The Minnesota Vikings are off to great start with first year head coach, Mike Zimmer. Although it is only the preseason, it is safe to say Mike Zimmer has already had an impact on the Vikings’ defense. The Vikings did not allow a touchdown until 31 seconds left in the 4th quarter, despite the Chiefs being in the redzone 4 times throughout the game. The defense may have “bent”, but it did not break. The Chiefs’ first two trips to the red zone resulted in interceptions–the first by Captain Munnerlyn in the endzone, and the second by Chad Greenway on the Minnesota 8 yard line. This may be the difference between last year’s defense and this year’s defense; instead of giving up a touchdown on both of those drives, the Vikings escaped without letting the Chiefs put any points on the board. I saw a lot of great things from this Vikings’ team on Saturday, but also a few things that need to be fixed.
What I liked about Saturday’s win
It’s apparent the Vikings’ D will be much improved this season. The players feel more confident, and they’re making a lot more plays on the field. The Vikings’ defense had 3 turnovers against the Chiefs (all interceptions), 2 coming against Alex Smith, who is one of the least turnover prone quarterbacks in the NFL. Mike Zimmer is constantly bringing pressure from all over the field, sending multiple linebackers and safeties, and even occasionally bringing cornerback blitzes. Whenever your defense only allows 10 points (2 of the Chiefs’ points came on a safety), forces 3 takeaways, and has 5 sacks, your defense has to be a positive point of emphasis in the film room the following week. Although there are a few plays here and there that resulted in large gains because some players were out of position, overall the defense played phenomenally. The group on defense that I think shined the most was the defensive line. The Chiefs’ running backs seldom had lanes to run through, and they were consistently met in the backfield by one or more Vikings’ defensive linemen. Shamar Stephens was a guy I was really looking at during the game, and he made a few high effort plays, including chasing down the ball carrier 20 yards+ down the field. I’m not sure if he’s a lock for the final roster cuts, but he’s certainly showing the Vikings’ coaching staff that he’s a guy they really need to consider for it. The position at middle linebacker may still be up in the air, but Audie Cole made the most out of his time on the field, collecting 8 total tackles– which led the Vikings’ defense. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings offense was mildly inconsistent, scoring on a 53 yard touchdown pass to Cordarrelle Patterson on their first drive, but didn’t score again until Blair Walsh kicked a 41 yard field goal with 29 seconds left in the first half. Matt Cassel played until nearly the end of the 3rd quarter, putting a total of 13 points on the board.
Although Cassel didn’t do anything to lose his starting job, he also didn’t look overly impressive like he did in the first two games. Cassel ended with 9/17 passing for 152 yards, along with a touchdown and an interception that came on a deep go-route to Jerome Simpson. Cassel’s 78.6 passer rating is low compared to his first two preseason games, but it wasn’t a poor performance by any means. Teddy Bridgewater had another fantastic game, showing more confidence in the pocket, and ending the game with 2 touchdowns after being given the ball inside the Chiefs 10 yard line on his first two drives. The more he sees the field, the more he will continue to improve. Bridgewater is not lacking the physical skill set to be an NFL quarterback as he is just missing the experience with the NFL game speed. Bridgewater’s passer rating was higher than Cassel’s (113.1), but he only had 7 attempts from the field and only played on 4 drives. I still can’t see Teddy being the starting quarterback by week 1, but if he continues to work hard and improve the way he is, it would be hard not to start him sometime later in the season. After a slow start to his preseason, Blair Walsh looked great on Saturday; going 3-3 on field goals and 3-3 on extra points. Jeff Locke also looked good in Saturday’s win, averaging 48.5 yards on 4 punts (with 1 downed inside the 20). Locke and Walsh were two guys I wanted to step up after slow starts in the first two preseason games, and they delivered. The Special Teams unit in general played very well, not allowing De’Anthony Thomas to break any long returns throughout the game. Adam Thielen yet again made his mark with a 75 yard punt return in the 3rd quarter . I don’t see any situation where Thielen does not make the roster, I think he brings too much to the table (especially on special teams) to not keep him after the 53 man roster cuts are made.
What the Vikings need to address after the W.
For the second week in a row, the Vikings’ offense played poorly on 3rd down, going only 4-11 on third down conversions. However, it is hard to knock the offense when they are playing without the NFL’s best running back in Adrian Peterson. Yet again, I find myself trying to defense Matt Khalil after a sub-par performance. Khalil got beat badly by Tamba Hali on a few plays, who sacked Matt Cassel once. If the Vikings want to be successful this year, Khalil will have to go back to his Pro Bowl self from his rookie season. Especially considering how many 5 and 7 step drops the Vikings had on Saturday, with the quarterbacks looking to throw the ball deep down the field. With Norv Turner’s offense, the offensive line is essential for success. The Vikings’ tackling was pretty inconsistent for the 2nd week in a row, but it is the preseason. Mike Zimmer will surely be stressing better tackling technique after the Chiefs had a few big gains due to poor tackling. In the end, I think Mike Zimmer summarized it perfectly in his Postgame speech to the team, “We gotta continue to get better, we can’t be satisfied by winning 3 games in the preseason.” More than just improving on third down, and improving tackling, the Vikings need to continue to improve in every facet of the game. In terms of injuries, the only injury that has been reported so far was Phil Loadholt, who had an MRI on his left ankle which revealed the injury was nothing serious