Arif's Notebook on the Bills v. Vikings Game

The Vikings pulled away in a dominating preseason win over the Buffalo Bills, but more important than the win was the performance. Most of the team performed at or above expectations, and in many ways redeemed themselves from their game in San Francisco.

While I've published my list of winners and losers over at another site, I have a bevy of notes from the game that I'd love to share. These are in no way comprehensive and might also suffer from accuracy problems because none of these have been confirmed through film review or any sort of rewatching.

Remember, Ted's Stock Market Report has a much more concise and readable rundown of the game. Always a classic.

Below the jump are notes taken by position, starting with the quarterbacks.

Quarterbacks

Christian Ponder had an excellent game, with relatively good field awareness. I was particularly impressed with the presence of mind he displayed when converting the 3rd and 2 play in the red zone. The power he displayed in his throws in the first game was present in the second game. I noticed he has been doing a better job stepping into pressure in order to throw, but he's still not good here. Christian seemed particularly sensitive to pressure and escaped from the pocket a little to early. This could cause problems later in the season.

Ponder has also showed continued improvement in ball placement, but still could use work here as well. What stood out to me was an unnecessarily poorly thrown ball to Kyle Rudolph in the end zone. None of the ball placement issues seem to put him at risk for interceptions, however, and the throws are safer than they are risky.

Nevertheless, a very good showing. He was 10 for 13 with a touchdown and no interceptions. These criticisms shouldn't allow people to take away that I think he looked bad. He looked good.

Also, it seems as if his head first slides were on purpose; Musgrave has been instructing him to slide head first because it better avoids injury. We'll see.

Joe Webb looked good when he had a chance. As a passer, he was average. When tight ends stayed inline to block, Webb found himself with more time and used that time well for good looking passes. His 7/15, 73 yards passing statistics didn't quite do him justice because of the high number of plays Webb had to perform under pressure. It still seems like there could be passing consistency problems, but for the most part was good when he had a pocket.

Still, his passing under pressure isn't great, either, and he needs to work in a big way on his throws on the run. He does know when to throw it away, it seems, but could do with more accuracy. His ability to avoid the sack is pretty special.

Of course, passing statistics are a particularly poor way to evaluate Webb; he had two electric runs that totaled 64 yards. With the way he cut, I'm a bit surprised there aren't any Bills nursing broken ankles.

Sage Rosenfels was not a consistent passer. He was 4 for 8, and had two different deep passes; one that was wildly off target into double coverage (almost intercepted) to Kerry Taylor, while the other was a good pass to Emmanuel Arceneaux. Sage had a great pass on the run to Allen Reisner as well.

I've said it before and I'll say it again—I don't think that a more impressive performance by McLeod Bethel-Thompson is enough to unseat Sage Rosenfels. Aside from what I think is the underrated mentorship role he can provide Ponder and Webb, he's also invaluable to the defensive coaches as he's run several different offensive systems in the league.

Offensive Line

My vantage point didn't get me a lot of opportunities to take a look at the offensive line, but I was a little less impressed by Kalil than I had hoped to be. Not a worry or an issue, but clear room for improvement. At least one of the sacks was on him and he gave up at least one pressure. On some of the plays in the second drive, he looked good, but struggled as they got closer to the end zone. I still like his footwork.

Brandon Fusco looked great. Controlled his point on the line and was rarely beat against one of the best defensive lines in the league. He did well against Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus both and created running lanes.

Sullivan looked alright, but seemed to have given up one sack.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Not a lot of notes here on receivers or tight ends. I didn't see a play from tight end that I disliked, and while Rudolph could have caught a ball in the end zone, it was more on Ponder than anything else. I saw good blocking by Rudolph and Reisner, as well as good plays for YAC with both Reisner and Shuler.

Jerome Simpson looked good from what I can remember, although I only remember two plays. Obviously quite the athlete, he has good control of his body and seems to have a penchant for jumping over defenders. Good for YAC.

Michael Jenkins did well for himself, although Pelissero was less than impressed with his catch. Seems to have a point—if Jenkins got lucky (he didn't get separation), that won't be enough to keep him on the roster.

Stephen Burton could have used a slightly better performance. Good catch, but the fumble was poor ball handling.

I don't know if Kerry Taylor was running the wrong route on the long incompletion from Rosenfels, and that will be important. Other than that, I've liked what I've seen so far.

Devin Aromashodu keeps disappointing me. He needs to complete the play and come down with the ball. He's been targeted 10 times during this preseason and has no receptions.

Running Back

Lex Hilliard was garbage. Without good burst, he can't take advantage of his blocks, and needs larger holes to run through. I didn't see him much in pass protection or as a pass catcher, but his primary job is to carry the ball forward, and he could not do that. Both Coleman (who did not do extremely well, but was better than his stat-line) and Asiata did much better with similar blocking. Looked better in camp, but I think these preseason performances are enough to move him out of the roster. When Todman comes back and performs at an average level, there's no hope for Hilliard.

I liked Asiata. He'll have to show more before he impresses anyone, but he had a good game. What stood out to me was his vision.

Defensive Line

Also difficult to see from my vantage point, I don't have a lot of notes. I liked Nick Reed's play, along with Jeff Charleston's. I thought Ballard's transition to DT was going smoothly, but I've been told that might not be an accurate assessment. I'll trust their eyes—they have replay and good camera angles. Nick Reed has been penetrating as a pass-rusher, and that's good.

Chase Baker looked bad and was swallowed up.

Tydreke Powell made an impact. I liked what I saw, but I still don't think he makes the roster. Still slow and still has large technique issues

Sorry, there's not more I can add here.

Cornerbacks

I have circled Josh Robinson in my notes, then underlined him. No additional notes. I should probably add more here to be specific, but suffice to say I was very impressed. Rumor is that he can get even faster than he is right now. I want to add more, but I took poor notes, so let's just say I really liked what I saw.

Chris Carr was disappointing. Rumor is that Robinson could supplant Carr earlier than I anticipated (which was mid-season) as the third corner, and Carr's play shows why. He looked lost in space, missed a tackle, and lost his man in coverage at least once.

Brandon Burton seems to have been forgotten. I didn't mind his play, I don't remember any big mistakes.

Reggie Jones had excellent tackles on back-to-back plays. Good form and fundamentals. Need to see more of him in coverage.

Safeties

Mistral Raymond and Harrison Smith both had great games. Raymond redeemed himself from his poor angle against Brandon Jacobs with good run support in the game, including three tackles on Fred Jackson in a series of four plays. In the passing game I saw him closing passing windows and manning up well against receivers in four or five wide sets. He and Smith rotated as strong safety in their (several) single-high safety looks.

Harrison Smith really impressed me. Secured his starting spot. Good form on running plays, and an excellent pass deflection on the blitz. Seemed to find himself in space well.

Jamarca Sanford seemed to do well, and I liked his play. Not much to add here.

Andrew Sendejo also impressed me. Good special teams play, shedding blocks and putting himself in the right place. He saved a play from a touchdown after a Frampton misstep and recorded one more tackle in regular play as well. Seemed to do well against the Bills' third string offense.

We all know Eric Frampton was terrible. Let's move on.

Linebacker

Audie Cole! The first interception was a product of good reaction time by Cole and great pressure by Tydreke Powell. There was a lot of luck and some good footballing on the first one. On the second one, he was even more impressive and jumped a route after reading wildcat quarterback Brad Smith's eyes very well. Had perfect timing and played the middle zone well. Aside from the interceptions, I saw him shed a block or two quite well and had an eye for the ball.

Tyrone McKenzie was impressive as well. Two special teams tackles and a great job in the second team goal line package. Larry Dean played a big part in that as well.

Jasper Brinkley redeemed himself in a small way but didn't seem tested in coverage, which is the primary concern. He shed some blocks and made two or three tackles in play.

I liked how Erin Henderson looked. Handled movement and space well.

Specialists

Blair Walsh looked good again. His only miss was long, and completed other long field goals. He'll need more experience in games before a full evaluation can be made. Like most of us, I would like to see an indulgent 60 yarder, but not at the expense of testing our offense. Probably won't happen for a while.

Chris Kluwe could have done better. He normally does do better.

There you go. Again, the caveat exists that I could easily be wrong. In the next few days, I'll take a closer look at the film to see where I was inaccurate and better look at line play. In the winner/losers list I constructed, I'm pretty sure I forgot the Chris Carr/Josh Robinson business. So addendum: Carr lost, Robinson won.

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