With most of the team’s offensive stars either not in St. Louis or watching from the sidelines, the Vikings and their fans needed somebody to step forward in the preseason opener and provide a little entertainment value.
Luckily, Sage Rosenfels was up to the task.
The Vikings’ #2 quarterback (at least until Brett Favre arrives) entered the game in the second series in place of starter Tarvaris Jackson, and after a shaky start, took control of the offense like a savvy veteran should. Sage would spend the next almost three full quarters calmly picking apart the Rams‘ soft zone defense, mixing in a few big plays to guys like Garrett Mills and Marko Mitchell, and leading the Vikes to a convincing 28-7 victory.
Stat lines in the preseason mean squat of course, but still, 310 yards on 23/34 passing with 3 TDs and no picks is a nice night. And Sage had to do it with an inexperienced offensive line making mistake after mistake in front of him.
Luckily for Sage, the Vikings have some pretty decent second- and third-line skill players – like tight end Garrett Mills, who caught 4 balls for 106 yards, including a 65-yarder for a touchdown. And receiver Logan Payne who led the team with 7 catches, one for a score. And Marko Mitchell who got behind the Rams’ defense to score on a 71-yard (somewhat underthrown) Rosenfels bomb.
The passing game looked efficient much of the night, as you would expect with an experienced veteran like Rosenfels running the show. The running game, on the other hand, was never able to get rolling.
Albert Young started at tailback with Adrian Peterson nursing a tight hammy, but was stuffed for negative-7 yards on his 7 carries. Rookie Toby Gerhart fared somewhat better, carrying the ball 8 times for 22 yards, and flashing a couple of nifty moves along the way.
In his debut as a running back, former receiver Darius Reynaud ran the ball 6 times for only 19 yards. Off-season acquisition Ryan Moats only got in the game in garbage time, carrying it 3 times for 16 yards as the Vikes ran out the clock in the 4th.
I’m not sure what any of this means to the running back rotation. As of now, it seems Young will still be the #2 behind AD, with Gerhart #3. If Reynaud makes the squad it will be because of his versatility. Moats, a guy who was acquired to add veteran depth, seems like the odd-man-out.
Very little was clarified concerning the cornerback situation either. Despite being listed #2 on the initial depth chart, Lito Sheppard got the start at corner, but was lifted after one series along with the rest of the defensive first-teamers. Asher Allen, Benny Sapp and Chris Cook were in for most of the rest of the game, but got few chances to make plays. Cook was able to make an impression on special teams, forcing a fumble to set up the first Vikings’ touchdown.
The story of the night defensively for the Vikings was not their secondary but their defensive line. The back-ups thoroughly whupped the Rams’ second-team O-line and got after St. Louis’ quarterbacks – including $50 million rookie Sam Bradford, who by the end of the evening was much more intimately acquainted with the Edward Jones Dome turf than he ever wished to be.
Jayme Mitchell was the big playmaker up front for the Vikes, racking up 2 sacks. Fred Evans added another sack plus 2 tackles for loss. Letroy Guion continued his impressive training camp/preseason push, notching a sack, a tackle-for-loss and a bat-down.
If we learned anything definitive from last night’s game, it’s that the Vikings have some pretty serious depth along their D-line. The Rams’ blockers looked hopeless against the second-teamers up front, and for a little while it looked like glamorous rookie Bradford might not escape with his life.
Things were not quite so solid in the special teams. Glaring gaffes included allowing a punt return touchdown for the Rams’ only score, Chris Cook flubbing a chance to down a punt deep and rookie Everson Griffen being called for an illegal block in the back and getting talked to on the sideline by Brad Childress.
I imagine Chilly was also not thrilled by the performance of Rhys Lloyd, who took over kicking duties in the second half, and despite his reputation as a big-legged kick-off specialist failed to bury the ball deep in the end-zone. If Lloyd is unable to prevent teams from returning his kicks then he will have no role on this club, and the decision whether to carry two kickers will become a very easy one for Chilly and Rick Spielman to make.
There were several guys like Lloyd who had less-than-stellar nights, but the most glaring goat was tackle Chris Clark, who got hit with multiple penalties, and whiffed on several blocks including one that resulted in a Sage Rosenfels sack and fumble (Clark at least was able to somewhat redeem himself by recovering the fumble). The Vikings are said to like Clark’s talent, but judging by last night’s performance, he has a long way to go before the team will feel safe having him out there.
Speaking of guys who have a long way to go: Saturday night saw the on-field debut of the already near-legendary Joe Webb.
Few Vikings players have been objects of more off-season intrigue than Webb, who was drafted to play wide receiver, but so wowed Chilly and company with his big arm and massive hands that he was returned to his college position of quarterback. Last night, the fans finally got a look at the skills they’ve been hearing about since OTAs.
The verdict? Joe Webb is big and looks like he can run some. And he showed decent touch on a couple of his passes. And he made a nice pump fake to hold a pass rusher on one play. But he did badly underthrow one ball that could’ve been a touchdown.
And as for that big arm…well, unfortunately, he didn’t really get a chance to show it. In the end, he didn’t do anything to really impress, but he didn’t do anything glaringly bad either. He will, I imagine, remain an object of significant intrigue. As will the entire Vikings quarterback situation, which will not begin to clear up until #4 gives the word one way or the other.