The Final Dissection of Vikings-Cardinals

Vikings vs. Cardinals In-Depth Game Recap
Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Jonathan Haak and Janik Eckardt team up for an in-depth recap of the last Minnesota Vikings game. The Vikings came out victorious and beat the Cardinals 34-26.

Positive Takeaway

Jonathan: Cousins’ Pocket Presence

Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) runs for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker (3) in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday afternoon was Cousins’ best performance in scrambling and evading pressure throughout his tenure in Minnesota. On multiple occasions, he moved in the pocket to evade a rusher and was then able to make an accurate throw downfield. Then, of course, we have the highlight reel 17-yard touchdown scamper by Cousins to put the Vikings on the board in the first quarter.

The main criticism of Cousins’ play has generally been his inability to effectively navigate the pocket and buy time, so seeing a performance like we did this week against Arizona should give us a ton of optimism going forward. If Cousins can continue to move like this while improving his intermediate accuracy back to his previous career levels, the sky is the limit for this Vikings offense.

Janik: Za’Darius Smith Is Special

He was the big-name free-agent acquisition in the first offseason by Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Smith signed a three-year deal with the Vikings, worth $42 million after the Green Bay Packers released him. People were concerned about the star pass rusher after missing most of the 2021 campaign with a back injury.

The Vikings Top Defensive Performers vs. Cardinals, per PFF
Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

So far, Smith is healthy and dominant. He’s currently leading the NFL in sacks and tackles for loss, despite already having his bye week. In the game against the Cardinals, he often lined up as a middle linebacker or defensive tackle, and the Vikings schemed one-on-one matchups for him against the weak links of the Cardinals’ offensive line, Billy Price and Cody Ford.

Smith took advantage of his favorable matchups and sacked Kyler Murray three times. He also secured four tackles for loss and seven tackles overall, which highlights his play against the run.

Negative Takeaway

Jonathan: Ed Ingram Is a Major Issue

Overall, the Offensive Line had a pretty good day, but unfortunately, that did not extend to the right guard position. Ingram picked up where he left off before the bye in Miami with another abysmal performance, allowing an astonishing 6 (!) pressures on the day and singlehandedly ending several drives.

Early in the season, Ingram’s performance made us optimistic, especially since we thought he would only continue to improve throughout the year. But that optimism has been quashed in recent weeks, and it may be time to look at other options for the right guard spot.

Janik: Kicking Curse Is Undefeated

Why Does Kicking Always Crush the Vikings?
Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings place kicker Greg Joseph. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings kicking game is historically cursed. Greg Joseph had a phenomenal training camp and preseason, so fans of the purple team thought the curse was broken. However, Joseph is struggling.

He is last in the NFL among qualified kickers in field goal percentage and extra point percentage.

In the win over the Cardinals, Joseph missed a 56-yard field goal and hit a Cardinals defender in the head. The kick had no chance, as the trajectory was simply too low. More concerning than missing a long-distance field goal is missing an extra point from short range, and Joseph already missed three of those. The extra point in the fourth quarter would’ve put the Vikings up nine points and basically clinched the game. Because of the miss, the Cardinals were still alive.

Why MIN Won

Jonathan: Kevin O’Connell Had a Day

KOC was in his bag coming out of the bye, with a great opening script, lots of creativity on running and passing concepts, and a great understanding of when to call which plays and where to attack the somewhat suspect Arizona defense. For the first time all season, Minnesota’s run game was the strength of the offense, with both Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison having a ton of success on the ground.

Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell congratulates tight end Johnny Mundt. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

The offensive efficiency through the run game allowed the passing game to have increased effectiveness as well and led to an overall production of 5 touchdowns, an impressive performance, and a season-best for the Vikings offense. When O’Connell was first hired, there were doubts about how proficient he would be as a play caller, given he had minimal experience at calling plays previously in his career and didn’t do it at all during his tenure as OC with the Rams.

But so far this season, O’Connell has mostly calmed those worries with a strong understanding of how to balance the run and the pass, what plays to draw up to attack opposing defenses where they are weakest, and a great communicative style with his players that allows him to put them in the spots where they are at their best and most comfortable. 

Janik: Complementary Football

In the past couple of seasons, the Vikings struggled to simultaneously play a good game on both sides of the ball. Either the offense struggled to put drives together, or the defense couldn’t stop the opponents. On Sunday against the Cardinals, the Vikings played an all-around good game.

Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison rushed for more than 6 yards per carry. Kirk Cousins missed a couple of throws but played a solid overall game. He even showed some improvising skills. The defensive front pressured Kyler Murray, sacked him four times, and took care of the running game. Starting running back Eno Benjamin only rushed for 22 yards on nine runs.

Defense and special teams were also opportunistic and secured four takeaways. Returner Greg Dortch fumbled one kickoff return and one punt return, and Kyler Murray threw two interceptions.

Play of the Game

Jonathan: Arizona’s Muffed Punt with 10:46 Remaining in the Game

After Arizona and Minnesota traded touchdowns late in the 3rd quarter, a Vikings fumble and a Cardinals field goal made it a two-point game. Minnesota got the ball back, and the Cardinals forced a quick three and out.

Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Troy Dye. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

But unfortunately for Arizona, they couldn’t handle the punt, and Minnesota recovered the fumble putting them in prime scoring position. They followed up their recovery with a touchdown pass to KJ Osborn four plays later, putting the game out of reach for good. Who knows what would have happened if not for the Cardinals’ massive mistake here, as their offense was clicking, and they were only two points down.

Janik: Passing Touchdown Cousins to Mundt

The Vikings capped off a drive in the second quarter with a beautifully designed play. After marching down the field 82 yards, the purple team had a 3rd and goal at the one-yard line following a seven-yard reception from Cook. Head coach O’Connell called it a wonderful play.

Cousins was under center, took the snap, faked a handoff to Cook, faked a handoff to Jalen Reagor, who was running a jet sweep, and then proceeded by throwing a touchdown pass to the wide-open Johnny Mundt who previously engaged as a blocker. The play-action totally threw the defense off. After hitting the extra point, the Vikings were up 14-3 in the second quarter.