While the Vikings first preseason game against the 49ers wasn’t horrible, it definitely left fans wanting to see something more. A sign of improvement. A glimpse of development. Well, I think Vikings fans got that and then some as the Vikings defeated the Bills 36-14 at Mall of America Field Friday night. There was definitely more positive than negative in this week’s exhibition game. I think there may be a feeling in the air now that this team could cause more problems in the tough NFC North than given credit for by most NFL analysts. (Something I’ve been saying here for a while now). With that being said, let’s get moving on the notes and analysis I have from the second preseason game of the year. We’ll start off with a summary of the injuries suffered in yesterday’s match up.
The Vikings managed to get through another exhibition game without any major injuries. Kyle Rudolph suffered a laceration behind his ear and was evaluated for a concussion but the tests came back negative. Chris Cook suffered a concussion on a play where he stripped the ball from a Bills receiver. Both players will be fine but I wouldn’t expect either of them to start in the next preseason game against the Chargers. If it was the regular season game, I wouldn’t be so sure. But as it is just an exhibition match up and both players are crucial to the Vikings roster, I would be surprised if Cook (Rudolph is more likely) saw playing time. Then again, it remains to be seen if Adrian Peterson will play next week so, really, who knows?
- Let’s start off with Ponder because, let’s face it – if a certain rookie, seventh round linebacker hadn’t stole the show in the fourth quarter, the main thing we’d take away from this game is that Ponder looked excellent. He showed great accuracy, led receivers, stepped up in the pocket to make throws and was able to get away from pressure when needed. Moreover, he really just looked the part. Looked comfortable in his own skin. He had the time to go through his reads and was able to find the open man. Ponder finished the night 10-13 for 136 yards (with an almost equal passer rating) and a touchdown. Amen.
- Jerome Simpson knows how to get high. I mean really, really high. I guess this is both a great thing and bad thing for the Vikings, though. On one hand, Simpson will go over just about anyone in an effort to get to the endzone. On the other hand, it means he’ll miss the first three games of the year. Something I saw that I thought was really awesome about the Simpson play below is how friggin’ fast Matt Kalil is. Watch the full highlight on NFL.com and notice how Kalil is seriously right behind Simpson as he flies down the field. Big guy has speed.
(Image courtesy of SB Nation.)
- I thought Toby Gerhart showed some great speed in Friday’s game. We’re used to seeing Gerhart plow through people to get the first down. There were a couple times though that I thought he showed great agility and burst to get through the first wave of defenders. It’s comforting knowing that even without our starred franchise player Adrian Peterson, we could still have one of the better ground attacks in the league.
- Though Ponder was sacked twice on the opening drive, neither of them came as a result of rookie Matt Kalil being beat. Kalil, who had an above average first NFL game last week, showed us again why he was worth a fourth overall pick.
- On the second offensive drive, the Vikings managed to come away with a field goal thanks to rookie kicker Blair Walsh after the drive stalled in front of the Bills’ goal line. I think it’s worth noting though that, if it was a regular season game, we probably would have been forced to punt instead. The Vikings went for it on fourth and short near midfield and got a first down allowing them to continue the drive… It’s unlikely they take that risk in the regular season.
- I really don’t care for flea flickers (unless they work, of course). They just take too long to develop and I rarely see them end well. The Vikings attempted to run a flea flicker during their second offensive drive and the play ended up incomplete as Ponder was forced out of the pocket and had to throw it out of bounds down field. The pressure came from the left side after Matt Kalil basically stopped blocking Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay. Not sure what happened on that play… But again, flea flickers… They just don’t do it for me.
- The real test for rookie kicker Blair Walsh will come when the Vikings are down by 2 at Lambeau Field with five seconds left on the clock. With that being said, he had another great game, Friday. Not only was he booming kick offs again (the guy managed to put one through the uprights on a kick off) but he was nailing difficult field goals. Walsh accounted for half of the Vikings 38 points against the Bills and was 5/6 on field goals. The kick he missed was from about 47 yards out and was wide right. With that being said, he also nailed another 47 yard field goal right down the middle later in the game.
- Harrison Smith seemed to have a pretty good game. He only had a couple stand out plays – one of which being a beautiful blitz where he batted a throw down at the line. More importantly though, he didn’t have any biffs that I noticed. I guess it’s a good thing when you aren’t constantly hearing a safeties name because typically it means they are being beat, missing tackles, etc… I think it’s safe to say that Smith has secured a starting spot on the roster this year. Now we’ll just have to see who starts beside him. Personally, my vote is for Mistral Raymond after Friday’s game. Raymond was on fire and definitely made a statement after struggling last week (and publicly being called out for it by the front office) against the 49ers.
- Chris Carr and Eric Frampton. Yikes, these guys looked bad.
- Josh Robinson didn’t look spectacular but he also wasn’t glaringly bad. Which, I guess, is about as much as you could ask for from a rookie in his first game coming off of a hamstring injury. He did get beat on a bomb down the left side of the field but his blazing speed allowed him to catch back up with defender and put some pressure on him causing an incompletion. He also had a dropped interception but at the very least managed to interrupt the ball in the air.
- Joe Webb has another impressive game as a running back. As a quarterback? Not so much… With that being said, I’m starting to feel like maybe I’m not giving Joe Webb a fair shot? While I do think he is inaccurate, unable to read a defense and prefers to run first when there is any sign of pressure, he is working with the second stringers. And from everything I’ve seen in preseason, there is a huge disparity between the starters and the back ups. Yet, the fact remains that I just don’t think Webb can be a starting quarterback for this team. If he could look as comfortable throwing as he does sprinting down the field, he would look like Peyton Manning. But the fact is Joe Webb was never a quarterback and I’m still convinced that he is not one. Not an an NFL level anyway.
- When the Vikings drafted Jarius Wright I was pumped. As some of you know, I spent a good amount of time “scouting” the receivers in this past draft class and Wright was one of my later-round favorites for the Vikings. While some just consider him a “poor man’s Percy Harvin,” I thought he could be much more than that. Not only does he have the speed, agility and evasiveness of a great slot receiver, but, in my opinion, he has the breakaway speed that could make him a deep threat (despite his short stature)and a threat in the return game. Unfortunately for Wright, though, he hasn’t really stood out much this preseason so far. And I’m not sure if it’s because maybe he’s not as good as I thought he was or he just hasn’t really had the opportunity yet. Wright hasn’t been targeted much as a receiver so far. In fact, he didn’t have a single catch against the Bills. You know who did have a reception, though? Fourteen other players! That has to be kind of scary if you’re Jarius Wright. He really needs to show in the next two games why he deserves to be on this team and what he’s capable of. Wright also hasn’t gotten a real opportunity on any returns yet either as most of the punts he’s been back to receive ended in a fair catch.
- Matt Asiata, who the Vikings are looking at as a potential fullback, looked really great to me. In fact, I think he could potentially be someone the team looks out to add depth at running back. The guy showed great speed and vision. Asiata had a couple of big gains on the ground where he looked much quicker and more agile than your typical full back.
- Other than a long, perfectly passed bomb to Emmanuel Arceneaux, Sage Rosenfels didn’t really do much to show why he should be the second QB on this roster. Then again, I’m not sure he really cares much as he is a [very] veteran player who was likely just brought back to provide an experienced perspective at the position. What do I know, though? Maybe he’s dying to have an opportunity to get back on the field if Ponder goes down during the year. If that’s the case though, he’s got some more work to do.
- Audie Cole. Audie, freakin’ Cole. He’s all anyone is talking about after having two interceptions for touchdowns within 16 seconds or so in the fourth quarter. It definitely added a spark to an otherwise pedestrian second half. I don’t know that I would go as far as anointing him as the steal of the draft, though. Let’s not forget that he was going up against Tyler Thigpen and Brad Smith – the fourth “quarterback” on the Bills roster. (And I use the term quarterback loosely, here.) Both quarterbacks basically made the same horrible read two times in a row and Audie Cole just managed to capitalize on it. With that being said, it doesn’t mean that I don’t think what Cole managed to do was easy or undeserving of recognition. If anything, I think it should definitely earn him some more playing time to see what else he can do. But a guaranteed spot on the roster? I’m not so sure…