The Minnesota Vikings were victorious against the Oakland Raiders in their first preseason contest on Friday night. While it is always nice to get a victory, there were some things that the team needs to improve upon and some other things that were executed very well.
I will break the game down into three separate sections to discuss them. First is the offensive side of the ball. Here are some notable impressions on the offensive game played by the Vikings:
Matt Cassel started the game and looked like a competent NFL starter. He led the Vikings on a 10 play drive that ended in a 1 yard Matt Asiata rushing touchdown. On that drive, he connected on 5 of 6 of his passes for a total of 62 passing yards. He made it obvious that he trusts Cordarrelle Patterson as a target. Cassel looked like a relaxed professional instead of a veteran worried about losing his starting job.
Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater got out of rhythm early with a couple penalties early. One of those flags negated a nice gain on a pass to wide receiver Greg Jennings. After that, Teddy just couldn’t seem to get it going. He ended the day with a disappointing stat line, completing only 6 of his 13 passes for 49 yards and one fumble, but showed a couple flashes during the game on some crisp passes and staying alive in the pocket.
The most disappointing effort of the night came from former starter and first round draft pick in 2010, Christian Ponder. You would assume that Ponder would excell against the Raiders second and third team defenses, but instead he struggled mightily. This game showed one of the main reasons why the race for the Vikings starting job doesn’t include Ponder. He ended the night completing only 3 of his 7 passes for 39 yards. I expected a lot more from him in an effort to show his worth as an NFL quarterback, but found myself being let down.
The most encouraging effort by a running back came from rookie Jerick McKinnon. He opened the game looking great, picking up 25 yards on his first 4 carries during his first drive. He was finding holes and picking up yards after contact. However, as the game went on, his runs resulted in much more pedestrian numbers, finishing the game with 12 carries for 45 yards. On paper, that isn’t a great stat line, but what I saw early on in the game from him was encouraging.
Matt Asiata was the guy we all expect him to be. He was a bruising runner who plowed forward for yards. He ended the night with 3 carries for 13 yards. One of those was a one yard touchdown run that marked the only touchdown that Minnesota Vikings scored.
Receivers and Tight Ends
Right out of the box, the first thing I noticed was Cordarrelle Patterson. He was running nice, crisp routes to get open against the Raiders first team defense. He ended the night leading the team with 3 receptions for 38 yards. It was obvious to me watching the game how much effort he has put into his route running and studying the playbook. If anything, this game actually increased my expectations for Patterson.
In all fairness, tight end Kyle Rudolph came really darned close to being the player of the game. His pass from Cassel was nearly a touchdown and his big completion from Bridgewater was taken back by a penalty from an illegal downfield penalty. Sadly, Rudolph ended the game with just the one catch from Cassel, but showed us all how dangerous he can be in the right offense.
Other pass catchers that were impressive were backup tight end Mike Higgins and Adam Thielen. I’ll be talking more about Thielen when I discuss special teams.
The first team offensive line looked downright dominant at times. Brandon Fusco played a great game at right guard and held down the right side very well with Phil Loadholt. We saw a couple silly penalties from the offensive line, especially Matt Kalil, but overall this unit played just as well as you would hope they would.
Sadly, things got a bit dicier when the backups came in. David Yankey struggled with a pull attempt and Antonio Richardson got beat around the edge a couple times from faster rushers. The difficulty got even more apparent when the third team was out there and Christian Ponder was getting pressured very quickly after the ball was snapped. The Raiders ended the game with 6 total sacks, showing that there is definitely room for improvement in this grouping.
The first drive gave me hope that there would be a lot of Vikings offense in this game, but that fizzled out fast. After the first two drives of the game for Minnesota resulted in a touchdown and a field goal they were never heard from again on the scoreboard. Hopefully that will change next week against the Arizona Cardinals in their second preseason game.