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Sparano Grinding Through Challenging Season With Vikings

The life of an NFL coach is never easy, especially when your position group has been hit by a rash of injuries.

The Vikings have used five combinations of starting offensive linemen and have played 10 linemen in all through nine games.

Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press caught up with Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano about the roller-coaster ride of the 2016 season.

"I'm not sleeping a lot lately these days," Sparano acknowledged Thursday. "It's something, obviously, I haven't been a part of, these scenarios where you go 10-12 linemen deep. There's been a lot of moving parts and a lot of change."

*Sparano is a 32-year coaching lifer who has been hired and fired in regime changes at Cleveland, Jacksonville, Washington and Oakland. He also spent four years as head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2008-11, transforming a 1-15 mess into an 11-5 playoff team. *

*Minnesota's underperformance and the relentless string of injuries have made this season one of the most trying of Sparano's career. *

"I see it as a challenge and I love a challenge," he said. "Whatever the chess pieces are when we go out there, we have to figure out a way to play to the best of our ability to give ourselves a chance to win football games. That part of it I enjoy.

"It's just when you're changing the pieces ... we all have to know our jobs and sometimes we have to know more than our job. That's what keeps us in the league a long time. They can line the excuses up for our football team around the corner right now. We just choose not use them."

Patterson could be X-factor against Cardinals

While Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson is **expected to shadow** Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs, another defensive back-receiver matchup could have an effect on Sunday's outcome.

Andrew Krammer of the *Star Tribune *wrote that the battle between Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and Cardinals cornerback Marcus Cooper is one to watch.

Krammer said Cooper has endured an up-and-down season since being acquired from Kansas City in a trade earlier this season. Patterson, meanwhile, is fourth on the Vikings in catches (30) and yards (256) and has a pair of touchdowns. 

Krammer wrote:

Cooper, whose highs include a team-leading three picks and valleys of two touchdowns allowed in a loss to the Rams' Case Keenum. The Vikings once again need to get the ball out quickly against a strong Cardinals pass rush. Those targets could be funneled to Patterson, who has at least three catches in six consecutive games.

On 30 receptions, his average of 6.8 yards after the catch currently ranks fifth among all NFL receivers, according to Pro Football Focus.

*Against the Cardinals' eighth-ranked pass rush (24 sacks), the Vikings will need their receivers, whether it's Diggs, Patterson or Adam Thielen, to break tackles for impact gains. *

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