After much anticipation, I had the opportunity to sit down and watch the Vikings do their thing in San Francisco this past week. Overall I found the experience slightly unsettling. Granted, it’s only the first preseason game AND the 49ers are in the presumptive mix to go all the way to the Superbowl. Still, it was a little disconcerting.
Right from the start the announcers stated correctly (in my opinion) that the biggest question mark for the team right now is at quarterback. However after establishing a degree of credibility with me early on, they then lost it all by stating that the Vikings had lost both of their starting safeties in the offseason, and, in the same breath, said that the Vikings "traded down" to get Harrison Smith. Eh, generally the whole television crew struggled. It seemed like a good portion of the game’s information bar at the top of the screen showed the wrong down and distance. But whatever, it was a pre-season game, and we’re all getting the hang of things again… including me.
Here were some of my observations that held some interest to me:
Christian Ponder: He was pretty okay, and much, much better than he was in his first pre-season game last year. That’s good. It shows progression and improvement, and that’s what we all like to see. My favorite play of the night for Ponder was the deep completion to Stephen Burton. Ponder saw the play, moved up in the pocket and took the opportunity to make a deep throw. It wasn’t perfect. He didn’t lead the receiver correctly and lost a TD opportunity as a result, but he made the throw, and it was a solid effort… and given Ponder’s preoccupation with check downs and short stuff last year, I was really pumped to see the play.
Later in the second series, I saw some of the stuff about Ponder that I don’t like as much. Ponder got happy feet on a play in which he finished off his run with an unnecessary head first dive. I thought he had a pretty good feel for pressure through his two series of play, but this was a case in which I think he reverted to last year’s script and tucked and ran too soon. Honestly, I wasn’t too bothered by this play, but I note it’s similarity to last year’s modus operandi.
The play that really bothered me was the last play of Ponder’s 2nd series. It was the play in which Ponder threw the ball away because the receiver he had keyed in on was covered. I was bothered by this play, because he stared down the receiver through the entirety of the play. He never looked for other options, even when he’d made the decision to throw the ball away. Had he spent any time at all looking for other options, he would have seen a receiver (Jenkins I think) cutting across the middle of the end zone with his arm raised calling for the ball. Ponder really struggled with seeing the field from the pocket last year, and I was disappointed to see this play.
All in all though, I think Ponder was, as I said before, pretty okay.
Here were other things that caught my eye during the 1st team’s play on the field:
Jerome Simpson dropped his first (and only?) opportunity to make a catch. That reminded me of some things I read from Bengals fans about Jerome Simpson. They loved his athleticism but hated the fact that he seemed to drop a lot of pretty catchable balls.
Matt Kalil got beat badly on a speed rush around the edge in the first series.
Blair Walsh kicked a 49 yard field goal with lots of room to spare on the first series. (I see that Vikings.com says it was a 39 yard field goal which explains why there was lots of room to spare).
Stephen Burton who could do nothing right in preseason last year beat his man and made a great adjustment on a deep ball. I hate to say it, but I think Burton’s play last year was so bad in preseason that I was completely befuddled that he, Berrian and Camerillo weren’t cut from the team outright. Maybe Frazier got one of the three right… maybe.
Fusco started at right guard.
Kyle Rudolph looked to me like he was faster in getting off the line of scrimmage than last year. The announcers said that last year he was still recovering from his serious hamstring injury from college. That could be I guess. It was nice to see Rudolph playing with some giddy up last week.
Toby Gerhart played very well. As usual, he took what was given and followed his blocks, but he also shed tacklers in the process. I still consider him to be the most consistent, dependable (and best all around back) the Vikings have.
Everson Griffen: Where was he? When I looked around for him, I didn’t see him. I know there is talk about him playing at linebacker but with Reed’s play at DE, I’m surprised that I didn’t see Griffen playing that position yesterday. Anyway, he was probably playing at some point in the game, but when I looked for him, I didn’t see him.
Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond started at the safety position. Harrison Smith came in with the second team. I don’t know if that should have surprised me or not, but it did. I was very surprised. Preseason games are a good time for guys to learn the tendencies of their teammates. I thought Smith was considered to be the Vikings new starting safety. I’m scratching my head a bit and wondering what I should be reading into the fact that he was playing with the second team.
That’s it for my observations and thoughts on the first team. I’ll limit my comments on the second team to Joe Webb and the 2nd team offensive line.
The 2nd team offensive line was comprised of Brown (RT), Pasztor (RG), Berger (Center), DeGeare (LG) and Murphy (LT). Basically, they sucked. I mean, they were really, really, really bad. It seemed to me like there was immediate pressure on the quarterback on every passing play except one. And of course, Webb showed off his athleticism time and time again by escaping that pressure.
That said, Joe Webb, was just okay. He was dazzling in his escapes from pressure, but he flubbed a few passes that he should have made. Last year’s first preseason game was not a good one for Webb, and this one wasn’t either. However, I think almost every other QB in the league would have wilted under the sort of immediate and sustained pass-rush pressure that Webb faced, so maybe I’m being a bit overly negative on Webb’s first game of play.
What I liked from Webb is that he stayed in the pocket and moved around it very well. Webb’s throw to Ellison for a first down in Webb’s second series was a great example of what Webb does well in the pocket. Throughout his time on the field, Webb did a great job of keeping his eyes looking down field - even when running for his life in the backfield. And of course, Webb escaped pressure more often than not even when defenders came at him unblocked.
What I didn’t like from Webb is that he was inaccurate on several throws. The first example came on a badly underthrown ball to Jenkins. For some reason, Webb had a hitch in his throw on that attempt. I couldn’t see what was happening down field. It might have been that he had reason to pause in the midst of his throw, but it looked pretty bad and the result was a pretty ugly incompletion. There were two other throws that looked bad to me. In Webb’s fourth series, he threw a terrible outlet pass on 1st and 10. And later, he threw behind Devin Aromashodu on 3rd and 7 which ended the drive. Webb had another overthrown ball in his 2nd series, but it looks like he was hit by the 49ers Dobbs as he was releasing the ball on that occasion.
Timing plays were a bit of a struggle for Webb last year, but I wasn’t bothered by that much. After all, Webb didn’t have the opportunity to develop timing with his receivers last year as he was scout teaming for most of the year and really only practiced with the first team for one week of the season. However, timing throws are the lifeblood of good QB play in the NFL, and Webb doesn’t consistently make those throws. I hope he’ll have the opportunity to get better in that area this year.
So those are the things that interested me in the Vikings first pre-season game. All in all, I don’t know that I saw any area of our team that seemed like a big improvement over last year (other than our new kicker’s powerful leg). Our first team defense minus Williams, Allen and Winfield didn't look good against a team that is more known for its defense than its offense. Preseason has only just begun though, and hopefully we’ll get things in gear and be able to pummel Jacksonville and Indianapolis to start the season.