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NFL Preview - Arizona (4-2) at Minnesota (4-2)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Cardinals' quarterback carousel will continue on Sunday.
John Skelton will replace the injured Kevin Kolb as Arizona tries to avoid a third straight loss when they visit a Minnesota Vikings team happy to have put Robert Griffin III in the rear-view mirror.
Kolb lost a preseason competition with Skelton to be Arizona's No. 1 signal- caller, but took over when Skelton sprained an ankle in the team's Week 1 win over Seattle. Kolb, however, injured his ribs while being sacked in last Sunday's 19-16 overtime loss to Buffalo in the desert and will be out for an unspecified period of time.
"We are comfortable with whatever quarterback lines up Sunday, he'll get the job done," running back LaRod Stephens-Howling told the Cardinals' website.
Kolb has taken a beating behind a porous offensive line which has allowed an NFL-worst 28 sacks, with 22 of them coming over the last three games.
Buffalo started the extra session in Week 6 with the ball but had to punt after stalling near midfield. The Bills, though, got a turnover when Skelton, who took over for an Kolb late in the fourth quarter, was picked off by Jairus Byrd and he took it 29 yards down to the 6-yard line. Rian Lindell then hit a 25-yard field goal to win it.
"(He) can't make that throw," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said of Skelton.
Kolb passed for 128 yards with one score and one interception on 14-of-26 chances before exiting the contest. Larry Fitzgerald caught six passes for 93 yards and a score for the Cardinals, who have dropped their past two after opening the season with four straight wins.
Jay Feely also booted a franchise-record 61-yard field to deadlock the game with 1:09 to play.
"I felt like if I hit the ball well I could make that kick," Feely said. "Obviously I was thrilled to make it, but all I care about is winning. The fact that we didn't win the game negates everything else."
The Vikings, meanwhile, were single-handily taken down by RG3 last Sunday, a a week after the dynamic rookie left against Atlanta with what was eventually described as a "mild" concussion.
Griffin was brilliant, showing no ill effects from the concussion. The dynamic RG3 threw for 182 yards and a touchdown while adding another 138 yards and two TDs on the ground, helping the Redskins snap an eight-game home losing streak by topping Minnesota, 38-26.
Christian Ponder threw for 352 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 35-of-52 passing, and Percy Harvin had a big day through the air, catching 11 balls for 133 yards for the Vikings, who saw their three-game winning streak come to an end.
"There's going to be some growing pains along the way," Vikings coach Frazier said when discussing his second-year QB. "We know that. This is a part of the process with him, part of the evolution of being an NFL starter."
Adrian Peterson returned to the same field where he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 16 of 2011 and rushed for 79 yards on 17 carries. Michael Jenkins and Kyle Rudolph each caught touchdown passes in the setback.
Minnesota leads its all-time series with the Cards 12-10 and has won eight of the past 10, including a 34-10 win on Oct. 9, 2011 at Mall of America Field. Peterson ran for 122 yards and three first quarter touchdowns and the Vikings defense forced four turnovers in that one.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The quarterbacks and how they handle the opposing defenses figure to be the story here.
Skelton is much bigger and better equipped to handle a beating than Kolb, something that could paramount against a fierce Vikings pass rush led by Jared Allen and the ascending Everson Griffen.
The Fordham product also has a stronger arm and is better equipped to get the ball down the field to Fitzgerald, a Minneapolis native and former Vikings ball boy while growing up, along with Andre Roberts, Early Doucet and rookie Michael Floyd, another Twin Cities product.
Minnesota's defensive backfield is much-improved this season but the corners, save for veteran Antoine Winfield, are still shaky at times. Rookie Josh Robinson gives too much cushion and has been exploited on occasion while former Cardinal A.J. Jefferson could play a bigger role this week if the run- challenged Cards try to spread the field.
Allen generally dominates Arizona, compiling 4 1/2 sacks in his past two meetings with the Cardinals. It will be D'Anthony Batiste's job, albeit with a lot of help, to slow down a player who has an NFL-best 109 sacks since entering the league in 2004. Batiste has already surrendered nine sacks and taken seven penalties this season. Bookend right tackle Bobby Massie has given up 10 sacks and will also have his hands full with Brian Robison.
For Ponder and the Vikings, it's all about getting a lead and staying away from mistakes.
Ponder struggles with his accuracy when he tries to go downfield and is at his best managing the game and keeping things simple underneath. That's easier said than down against a talented Arizona defense.
Lineman Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, linebackers Daryl Washington and Sam Acho, cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Adrian Wilson are all playmakers and will be trying to get Ponder, who has thrown four interceptions in his last two games, to force the issue.
"Both Campbell and Dockett are guys you really have to know where they are," Frazier said. "They create havoc for your offensive line. They are terrific players and their ability to win the one-on-one's always create problems and even when you have situations where you try to double the both of them."
Still a work in progress, Ponder doesn't have the innate feel to move up or slide in the pocket and that leaves him susceptible to swarming defensive units like Arizona's. The Florida State product is aware of the issue but has had trouble fixing it.
"I think when I get myself in trouble is when I get to the top of my drop and just kind of hop there and sit back there rather than moving forward," Ponder said. "I definitely make a lot of my better throws when I move forward and that's something I've got to continue getting better at, making that a habit rather than hopping at the top of my pocket."
Getting athletic receiver Jerome Simpson healthy and ready to play could help Ponder by giving him a legitimate downfield threat. Simpson was held out against the Redskins after experiencing weakness and numbness in his lower leg because of a back issue.
"I think he understands that he's kind of got a weird injury," Ponder said. "I think he'll be back this week and he's going to practice all week and we'll see if he's set for the game, but we'll be happy when he's back. I know he'll be happy when he's back."
Skelton, who is 8-4 as a starter, is probably a better option than Kolb so the Cards aren't worried about moving on but the quarterback play may not matter unless Arizona's shaky offensive line can hold off the Vikings' impressive pass rush.
"They've struggled a little bit up front," Frazier said. "They'll have a different quarterback this week so that's going to change things a little bit. We'll have to study John (Skelton) and get a better feel for him, but whether that improves the offensive line or not, we'll find out. We really have to do a good job up front on our end."
Minnesota is 3-0 at home and tends to play much better on the fast turf at the Metrodome. The noise is always a factor also since it tends to slow down the opposing offensive line just a tick, giving the Vikings' speedy front four an extra edge.
"We really want it to be noisy in there," Frazier said. "That will help us a great deal. That's one of the big advantages to playing at Mall of America Field. We've all been there where moments occur where the opposing team has so much trouble functioning because of the noise and that's what we're hoping will be the case on Sunday."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 27, Cardinals 20
10/18 12:23:49 ET