This is a big game for the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings. Both teams have struggled to close out games and either team is just a couple of plays away from being 4-0. The winless Vikings look at their schedule and see an opportunity to get in the "W" column. The Cardinals believe their team still can make the playoffs but they know they can't keep losing winnable games.
The Vikings had first half leads of 10, 17 and 20 points but lost all those games in the second half. They've gone away from Adrian Peterson, their star running back late in games and they've seen Donovan McNabb run for his life due to poor protection.
Gates described the mood in Minnesota about their team, "It's kind of in between. You watch the first halves of these games, especially the first three, you can see that there's talent there on both sides of the ball. This isn't a completely untalented mess we're looking at."
As you might expect, the feeling in the frozen north is that it's time to put McNabb out to pasture and turn the ball over to first-round pick Christian Ponder. Of course, some worry that throwing Ponder to the wolves too soon could back fire and hurt his long-term development. McNabb has already been named the starter for Sunday.
The Vikings are 24th in the NFL in points scored through four weeks and that's mostly due to the below average performance of McNabb. Gates points out that the receiving corp hasn't helped either.
Minneosta brought in WR Michael Jenkins in to replace Sidney Rice. Jenkins would be a good possession guy in most other offenses but is being called on to do too much. He's been solid along with Percy Harvin and the team is also excited about second-round pick TE Kyle Rudolph. Outside of that, no one has stepped up.
Adrian Peterson is clearly still the best player on the Viking's offense. If he's frustrated about how he's been used in the second half, he's not showing it.
"He's obviously the best offensive weapon on the team," Gates said. "He's the premier guy at his position in the league and he's the guy the offense should be based around."
Recognizing the struggles the Vikings have moving the ball in the air, Gates fully expects the Cardinals to load up in the box to stop Peterson.
The brightest spot in Minnesota this season has been their run defense, ranking fifth in the NFL, with the front seven still the strength of the team. In addition to Jared Allen at one defensive end spot, the Vikings have gotten better-than-expected play from the other DE, Brian Robinson.
"What scares me this week, our secondary was struggling prior to now and it turns out our best defensive back by a mile, Antoine Winfield injured his neck last week," Gates said.
The Vikings secondary is ranked 28th in the league and that was before losing their best player.
"I would like to think that the Vikings have enough to get a win. They're at home...If they can't manage to pull something out against the Cardinals this week it's really hard to look at that schedule and see where wins are going to come from," Gates said.
"I'm not super optimistic, but if I have to make a prediction I'll take the Vikings by a field goal or so."