Well, the first preseason game of the Vikings 2012 season is in the books. Ultimately, the Vikes ended up losing in San Francisco with a final score of 6-17. While there were some good things to take away from the game, there were also quite a few hiccups (primarily after the first teamers were done for the night). I jotted some notes down during the game and wanted to get them up here for everyone. These are just observations – my personal opinions and analysis. But first, let’s start off with injuries as, ultimately, not suffering injuries during preseason is one of the most important goals.
The Vikings managed to get through a game against one of the best defenses in the NFL while suffering only one injury – and a minor one at that. (Pretty good if you ask me.) Defensive tackle Letroy Guion suffered a minor PCL injury to his right knee. He is expected to only miss a week or two and should be able to return in time for the regular season. Very happy to see the Vikings not have to suffer any serious injuries, especially after the loss of Greg Childs for the season.
- It was great to see Matt Kalil in a Vikings uniform tonight. Overall, in my opinion, he performed well. Ponder seemed to have pretty good protection for the most part and the line gave him a nice pocket to throw from most snaps. However, he was torched on one particular play by Aldon Smith which resulted in Ponder running for his life. Aldon Smith is quite the competition for Kalil to have to go up against in his first real game and only blowing it on one play is a pretty good accomplishment if you ask me.
- The Vikings first drive on offense looked good. Ponder was poised and did a good job of moving the Vikings down the field. He finished the night 4/9 but 3 of those incompletions were balls that hit and bounced off the hands of the targeted receiver. Simpson dropped an easy, easy catch on the first drive. Stephen Burton and Michael Jenkins also dropped easy catches. My only gripe with Ponder tonight is he seemed to float the ball a little bit and held on just a little too long for my liking. Overall though, Ponder’s performance tonight was promising.
- The defenses first drive on the field wasn’t too bad, but there are definitely some things to work on. Towards the beginning of the drive, the Vikings had a nice play on third down to stop the 49ers just short of a first. The Niners decided to go for it though and ended up rushing for the first on 4th and short. In a regular season game, it would have been very unlikely that the Niners would have gone for it considering they were still on their side of the field (just shy of the fifty). The 49ers offense then went on to run the ball down our throats and cap off the drive with a touchdown where Chris Carr got burned by 49ers receiver Brett Swain. With that being said, it should be noted that Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield did not play tonight. I imagine our run defense would have been a little more stout had they been playing.
- Rookie kicker Blair Walsh looked great tonight. I think there was a collective sigh of relief amongst Vikings fans as Walsh nailed his first field goal with a beautiful kick right down the middle. Walsh was 2/2 for the night and accounted for the only points scored by the Vikings. His longest field goal was from 39 yards out and he did a great job on kickoffs. One kickoff was out of the end zone while another was just a foot from being out. (The kick returner decided to bring the ball out of the end zone anyway, resulting in the Vikings stopping him at the 15 yard line.)
- The defense gave up a huge touchdown run by Niners backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The quick quarterback from Nevada took off on a designed QB run after the entire Vikings defense bit hard on play action. I don’t know… It really didnt’ bother me too much. It was a very college-like play and Kaepernick, who ran the pistol at Nevada, is very good at that type of thing. After the entire team (literally) went right with the running back, there was a valley for Kaepernick to run through. And that guy is fast. Nobody was catching him…
- The inability to respond well to play action seemed to be a trend tonight, though. The Vikings defense consistently got worked on play action runs. Definitely something they need to work on.
- Zachary Bowman dropped an easy pick in the second quarter. Surprise, surprise.
- Tight end Rhett Ellison had a nice grab in tight coverage. Ellison finished the night with two receptions for 17 yards.
- Lex Hilliard got the nod at running back #3 tonight. Hilliard had a lackluster performance only gaining 12 yards on four carries.
- I was excited to see how rookie safety Harrison Smith would do tonight hoping to see some glimmer of greatness that would make me feel a little better about our safety situation. Overall, though, Smith had a pretty quiet first game. He did not start with the first teamers and didn’t get playing time until the second quarter. He did have a nice play where he came up to make a tackle in the backfield on a reverse handoff. Smith didn’t get burned or anything, was just looking to see a little more.
- Marcus Sherels and Stephen Burton were the primary kick returners tonight. Neither had amazing or horrible returns. Pretty normal performance on special teams.
- Joe Webb… I think it’s pretty easy to see after tonight why Joe Webb is not a starting-caliber quarterback. Granted, it is just a preseason game. Still though, Webb looked horrible. While the second team offensive line didn’t help much, consistently letting defenders enter easily into the pocket, I just don’t think Webb has the throwing accuracy or vision to be a starter. He did a great job of avoiding sacks and scrambling around – extending plays much longer than most quarterbacks could. But when he throws the ball, it is just not good. It seems Webb instantly gives in to blitzes and immediately starts scrambling after the snap. I noticed a few plays were the Niners would bring multiple linebackers leaving players wide open. Instead of noticing the blitz and locating one of these easy open targets, Webb panics, turns and bolts for his life. Honestly, after tonight, I would not be surprised to see Sage Rosenfels or McLeon Bethel-Thompson start as QB #2 next week. Seriously.
- Solomon Elimimian had a super easy interception after defensive end Nick Reed used a sweet spin move to get after the Niners third string quarterback Scott Tolzien (who otherwise had a great night). If Elimimian would have dropped that pick… I wouldn’t have been that surprised because we always drop those picks. Yeah…
- Arkansas rookie wide receiver Jarius Wright had a dropped pass on third down that would have put the Vikings in field goal range. Instead, the Vikings were forced to punt. I was looking for Wright to produce more tonight as he was one of my favorite picks of the draft. Wright finished the night with zero receptions.
- The above mentioned punt (by Kluwe) sure was a nice one though. Coverage managed to get down field and stop the ball at the one yard line. Love to see that.
- Quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who I thought had a pretty good night overall, threw the only interception with a late, underthrown ball to Jarius Wright on a hook route.
- It’s also worth noting that Percy Harvin did not play tonight. This allowed other wide receivers to get some playing time with the first team. Stephen Burton had a huge 52 yard gain on the first play of the game via a pass from Christian Ponder. It’s really hard to complain about such a long completion so early in the game from a quarterback who we are looking to stretch the field… But, the pass was a tad bit underthrown and had Ponder led Burton just a little more, the play could have easily gone for a touchdown. Again, was very happy to see a 50+ yard completion from our offense – just nitpicking here.
- The 49ers kneeled at the end of the game a few feet away from our goal line. The announcers applauded 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh for showing such sportsmanship. Personally, it kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t know, I guess I would have rather had them score. Kneeling so close to the goal line just felt too much like mercy. It’s not a huge deal by any means and I’m probably the only one that was irked by it. Nevertheless, I was irked by it.