MINNEAPOLIS – When Kirk Cousins dropped back to pass on Sunday afternoon, the Cardinals’ defensive line was menacing.
It totaled four sacks of the Minnesota quarterback, including a strip-sack by Chandler Jones that resulted in a 36-yard fumble return touchdown by safety Budda Baker. When the Vikings ran the ball, the defense did not fare nearly as well.
Minnesota accumulated 195 rushing yards at 6.1 yards per carry, led by running back Latavius Murray’s 155 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings were without starting ball-carrier Dalvin Cook but the holes were big enough that any running back would have found success.
“The run defense has been a problem all year,” defensive tackle Corey Peters said. “At some point it’s like, do guys care? At the end of the day, everybody’s got a responsibility and everybody’s got to take a look in the mirror and say, ‘Did I do what I was supposed to do on this play?' That’s the reality of it. Run defense is fairly simple. Everybody has a gap.”
Those issues masked the encouraging day from the pass rush. Peters had two sacks in the game, Jones one and a half and Markus Golden had a half-sack – his first since returning to the field following last season’s torn ACL.
When the line wasn’t getting to Cousins, it did a great job of recognizing when he was going to throw. The defense batted down more than a half-dozen passes.
“That’s something we work on in practice,” Jones said. “A lot of times the tendencies we saw, studying film, was the ball coming out fast. If we can’t get to the quarterback, how else can we help the defense? And that’s by putting our hands up. That’s something we’ve been working on, and it’s been successful.”
Wilks saw the bright spot with the consistent pressure, but was blinded by what he called the “unacceptable” effort against the run.
“Some things to build on,” Wilks said, “but so much to correct.”
Jones, coming off an NFC Defensive Player of the Week performance, was dominant again, finishing with five tackles, the one and a half sacks and a pair of quarterback hits. Even so, he was dissatisfied after the loss.
“I’m never happy,” Jones said. “There were a lot of sacks we left out there on the field… myself included. There were a few plays I left out there. We’ve just got to sharpen up.”
Peters felt similarly. It’s not often a run-stuffing defensive tackle gets a pair of sacks, but he wasn’t reveling in that individual success.
“I wish I could enjoy it,” Peters said. “I’d trade it for 50 yards rushing. If that happens, then we win the game. I could care less, honestly. As a nose tackle, the only thing I’m concerned about, really, is the rush defense. I think that’s part of the reason why they have me here, so it’s just embarrassing. It’s just not good enough.”