as he did, and it’s something the Cardinals cannot afford in Minnesota. Rosen still hasn’t turned the ball over in his two starts, and the Cardinals have to protect it to beat the Vikings. But more than that, Rosen will have to get the completions the Cardinals have in front of them. Missed opportunities this week figure to haunt.
Fitz’s home life
Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t had much success against his hometown team of late, struggling to put up many numbers in the last four Cardinals-Vikings meetings. Fitz has also had a tough time putting up many numbers after the season opener. Only one other time in his career has Fitzgerald had four straight games of three receptions or fewer before this current string – he went 1-3-1-1 during a cold spell in 2012, with quarterbacks John Skelton and Ryan Lindley in Ken Whisenhunt’s final season. Can Fitz break out, at least a little, in front of friends and family? It’d be a nice time to do it.
On the road, again
The road can be a rough place for NFL teams, especially ones that have struggled. It was good to hear Rosen say how much he likes playing on the road, and more specifically, hostile crowds. That’s good, because the Cardinals have a lot of road games left. Minnesota is an interesting place, with a dome and a team that can take advantage of the noise. The Cardinals’ best course is to get an early lead and drain some of the enthusiasm out of the building – the Minnesota crowd already was punched in the collective face once this season when the Bills visited and hammered the Vikings. It can be done.