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Defenses Could Showcase Low-Scoring Slugfest on Sunday

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Points could be hard to come by Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Week 11 matchup between the Vikings and Cardinals not only features a pair of reigning division champs trying to stay in the thick of the NFC playoff picture, but also will showcase two of the best defenses in the league.

Just look at the stats.

The Vikings give up 16.9 points per game, the fewest amount in the NFL. The Cardinals are tied for third at 17.8 points per game.

Arizona ranks second in yards allowed per game (295.2), while the Vikings are third at 308.8.

The Cardinals give up 4.69 yards per play, tops in the NFL, while Minnesota is fourth at 4.94 yards per play.

Arizona is second in opponents' passer rating (71.2), and Minnesota is third (74.6).The Cardinals are third in opponents' completion percentage (58.3), and the Vikings are fourth (58.5).

Add it all up, and both sides expect a low-scoring slugfest on Sunday.

"They're really good. They're good in about every area. Upfront they're solid. They're great against the run," said Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford. "They do a good job of rushing the quarterback. Then, obviously, with some of the guys they've got on the back end, they're great in coverage as well. 

"So, I think this is going to be one of our biggest challenges of the year. Probably the best group that we've faced," he added. "I think it's important that we have a great week of practice and get ourselves ready to go."

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday that the battle between Minnesota (5-4) and Arizona (4-4-1) could come down to the trenches.

"They do their stuff, they know it inside and out, and you've got to beat them. They don't beat themselves," Arians said about the Vikings defense. "Our defensive line is playing at a high level right now.

"I think both offensive lines have got all of their work cut out for them," he added.

Arizona won 23-20 last December in the most recent game between the two franchises.

Alexander focused on basics moving forward

Vikings rookie cornerback Mackensie Alexander said he's taking a simple approach heading into Sunday's game against the Cardinals

For starters, the 2016 second-round pick said he needs to be more aware of what's going on around him while also not getting too caught up in the moment.

"Just (using my) eyes (more)," Alexander said. "Just going out there and playing ball, just relaxing. Don't think too much and play football, that's my biggest thing.

"Just play football, play the game you know how to play and be ready to go," he added.

Alexander played 14 snaps Sunday at Washington and gave up a handful of catches after cornerback Xavier Rhodes left with an injury. Nickel back Captain Munnerlyn missed Sunday's game with an ankle injury, forcing Terence Newman into the slot.

With Rhodes out, Alexander took the field with second-year cornerback Trae Waynes. The former Clemson standout said he needs to play better going forward.

"Our coaching staff puts a lot on me," he said. "They expect me to win my matchups and expect me to perform and be ready to go.

"I have all the tools to do it, so they have the confidence to put me out there," he added.

Alexander has six tackles and one pass defended this season.

Might Clemmings shift again?

The Vikings offensive line has used five combinations of starting offensive linemen this season.

T.J. Clemmings has started every game since Week 3. He's made four starts at left tackle and then shifted to right tackle, where he started all 16 games as a rookie in 2015, when the Vikings slid Jake Long into the starting role at Chicago.

Long's injury last week has created a situation where the Vikings must again alter what they do with tackles.

Before acquiring Long, the Vikings started Clemmings at left tackle and Jeremiah Sirles at right tackle against Houston. Clemmings told reporters on Thursday, "I believe so," when asked if he was going back to left tackle.

Asked about positives and negatives, Clemmings said "the same as on the right side."

"You've got good plays and bad plays," Clemmings said. "Just find a way to get better."

Zimmer was asked about offensive line coach Tony Sparano managing all of the injuries.

"You know, it's been difficult. When you go back and look at it, I think it's five or six tackles that we don't have from when we started out. Or something like that. We missed Fusco for a while, missed Boone for a while.

"Obviously [Sparano's job has] been very hard with having the continuity," Zimmer said. "But he's a battler and he's grinding every day. He's a great guy and just wants to be the best that he can. I think his mentality is going to continue to go on."

Thielen studying Fitzgerald

The brunt of film work that an offensive player does each week is on upcoming defenders, but Adam Thielen has added watching highlights of Larry Fitzgerald to his study this week. Thielen's, a Detroit Lakes native, has been watching the Minneapolis native for even longer.

"I've been watching him for a long time. I definitely take parts of his game and try to apply it to myself," Thielen said. "In the last couple of offseasons, I've been able to work out with him a couple of times and pick his brain a little bit for his knowledge of the game."

Thielen said he's been watching Fitzgerald highlights on a tablet, "so I could see the way he runs routes, the way he catches the football and the way he blocks, even. He's just an all-around good receiver."

Injury reports

For the Vikings: Sharrif Floyd (knee) did not participate. Eric Kendricks (hip), Munnerlyn (ankle), Newman (illness) Rhodes (concussion) and Zac Kerin (hand) were limited. Alexander (shoulder), Matt Asiata (shoulder), Laquon Treadwell (hamstring), Marcus Sherels (ankle), Linval Joseph (shoulder), Andrew Sendejo (ankle) and Audie Cole (hand) fully participated.

For the Cardinals: S Deone Bucannon (ankle), DT Corey Peters (foot) and CB Tharold Simon (ankle) did not participate. LB Alex Okafor (knee/calf), LB Gabe Martin (hamstring) and S Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder) were limited. WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee/ankle), LB Chandler Jones (not injury related), QB Carson Palmer (non injury related),  LB Joplo Bartu (hamstring), CB Justin Bethel (foot/wrist) and CB Brandon Williams (finger) fully participated.

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