The Vikings host the Buffalo Bills tonight at Mall of America Field in their second preseason game of the year. Last week when the Vikings traveled to San Francisco, I saw some positive signs of improvement but I also saw some all too familiar shortcomings. While watching the game tonight (7:00 PM CDT), I’ll be paying close attention to the items below and, in general, looking for more signs that this is an improved unit who can surprise some doubters this year.
1. Harrison Smith
The Vikings invested pretty heavily in the Notre Dame safety this past draft. And while reports from training camp say Harrison Smith has looked great so far, we’ve yet to really see what he can do in-game. Tonight though, we should get that opportunity as Harrison Smith is set to make his first start for the Vikings.
What I’ll be looking for: Intensity. Some of the buzz surrounding Smith is that he brings a certain edge to the Vikings secondary that hasn’t been around for a while. It was even reported a while back that the rookie got into a minor scuffle with Percy Harvin during practice after repeatedly trying to strip the ball out of his hands. After the shoving match, Smith said, “I don’t think it was me standing my ground. It’s just football… Football is an aggressive sport played by aggressive people.” I want to see that aggressiveness in game. I want to see Smith attack defenses. Be quick to the ball on rushing downs and be quick and responsive in coverage. The Vikings really needs their secondary to make improvements this year and I’ll be looking for any glimpse of them tonight.
2. Run Defense
Simply stated, the Vikings defense got torched on the ground last week against the 49ers. The team had a hard time filling gaps and just looked a little sluggish getting to the ball overall. The caveat was that the Vikings defense was missing major contributors who probably wouldn’t have allowed it to get so out-of-hand (or out-of-hand at all). Tonight, there will be no excuses as all healthy players are expected to play. That means Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison will all be in with the first teamers. Antoine Winfield, known for his run-stopping and tackling, will also be starting tonight.
What I’ll be looking for: The Vikings not getting ran over. The defensive line needs to show that what happened last week is not a representation of what this defense is going to do in the regular season. The Bills don’t have the best running backs in the NFL, but Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are both very capable. And if the defense performs like it did last week, we could expect to see a similar result.
Beyond stopping the run, I expect Jared Allen to really get after Ryan Fitzpatrick as last year’s leading sacker will be going up against rookie left tackle Cordy Glenn.
3. The Offensive Line
Much has been made over the offseason about how improved the Vikings offensive line is this year. With the addition of first round pick Matt Kalil and the shuffling around of other pieces, the unit is expected to be much better than last season. Last week against the 49ers, the first team offensive line performed pretty well overall against one of the toughest defenses in the league. Tonight, they will be tested even further going against what could be one of the best defensive lines this season. A defensive line that features Mark Anderson, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and, Buffalo’s big offseason signing, defensive end Mario Williams. Phil Loadholt, the lineman in charge of covering Williams, will definitely be tested tonight as goes up against one of the best ends in football right now (behind our Jared Allen, obviously).
What I’ll be looking for: I’m looking for Kalil to continue to impress and show everyone why he was worth such a high pick in the draft. I’m also looking for Ponder to not even come close to being touched. He should have adequate time to complete his drop, go through his reads and get the ball out before defenders are in his face. If that can happen tonight against the Bills first team defensive line, I think it would be safe to say that our new and improved offensive line is legit.
Make sure to check back tomorrow for my in-depth analysis and notes from the game.