Good things came out of Friday night’s Vikings preseason opener against the Raiders (and I’m not just talking about the huge crowd at TCF, though that’s good news for Zygi Wilf for sure). For one thing, the Vikings got the win 10-6. But the big news was not how the final score came out, it was how the first units looked in their limited action.
The first team offense and defense both did well for the Vikes in their time on the TCF Bank field. Starting QB Matt Cassel led the offense to a touchdown, with a ton of help from Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph. The first unit moved the ball down the field crisply, mixing in a couple of big plays to set up the score.
It was exactly what you wanted to see from your first team in the preseason opener: signs that things are coming together. A veteran QB running a unit filled with experienced players ought to look fairly sharp even at this early stage, and the Vikings did look sharp.
The offense slowed down some after Teddy Bridgewater came in, but it wasn’t really Teddy’s fault, as a couple of penalties negated some good plays. The second unit struggled for the most part with Teddy in charge, but you can chalk a lot of that up to predictable rookie issues.
Defensively, the Vikings also looked on top of their game early. The first unit held the Raiders’ first team in check, getting after quarterback Matt Schaub with some surprisingly aggressive blitz looks (so much for the unwritten rule about not blitzing in preseason). Rookie Anthony Barr got on the stat sheet with his first half-sack of the preseason, and Kurt Coleman put himself in a nice position in the race for that open starting safety spot by recording an interception.
The only real lowlight for the Vikings in the first half was an injury to Mistral Raymond, who was forced from the game with concussion symptoms.
The second half saw Teddy Bridgewater playing one more series and establishing a little rhythm before being pulled in favor of Christian Ponder. Mr. Ponder, who supposedly was showcasing himself for a possible trade, did himself no favors. The first round bust made some typical Ponder mistakes: staring down receivers, misfiring on easy passes, failing to put enough zip on balls thrown outside the numbers.
At one point it seemed the fans even got bored of jeering Ponder and just went stone silent. That’s when you know you’re finished, when the fans that once enjoyed lustily booing you descend into utter indifference.
The entertainment value in the second half was provided by the Vikings’ defense which carried the shutout all the way to the final moments of the game. The Raiders were finally able to punch one in on a Matt McGloin scramble and avoid getting the goose egg hung on them.
Several Vikings backups made nice plays in the second half, including Audie Cole, Derek Cox and Gerald Hodges. Another player who showed up big all game was Adam Thielen. The local favorite solidified his roster spot with receptions, punt returns and a big special teams tackle.
Punter Jeff Locke also showed off some nice accuracy on his Aussie-style punts. Mike Priefer’s special teams looked solid all night, the only rough spot being Blair Walsh’s field goal miss in the first half. In addition to good coverage, Priefer’s unit also blocked a kick and recovered an onside kick.
What we saw Friday night was a pretty well-coached team. The Vikings committed few penalties and made few glaring mistakes. Rookies struggled at times but that’s to be expected. It’s always hard to know how much optimism to feel coming out of a preseason game, but I think Viking fans should have a fairly good feeling after this one. The guys look like they’re picking up the schemes, and a few players who needed to show up big to lock down roster spots rose up and did what they had to do.
Mike Zimmer will no doubt find things to pick apart, but overall I think his team put in a solid night’s work.
Tags: Minnesota Vikings