The third preseason game is generally regarded as the most significant, given the amount of playing time the starters see. The Vikings kept their first strings in throughout the first half and the offense into the third quarter, allowing us to learn a few things about our starting units. To wit:
- The offense has a long way to go before it becomes the well-oiled machine we want it to be.
- The defensive line has the potential to be dominating.
- The secondary looks a whole lot better when said D-line is being dominating.
Yes, I know, it’s preseason and everything is vanilla. Still, Brad Childress can’t be happy about the way the offensive line and running game performed last night. You could tell Chilly was frustrated. He left Adrian Peterson in long after everyone, including the announcers Greg Gumball and Dan Dierdork, thought he should’ve been pulled. Why did he expose AD to injury in this meaningless game? Clearly, he wanted Adrian to break a decent run – for Adrian’s confidence and probably his own. But there were no holes to be had last night. This was partly the Steelers‘ defense, which didn’t seem very vanilla by the way they were disguising their coverages (said disguising led to some false starts and missed blocks). AD finished with 21 yards on 12 carries and 1 short TD. Not promising. And Chester Taylor fared little better, rushing for 5 yards on 4 carries. There are people who will say everything is okay, but I’m not convinced. The run blocking was not good last night, and the pass blocking was not much better. Gus Frerotte spent altogether too much time either on the ground or trying to evade sacks. I realize Tarvaris Jackson is more mobile than Gus and therefore presumably better able to elude on-coming defensive players, but the idea is to give Jackson enough time that he doesn’t have to scramble (and therefore risk more sprained MCLs and the like).
There’s still time to get all this cleaned up obviously. More practices and one more preseason game Thursday night against the dreaded Cowboys. That being said…the season has a funny way of sneaking up on you. A couple dud games and, before you know it, you’re 0-3 and the fan is suddenly spattered with a brown, chunky substance. I’m not saying it’s time to panic yet – I’m saying I’d be a lot happier if the offense had functioned more smoothly last night.
There was one bright spot amidst the general gloom: Gus Frerotte. Before the game, I prevailed upon Gus to be good but not so good that it caused a QB controversy. Gus lived up to my hopes by playing well, but not so well that any rational person would call for Tarvaris to be benched. Frerotte finished 13/19 for 133 yards, 0 TDs and one very bad pick. Most of his production came on one series, which ended with Adrian squeaking over the line to score the night’s only TD (for either team). Frerotte’s arm is clearly still as strong as you want, and he made some nice reads at times. He also threw that terrible pick, which had nothing to do with all the pressure he was under. The performance cemented Frerotte as a capable backup in my mind, but I still want nothing to do with him as the starter.
Okay, so that’s the offense…now on to the defense. I may need a thesaurus because frankly I don’t have enough superlatives ready to describe the way the first string played last night. Especially the defensive line. Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams and Ray Edwards lived up to the hype. Edwards and K-Will both tallied a sack, and Allen and Pat were consistently in the Pittsburgh backfield. Jared blew up one attempted screen pass by himself, and his penetration opened it up for Pat to squash a second one. K-Will made another huge play when he caught Rashard Mendenhall from behind and forced him to fumble (I hate that “welcome to the NFL, rookie” cliche but it was hard to think anything else when Mendenhall made his cut and probably thought he was free – and then got dragged down from behind and lost the ball). Tyrell Johnson made the recovery on that particular play – and that was really the only highlight for the first team secondary, which didn’t have much to do with the D-line eating up Ben Roethlisberger. Ben got tossed around like a rag doll, and even when he wasn’t getting sacked or hurried, he was throwing behind his receivers. Was he rattled? I wouldn’t like to think Ben Roethlisberger could get shaken in a preseason game. Maybe it was just a bad night for him. It was a great night for the Vikes’ pass rush. In fact, it was almost too great a night. There were so many guys flying around in the Steelers’ backfield that, at one point, it almost cost us Jared Allen. Jared, K-Will and Edwards converged on Ben, nearly triple-sandwiching him, but Ben snuck free at the last second and Jared ended up going head-first into K-Will’s chest. We all know Jared is a big, strong, maniac of a guy, but when he met Williams…well, he just plumb stopped. It took him a few extra seconds to get up after that, and he appeared to be flexing his neck as he ran off the field (everything looked okay on the sidelines a minute later). Halftime hit soon after and none of the defensive starters came out for the second half. We’ll have to wait and see if Jared suffers any lingering effects from that particular collision.
The big post-game news was Tarvaris Jackson’s guarantee that he’ll be ready for the season opener against Green Bay in a couple of weeks. Jackson reportedly warmed up before last night’s game but the decision was made at the last minute to not dress him. Probably a good move – especially since the team’s top two receivers, Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice, were both also out anyway.
- Marcus McCauley raised his stock some by successfully defending a deep pass in the third quarter with the second units in. Maybe he can give Cedric Griffin some pointers on timing leaps.
- Willie Parker ran for only 18 yards on 10 carries against the Vikings’ first unit. Rashard Mendenhall racked up 79 yards on 15 carries but much of that was against the second unit.
- Aundrae Allison caught 5 balls for 56 yards.
- Visanthe Shiancoe appeared to have good chemistry with Gus Frerotte, catching 2 balls for 36 yards including a big 25 yarder to set up the only TD. Visanthe may secretly be hoping for Tarvaris Jackson not to come back.
- Martin Nance is still on the bubble after catching 2 balls for 25 yards. He was probably hoping for more action, what with Rice and Berrian both out.
- Chad Greenway led the Vikings with 7 tackles.
- Maurice Hicks appears to have locked up kick return duties.
- John David Booty was 4/5 for 19 yards in mop-up duty. Brooks Bollinger did not play. Thursday night’s game will likely decide which QB makes the team (my money’s on Booty).
- Byron Leftwich sweats more than any human being I’ve ever seen.
- Dan Dierdorf referred to Mewelde Moore’s good pass-blocking. What tape has he been watching?
- Artis Hicks replaced Bryant McKinnie at left tackle in the second quarter. The Vikes anticipate McKinnie being suspended four games for clocking that bouncer and obviously wanted to get Artis some reps.