EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It's right there on paper. Add it up, and the Arizona Cardinals have allowed 22 sacks in their past three games. Their offensive tackles, especially, have had a rough start to this season. And on Sunday, they'll face one of the NFL's premier pass-rushers in Jared Allen while protecting relatively immobile quarterback John Skelton.
So we're set for a jailbreak at the Metrodome, right?
Allen was prepared for that storyline when he met with reporters at the Minnesota Vikings' practice facility this week. Since the start of the 2011 season, after all, he has an NFL-high 26 sacks. And in a victory last season against the Cardinals, Allen and teammate Brian Robison combined for four sacks of quarterback Kevin Kolb.
But to everyone who suggests a mismatch on paper, Allen said: "You can't just go into this saying you're licking your chops" and noted most of the Cardinals' pass-protection issues have come when they've fallen behind or otherwise been pushed into passing downs.
"You have to be good on first and second downs," Allen said. "When you watch the film, you see the reasons teams have been successful against the Cardinals is they've forced them to go down the field [passing]. They forced their offense to spread out and create some matchup problems. We have to be very good on first and second down. We have to smash the run, and when we get a chance to get their quarterback, we have to."
In their disaster two weeks ago against the St. Louis Rams, for example, the Cardinals allowed five of their nine sacks in the final 21 minutes of the game. Regardless of when the sacks have occurred, however, the total numbers are startling.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Cardinals right tackle Bobby Massie has given up an NFL-high 10 sacks. Left tackle D'Anthony Batiste ranks second with nine sacks allowed, and no other NFL tackle has allowed more than five. Combined, Massie and Batiste have allowed a stunning 54 quarterback hurries in six games. PFF hasn't credited another tackle with more than 13 hurries this season. Batiste has also been whistled for six penalties this season, five for holding and one false start.
Allen and Robison haven't piled up the sack numbers as they did last season. Allen has recorded four while dealing with neck and groin injuries, while Robison has one. Allen insists he won't press to add to that total, but it's easy to imagine him having plenty of opportunities.
"I get excited for every game," he said. "But this is a situation where you can't dictate it. If you start worrying about one thing, the focus shifts. Every time you go out and you try to force a pass-rush situation or you try to do this or that, A), you affect the integrity of the defense, so now I'm letting down 10 other guys. And B), you don't accomplish what you need to accomplish.
"The game is a rhythm. Things are going to come. If we can be good on first or second down, or even first down, then you can pin your ears back and get after it. If you can do that over and over again, you get rhythm."