Vikings ride Murray, defense in win over Cardinals

Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray (25) runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals in a 27-17 win on Sunday.Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

— By Brian Hall, The Sports Xchange —

MINNEAPOLIS — Latavius Murray darted through an opening in the line and sprinted for 26 yards before finally being taken down by an Arizona Cardinals defender.

A few plays later, the Minnesota Vikings’ running back found another big hole and raced 21 yards for a touchdown.

The running game that had been absent all season was clicking for Minnesota and the Vikings used a familiar formula to record a 27-17 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday.

Minnesota had rushed for 100 yards as a team just once this season, the season-opening win against San Francisco. Arizona entered the game with the second-worst run defense in the league, giving up 142.4 yards per game and the Vikings exploited it, especially Murray.

Murray had 24 carries for 155 yards and one touchdown. The Vikings ran for 195 yards as a team and had five runs of at least 20 yards after posting one such run in the first five games.

“Good, because we’ve been wanting to run the ball like that all season,” Murray said of how the win felt. “We wanted to take advantage of that.”

Besides the effective run game, Minnesota’s defense was aggressive all game.

At one point, linebacker Anthony Barr jumped to knock down a pass from Arizona quarterback Josh Rosen as the Vikings sent eight players on an all-out blitz to get to the rookie quarterback in the red zone. The defense was playing aggressive and looking like the unit that led the league in fewest points and yards allowed last season.

“Obviously being back at home and getting the win feels good, and the way that we did it,” Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said. “We got that running game going. Our defense was playing fantastic. Special teams was playing great. Obviously, there’s a lot of things that we need to clean up to make sure that we continue to win. It was a great team effort and that’s what you want.”

Minnesota’s defense pressured Rosen all day long. The Vikings finished with four sacks and an interception. Rosen was 21-of-31 passing for 240 yards, while David Johnson had 18 carries for 55 yards.

“We have to find answers,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said. “I thought we did some things early on to move the pocket and give Josh an opportunity outside and still see the field and make some throws. We need to protect better, No. 1, and do a better job in the pocket, and we have to create some movement in the run game.”

Against Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter and the rest of Minnesota’s defensive line, Arizona had no room to run or time to throw.

The Vikings held the Cardinals to 269 yards and 10 points.

Arizona scored once on a fumble return for a touchdown.

The Cardinals were 0 for 10 on third downs, 0 for 2 on fourth downs and Minnesota controlled the game in a fashion many are used to seeing in U.S. Bank Stadium.

But Harrison Smith said he’s tired of hearing about the past.

“Honestly, I am kind of sick of people talking about the defense we are used to seeing,” Smith said. “Every year is separate. This year is 2018 and we are focused on right now. We want to be as good as we can be right now. That’s as simple as it is.”

Quarterback Kirk Cousins was 24 of 34 for 233 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception for the Vikings and enjoyed the way Minnesota closed out the win.

“You just play the game you have to play that week,” Cousins said. “When our defense is causing them to be 0 for 10 on third downs and standing up the way they were, it’s just not a game to invite (Arizona defensive end) Chandler Jones to come wreck it and get them right back in the game.

“So, we were trying to run the ball to keep a great player like Chandler Jones from ruining the game. He still made plays, certainly, but we didn’t want to play to his strength. Anytime you can run the ball, I think it gives you that chance. It’s week to week. Other games, I think the play was to drop back and throw it all over the yard. So, we’ll just see what each week calls for.”

Cousins has kept Minnesota afloat in shootouts this season. With the defense handling Arizona, the passing game wasn’t needed as much, although the Vikings still dictated the action early through the pass and Thielen came up big when needed.

Thielen caught 11 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown.

Minnesota got a field goal from Dan Bailey at the end of the first half and opened the second with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that included Thielen catching four passes for 47 yards. Thielen converted a first down on the drive by laying out for a pass right at the first-down marker and he capped the drive with a 13-yard touchdown up the seam.

“Another example of Kirk trusting me to make a play,” Thielen said. “I knew that I made it. But when it goes under review, you never really know how they’ll interpret it. It was a long third-down conversion, but you hope that you can contribute to drive the ball there and get to the red zone to score. Those plays are crucial.”

And Minnesota demonstrated on Sunday it can make those crucial plays whether passing, running or defensively, in any way needed.