The Arizona Cardinals barely escaped an embarrassing home loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Football games are often compared to roller-coaster rides. If that is so, the Week 2 matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings was Six Flags.
Although the Cardinals remain undefeated and move to 2-0, both sides of the ball made some critical mistakes that made the game outcome much, much closer than it should have been.
The Vikings came out swinging in the first quarter when Kirk Cousins threw a 64-yard touchdown to a wide-open K.J. Osborn, who took advantage of a giant blown coverage by Byron Murphy Jr. The Cardinals offense started off slow, but they answered with a DeAndre Hopkins score in the first that tied up the game.
However, the Vikings hit right back largely thanks to the efforts of star running back Dalvin Cook. The Cardinals’ defense had no answer for Cook in the first half and allowed him to rack up over 100 yards and keep Minnesota driving.
Two touchdowns from Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson pushed the Vikings ahead by the middle of the second quarter. Down 20-7, the Cards responded with two touchdowns of their own and a 62-yard field goal from Matt Prater to take a one-point lead going into the half, 24-23.
The Cardinals started the second half in almost the worst imaginable way. Kyler Murray, who had been playing a near-perfect game till that point, threw a pick-six to Nick Vigil that gave the lead back to the Vikings 30-24.
Another interception from Murray later in the second half somewhat muddied what was otherwise a stellar performance from the third-year quarterback.
Starting the fourth quarter 31-30 Arizona, the two teams traded field goals to end the game. After a lackluster 3-and-out with under 2:00 to play, the Vikings got the ball back, moved down the field, and were in field goal range when they called a timeout with 0:04 remaining. A missed field goal from Greg Joseph gave the Cardinals a home victory after a heart-pounding game.
Arizona Cardinals still have some defensive problems
From the start, Arizona’s defense looked nothing like the dominant unit that sacked Ryan Tannehill six times in Week 1.
Byron Murphy’s blown coverage to start the game allowed Minnesota to get off to a hot start. Marco Wilson going down early in the game highlighted a concerning lack of depth at the cornerback spot that is as yet unaddressed by GM Steve Keim.
Perhaps the biggest difference from Week 1 to Week 2 was a noticeable lack of pass rush. Whereas the Cardinals edge rushers looked unstoppable a week ago, Kirk Cousins got through the matchup largely unscathed.
Also, while the Cardinals’ defense locked up Derrick Henry in the backfield in their first game, the very different style of Dalvin Cook proved to be a major issue. He might not have found the endzone, but he tallied 131 yards against a porous defensive line and was the game-changer for Minnesota, keeping alive a number of drives that should have died out.
Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray still making some rookie mistakes
Don’t get it twisted. Murray still looks like an elite quarterback, but he made a handful of questionable mistakes, including two bad interceptions.
His first, the second play of the second half, resulted in a pick-six that immediately gave the lead and the momentum back to the Vikings. Impressively, he bounced back the next drive and led his team down the field to score.
However, a second puzzling interception to a waiting defender makes one aware that Murray, as good as he is, still has room to grow.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury also contributed some questionable playcalling in a late-game situation where commonsense dictates relying on the run and running some clock.
If these issues can improve, the Cardinals should be able to keep winning. They have to start playing smarter, more disciplined football, particularly being members of what is most likely the toughest division in football.
On to Week 3.