The Minnesota Vikings opened up the preseason at TCF Bank Stadium against the Oakland Raiders. The game started off in the Vikes’ favor when Matt Cassell led the team right down the field for a touchdown on the their opening drive. Other than a few field goal attempts and a garbage time touchdown, this game was low on big plays and hits. The 10-6 Vikings win was slow paced and would have been a great game for someone who needs a refresher course on how the game of football is played. For the casual fan, this was a bit of a snoozer. For a dedicated Vikings fan, this game was fantastic. There was a bit of everything and a lot of looks at a lot of different players. There were no freak big plays that skewed a players actual effectiveness. Apologies to a certain Vikings linebacker who had two interceptions in one game and a fullback who had a 60+ yard touchdown last preseason.
Here’s my take on the who’s who of last night’s game.
Who looked good
Cordarrelle Patterson WR
We all know he is a freakish athlete with swagger and personality. It is what’s made him a fan favorite in just his second year in Minnesota. He finished the night with three catches for 38 yards, catching passes from both Matt Cassell and Teddy Bridgewater. He looks as though he’s refining his tools as a wide receiver, using his body to shield from defenders and running better routes. Thanks can go to veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings for helping him along.
Matt Cassell QB
Cassell led the Vikings’ opening drive straight down the field, finishing off with a 1-yard touchdown dive by Matt Asiata, precluded by a nice 22-yard catch and run by TE Kyle Rudolph on the previous play. Cassell finished 5-6 for 62 yards. He looked cool under pressure and had control of the offense. Let us be reminded that this is only preseason week 1 and the offensive play calling is very simplified. Nevertheless, Cassell looked crisp and made good, quick decisions. He’s showing why he is the team’s starter at this point.
Jabari Price CB
The Vikings’ seventh round pick out of North Carolina is really impressing coaches so far in training camp. He’s playing with a fire that is uncommon in rookie defensive backs. Price allowed a few catches, and that’s fine. This is the NFL, there’s not much that can be done against a well placed throw except be right there to make the tackle, which he was. This guy was rarely out of position and was willing to come up and make tackles. He’s not a Pro Bowler yet, but he’s worked his way up the depth chart, above former Pro Bowler Derek Cox. If he continues to work hard and grow as a player, he could be a contributor right away.
Gerald Hodges LB
Hodges had an opportunity to step up and he did just that. He led the team in tackles with five, including one for loss and another on special teams. Let’s not forget the blocked field goal in the fourth quarter. He was in good position in pass coverage and looked comfortable on the field in the new aggressive scheme. He never looked comfortable last season in training camp or preseason on defense. Maybe it’s the year of experience or the new defensive scheme, but I came away impressed with the former fourth round pick from Penn State.
Honorable Mentions – Shamar Stephen DT, Audie Cole LB, Kurt Coleman SS, Adam Thielen WR
Stephen had five tackles and was strong on the inside, seemingly always there to make a play against the run. Cole looked comfortable leading the second half defense and contributed four tackles himself. Coleman made the most of extended playing time, recording three tackles and an interception on a dropped pass. Thielen averaged 17 yards per punt return on three returns, had a nice tackle in punt coverage and had a big catch for 17 yards on third-and-long. Let it be known, that I first made the comparison to Chris Walsh weeks ago.
Who needs work
Teddy Bridgewater QB
While Cassel looked like the seasoned veteran, Bridgewater looked like the rookie I expected him to look like. He made some crisp throws, showed off a bit of athleticism and held control of the crowd, all things fans love in a franchise quarterback. But fans don’t run the team (if they did, Brett Favre would still be the quarterback). Coaches are looking for pocket presence, quick decision making and limiting turnovers. While Teddy didn’t commit any turnovers, he did fumble once by holding the ball away from his body while eluding pressure. He sometimes took too long to go through his reads and acknowledge pressure. He finished 6-13 for 49 yards and took a couple sacks. Don’t be discouraged though, Vikings fans. Teddy is a hard worker and a smart man, he will work to improve upon his mistakes and has gained some valuable experience.
Backup Offensive Line
QBs Bridgewater and Christian Ponder didn’t have much time to go through their reads as they were being pressured all evening. RBs Jerick McKinnon, Joe Banyard and Dominique Williams couldn’t get much going as they were stopped at the line a majority of the time. There were a couple false start penalties and plenty of missed blocks to go around. The first team proved capable, aside from a missed block by Matt Kalil which ultimately led to a Bridgewater fumble (Kalil made good on the play by recovering the fumble). If any of these guys expect to push for a starting job (David Yankey, Vlad Ducasse), or even make the roster (Mike Remmers, Antonio Richardson), then there needs to be some significant improvement next week against Arizona.
Jarius Wright WR
Wright was working deep into the fourth quarter last night. That’s not a good sign for a player many expected to push Jerome Simpson for the third wide receiver job. He’s listed as the fifth wide receiver on the Vikings’ official depth chart from last night’s game. He recorded zero catches for zero yards, although he did have a nice run around left tackle for 17 yards in the second quarter. Whatever is going on for this guy in camp, if he’s going to fulfill his expectations, he needs to step it up.
Anthony Barr LB
Now, let me say this first. He did not have a bad game. He did some good things and shared a sack with DT Tom Johnson in the second quarter. But as the #9 overall pick, I was hoping to see some more explosion, maybe a big hit somewhere. It seemed as though he was thinking too hard, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing during the preseason. He played a bit high, didn’t use his hands well and wasn’t all that aggressive. Again, he’s still very raw and this was his first game action in the NFL, I was just expecting more out of out first first round pick.
Injuries – Mistral Raymond was being evaluated for a head injury. Otherwise the team came away from this game healthy and in-tact.
* Side note – DT Linval Joseph suffered a minor gunshot wound at a night-club after the game. He is expected to be just fine and has already been released from the hospital.
Both teams played sloppy ball. Again, it is week one of the preseason, that’s acceptable. The Vikings showed some of what they are capable of and what they need to work on and there’s plenty of work to do before they can be included in playoff talk.
I came away impressed with the defense. Now, I know the Raiders aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut like their division rivals in Denver, but there were a lot of things to be happy about with the Vikings’ defense. The aggression, the pass rush, the coverage. The linebackers seem to be in a position to succeed in
Mike Zimmer’s George Edwards’ defense.
There are some new special teams playmakers on the roster this preseason in Jabari Price and Adam Thielen. Jeff Locke showed some versatility and improvement over last season. The return game is as deep as ever with guys like Patterson, Marcus Sherels, Thielen and McKinnon all being capable of big returns. The coverage unit seems to be as strong as ever. Mike Priefer is one of the best special teams coaches in the league. No matter how Chris Kluwe feels about him, or the comments Priefer made, he made Kluwe into the player he was, and is currently working the same magic on a number of special teamers for the Vikings.
After seeing the tight end production throughout the game, I’m convince that Kyle Rudolph will emerge as a Pro Bowl candidate. Asiata and McKinnon got into the second level with the first team offensive line. If you plug Adrian Peterson in for either of those two, then you can assuredly add 3-4+ yards on to those runs. Cassell or Bridgewater have plenty of options in the passing game. Rudolph and Patterson are the biggest names, but we forget about Jennings and Jerome Simpson who are more than capable of playing their roles as veteran leaders and safety valves.
What are your thoughts Vikings fans? Did anybody else impress you? Were you disappointed in anybody? What does the team need to work on before next week?
Let me know in the comments below.