When the Minnesota Vikings host the Arizona Cardinals in their second preseason game, they will be looking to do the same things as the first week: stay healthy, get young players reps, and figure out where they are in terms of players executing the offense and defense. There are a few story lines to really pay attention to this weekend at TCF Bank Stadium.
The quarterback situation
Like last week, Matt Cassel is going to be starting the game with the first team offense. Norv Turner has said that he wants to have Cassel take more snaps with the first team offense, as he was only on the field for 10 snaps the first preseason game. However, this does not necessarily mean that Teddy Bridgewater won’t get any time with the first team offense. It is still up in the air how many series the first team offense will play (although you can expect to see them play at least the entire first quarter.)
I think the Norv Turner and Mike Zimmer should give most of the first team reps to Cassel, as he earned it with a stellar performance against the Raiders, and limit Bridgewater’s time with the first team offense to about a series or two. It will be important to get Bridgewater an opportunity to play at least a series or two against an above average Cardinals’ defense, especially with the great secondary Arizona possesses. (Patrick Peterson being a big reason for that.)
At the same time, however, the Vikings will also want to get Cassel some extended playing time, to see how he handles the offense past one series. Although this game won’t single-highhandedly decide the quarterback competition, if Matt Cassel comes out and plays like he did against the Raiders, the gap between him and Bridgewater for the starting quarterback position will continue to widen.
From this point on, I really doubt that Christian Ponder has any realistic shot at winning the starting quarterback job. He will probably play most of the third quarter, and all of the fourth quarter. But for the other two quarterbacks, the Cardinals’ defense will be sure to employ plenty of looks to try and confuse the quarterbacks, so it will be interesting to see how Bridgewater will fare, and if Cassel will be able to keep his momentum going from last week.
The secondary situation
Last week, Kurt Coleman saw the most time next to start safety Harrison Smith, due to Robert Blanton‘s hamstring injury, and Mistral Raymond‘s head injury. From the looks of things, Blanton will be forced to miss another week this week because of his hamstring. It appears as though Blanton will be the only safety that won’t get any playing time this week.
The Vikings have 4 players competing for the starting job at strong safety, and all of them should see the field quite a bit against Arizona. So far, Coleman has impressed me the most; but, newly signed Chris Crocker will make his debut for the Vikings after sitting out last week against the Raiders. Crocker is a 34 year old safety who has played for Mike Zimmer’s defense in Cincinnati, so his familiarity with what Zimmer likes to do, along with his experience, could shot put him to being the second starting safety. This was Raymond’s job to lose, though, so if he can bounce back from his injury, he could still keep his starting spot.
Andrew Sendejo and Jamarca Sanford should get some playing time as well, but I don’t see them competing for the starting job like the other 4 safeties. Regardless of who is playing, they will have plenty of work ahead of them because the Cardinals like to spread the field out with four wide receivers quite often, which would match a safety up on a wide receiver somewhere on the field.
Linval Joseph-less defense
With Linval Joseph out for at least this weeks’ preseason game (no word yet on when he will be back, but he’s expected to be ready for week 1 of the regular season), someone will have to step up and fill his role of nose tackle. So far, Fred Evans has been getting a lot of work with the first team next to Sharrif Floyd. If Evans can really impress Zimmer, this could result in more playing time during the season, possibly at the 3-technique defensive tackle, a position the Vikings have been trying him at this preseason.
But with Fred Evans playing with the first team defense, that means increased playing time for guys like Shamar Stephen (a 7th round pick from UConn), and Tom Johnson. I will be paying special attention to Stephen, because he had a surprisingly good showing against the Raiders, so with another impressive showing he could be a lock for making the roster. Johnson had a half sack in the game against the Raiders, so he can really solidify some playing time if he continues to get pressure from the inside.
Overall, depth on the defensive line is important, especially because Zimmer will be subbing linemen in and out of the game to keep a fresh pass rush. Because of this, it will be equally as important to get a good look at guys competing for the 2nd team defensive line.
The linebacker carousel
The three starting linebackers should be rookie Anthony Barr, Jasper Brinkley, and Chad Greenway. It’ll be interesting to see how Zimmer lines up Barr this week; last week against the Raiders, Zimmer had Barr blitzing the “A” gap, and had him pass rushing on the outside. These snaps with the first team defense will be crucial for Barr, so he can continue to pick up the speed of an NFL game, and continue his development as an NFL linebacker.
There are, however, plenty of guys on the second team who have looked good so far this off season and are making a name for themselves with Mike Zimmer. Audie Cole is a guy who will be playing with the second team defense, but is currently locking horns with Brinkley for the starting middle linebacker position. Brandon Watts is a guy who has really surprised a lot of people this off season, and the rookie from Georgia Tech should get some playing time on Saturday.
Special teams issues
In their preseason opener, both punter Jeff Locke and kicker Blair Walsh struggled (Locke a bit more than Walsh.) Walsh missed a 53 yarder on Friday, and although that is by no means a chip shot, it is a kick that he usually makes. Walsh may still be adjusting to the wind conditions in The Bank, so there isn’t too much to be worried about.
Locke, on the other hand, struggled all game, averaging just 38.9 yards/punt against the Raiders. He did have great accuracy on his punts, having two downed inside the 20, but he was unable to flip the field position advantage back to the Vikings for the most of the game.
Adam Thielen was a bright spot for the Vikings’ special teams last week, so he might be back to receive a good amount of punts this week. Unfortunately, I’d be surprised to see Cordarrelle Patterson back to field any kicks or punts this game, just to protect Flash against any nasty injuries on special teams.
The second preseason game against the Cardinals will be a good indicator of how far along the Vikings are compared to last week. However, the most important thing is that both teams get through this game with no injuries.