Mike Zimmer’s first game as an NFL head coach is officially over, ending in a 10-6 win for the Minnesota Vikings. The defense looked great, and didn’t allow the Raiders past the 50 yard line for the first 20 minutes of the game. The Vikings’ first team offense was efficient, especially with Matt Cassel at quarterback. Overall, the team played physical football, and has shown great strides from last season, most notably on the defensive side of the ball.
The Vikings’ defense gave up 268 total yards, had 2 sacks, and one interception. One of the most important things that I saw was that the Vikings caused two 3 and outs to start the game, and played well on third down before the 4th quarter. The Vikings’ had 13 3rd downs on defense, and only allowed 4 first downs, an impressive 31% on 3rd down. The only points the Vikings gave up was a 10 yard rushing touchdown by Raiders’ quarterback Matt McGloin with 2:32 seconds left in the game. There were a couple of players that really jumped off the screen to me in the first game on defense.
The first was Captain Munnerlyn, who almost came up with an interception on the first pass of the game. Munnerlyn played well in coverage, and came up to help on the run better than the average corner. So far, he reminds me of a more athletic Antoine Winfield. Another guy that jumped out to me on defense was Kurt Coleman, the safety who signed with the Vikings in free agency this season. Coleman seemed to be all over the field, compiling a few tackles, and nabbing an interception on a tipped ball.
So far defensively the Vikings have shown mostly 4-3 fronts, but the linebackers were moved all around the field, sometimes lining up on the ball to rush the passer. The starting defensive line played well, holding their gaps and keeping offensive lineman from getting to the linebackers. Anthony Barr tallied a half sack, sharing it with defensive tackle Tom Johnson, the free agent from New Orleans. The Vikings’ secondary played well, and they seemed to be making better plays on the ball than they did last year, consistently tipping balls and deflecting passes. Although Mike Zimmer will find things to fix, so far the defense has looked great.
The Vikings’ first team offense moved the ball well. Matt Cassel played one series, and went 5 of 6 for 62 yards. He looked great, and the Vikings’ offense was much more unpredictable, coming out of the shotgun the first play of the game where Cassel connected to Cordarrelle Patterson for 17 yards. In their first series, the Vikings passed the ball 6 times, and only ran the ball 4 times. This is Norv Turner’s offense at work; the Vikings’ offense should be passing more on first down. Surprisingly, the Vikings had 10 passing first downs, and 5 rushing first downs.
The rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked like, well, a rookie quarterback. He completed 6 passes in 13 attempts, but he showed great athleticism in the pocket. His passes looked great, but he still has to catch up to the speed of the NFL, as some of his decisions were just a split second too late. One thing is for certain, however, is that Bridgewater played much better than Christian Ponder, who struggled in the second half the game– getting sacked 3 times.
The two players who impressed me the most on offense had to have been Jerick McKinnon and Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson had 3 catches for 38 yards, and had an impressive one handed catch in the first series. He ran well, catching a few short passes and getting yards after the catch. McKinnon played mostly with the second team offense, but boy did he look fast, especially for a rookie. He ended the game with 12 rushes for 45 yards. Matt Asiata ran well too, capping the Vikings’ first series off with a 1 yard touchdown run. So despite not playing Adrian Peterson at all during the game, the Vikings ended with 127 rushing yards.
The special teams looked okay, but didn’t really blow the doors off today. Second year punter Jeff Locke had a few punts in the 20, but struggled with getting good distance on his punts, with his longest punt only being 47 yards. Blair Walsh kicked a short field goal in the first quarter, but missed his first attempt of 50+ yards in TCF Bank Stadium, which was a 53 yard field goal that he barely missed right. Adam Thielen (a practice squad wide receiver from last season) played well on special teams, returning a few decent punts and making a great tackle in punt coverage. With 4 wide receiver spots virtually locked up, Thielen really made his case for being the 5th receiver on the roster after he showed up everywhere on the field, ending his day with one catch and some serious special teams playing time.
Another good sign is that the vikings escaped the game without any injuries, except safety Mistral Raymond who left the game with concussion like symptoms. Plus, they ended the game with only 5 penalties for 25 yards, which has always been a problem for the Vikings. After a good showing by the first team offense, the second and third team offense did not really show much, not even mustering up a point after gaining a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. In all, I think the first team on both sides of the ball looked great, and Matt Cassel has solidified why he has the lead for starting week 1 at St. Louis.