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Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Cardinals' chances against Vikings

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Percy Harvin, Ben Graham
Cardinals punter Ben Graham will do his best to neutralize dangerous Vikinigs returner Percy Harvin.
The headline seemed rather innocuous.

"Three potential problems for Cardinals," it read.

Facebook friend Keith wasn't having it.

"Let's see three potential problems the Cards might pose for the Vikings," he shot back, "not always these cup half-full downer posts."

OK, OK. I get it. Cardinals fans must be getting a little nervous with Kurt Warner seeking medical help and the 10-1 Vikings returning to the scene of their 35-14 victory over Arizona last season.

Keith and other citizens of Cardinal Nation could probably use some affirmation.

They've come to the right place.

Let me count the factors that could weigh in Arizona's favor:

1. The fumbling factor.

Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells haven't always inspired confidence in the ball-security department, but they are prime protectors of the pigskin compared to the Vikings' Adrian Peterson.

Peterson has lost three fumbles in his last three games. He has a league-high 15 fumbles since the start of last season.

The Cardinals led the NFL in opponents' fumble recoveries last season. They haven't kept the same pace in 2009, but they hold a 19-1 record under coach Ken Whisenhunt when winning the turnover battle (the one defeat came against the Titans in Week 12).

2. The Fitz & Co. factor.

Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet can create difficult matchups for any secondary.

The Vikings have been playing without injured starting corner Antoine Winfield.

Winfield could return for this game. If he does not, or if he is limited, the Cardinals might be able to exploit Bennie Sapp, the nickel corner filling in for Winfield.

3. The Graham factor.

This one might be a bit of a stretch because the Vikings' special teams have been sensational, but let's send some credit Ben Graham's way.

The Arizona punter ranks second in the NFL with 30 punts downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling downed Graham's punts at the 5, 2 and 1 against Tennessee. Graham is one of six punters with a net average of at least 41 yards.

A punter isn't going to win the game for Arizona, obviously, but the Cardinals' chances definitely improve if Graham can neutralize at least part of the Vikings' return game.



Still not convinced? Neither am I. The most important matchups favor the Vikings.

The Cardinals' starting offensive tackles appear overmatched (Levi Brown leads the NFL in false start penalties, while Mike Gandy is battling a pelvis injury). Warner might not play and if he does, how will he hold up against Jared Allen and the Minnesota pass rush? The Cardinals just allowed 387 yards passing to Vince Young. Now they face an offense featuring Brett Favre, Peterson, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian and Visanthe Shiancoe.

The Arizona defense changed up quite a few things to match up against Young and Titans running back Chris Johnson. The changes produced some assignment breakdowns, coach Ken Whisenhunt said. The Vikings have lots more firepower, but they're also more conventional offensively. That should make the scheme challenges somewhat easier to tackle for the Cardinals.

But if defensive end Darnell Dockett remains the only pass-rush threat for Arizona, the Cardinals could be in trouble.

On offense, so much depends on Warner's availability. Backup Matt Leinart made strides against Tennessee in his first start since 2007, but the offense generated only 10 points.