It's been said ad naseum that "it's just preseason". Any football fan who has watched for over 3 or 4 years has learned that preseason is meaningless as a predicative measure in the basic sense of win-loss records. (And if you haven't learned that yet, I point to my favorite preseason fact ever: the 0-16 Lions went 4-0 that preseason.) Plenty of great teams have had horrible preseasons over the years and vice-versa.
There are a variety of factors as to why this is. The two most obvious ones are a.) the coaches themselves don't often care about winning a preseason game (Rex Ryan alone accounts for why I must use the qualifier "often"), and b.) half of the people who play in the preseason games won't even be in the NFL come opening day, much less on the same team they were on in said preseason. They're glorified scrimmages where one of the largest goals is figuring out who sucks so bad that you don't want them within sight of your team's facility. Again, by and large we all know this.
But I can understand when people say that "the third preseason game is the most important", that it's the "dress rehearsal", etc. and chose to believe that there's real value in how at least the first quarter is played. Typically it is the vast majority- if not all- of your starters vs. the same on your opponent's side. IT'S JUST LIKE REAL FOOTBALL! Except, of course, it's still not.
Obviously Adrian Peterson playing two snaps and not even making physical contact with a football and/or opposing player is not "real football". (As an aside, yes, I was OK with him playing- but just two snaps? Kinda weird, but whatever.) On the flip side of that, you do want to know that the Vikings can still perform well should need arise without AD. Just like the Packers are trying to ensure they can win maybe a game or two without Aaron Rodgers by ‘beefing up' their backup QB position, no team wants to rely so solely on one player that they're totally screwed should said player go down.
So, we learned last night that we ARE indeed screwed without AD, no? Well, on one hand, it's hard to say "no" to that because it's fairly obvious we're not the same team without our star player. That said, I'm not taking the game and it's fairly poor showing too much to heart.
Before I continue, I will say that I am becoming worried about Matt Kalil. I don't know if it's a sophomore slump, if it's him trying to adjust to his new physique, if it's a Green Bay voodoo hex or what; but this guy's not looking too sharp, preseason or not. I might argue that if there's one position that should play relatively close to regular season form in preseason, it's your offensive line. And between blown protections and a strangely hot temper (for a guy who last year barely drew any penalties and was very mature and restrained for a rookie), Kalil better turn that statement on its head. In my opinion, a key difference between 2011 and 2012 was the offensive line, and if we're slipping back to the former in terms of performance there, then so will go our win-loss record. Is it time to panic? Maybe that's a strong word, but at this point saying "it's just preseason" in that regard is somewhat akin to sticking your head in the sand. Kalil is on a bit of a downward slump, and while hopefully the coaches can identify the issue and correct it as much as possible before Detroit, we may do well to brace ourselves somewhat for a regression for our beloved and well-touted left tackle. (And of course, I would love to be wrong here.)
But with that one issue aside, I still just don't care a ton. See, even if it is "the most important preseason game", we still have to remember that as preseason, it's not the same. Dress rehearsals may be close to the real thing but they're still just not. There's a reason they exist- they're not necessarily meant to be perfect mirrors of the actual performance. They're you're final chance to identify wrinkles and kinks and to iron them out. If everything goes as is expected, then great. If not, then that's why you hold them. And even dress rehearsals can serve the purpose of minor experimentations. Maybe the coaches want Jennings to run a new route that they've been working on. Maybe they want Ponder to intentionally go through more progressions and reads than is sometimes necessary, just to build the habit of being able to look past the first target. Perhaps schemes are tweaked a bit and plays are not necessarily called exactly as you would in the real thing, because it's still just glorified scrimmages. Perhaps you know a certain play will rock the socks off your opponent, so why bother running that one? Worse, if you do, then it's on tape. Better save your aces for when it's all in. And still- that AD fella ain't out there.
How important is AD to our offense? Does that question even have to be asked? He changes everything- and that's without hyperbole or exaggeration. Pretty much every single player on defense must change what they do when he is on the field. If you act like he's not there, then he won't be- he'll be in the endzone, and the entire league knows it. He changes how you rush the QB, how your LBs act in coverage, where your DBs line up- everything. The defenses that the Vikings have faced thus far would not and could not act like they have when it's the real thing because of that. That also means our very playbook is inherently different to some degree. Maybe not enormously, because you don't want to completely practice differently than you actually perform- but there will be differences.
I will say the playcalling last night was- well, strange. Or maybe it wasn't because this is still Bill Musgrave
ruining running our offense. Maybe that's what we'll see in the regular season: the same heart-attack inducing, head-scratching decisions to throw behind the LOS when it's third and long. Admittedly (and sadly) that's not without precedent. Frankly, if I was Musgrave, I'd ensure that there's not a single eligible target behind the first-down marker in those situations- but hey, I'm also not an NFL offensive coordinator. But there's always the possibility that seeing that throwing a 7 yard pass when it's 3rd-and-13 is a bad idea will finally click, and we won't have to go through that anymore when the wins and losses are actually written in ink and not pencil.
I will say our defense sure looked sharp, at least until Colin Kaepernick discovered that Josh Robinson was on the field. We started to get sloppy after that, but sometimes players don't go all out in preseason anyways. If there's ever a time when Jared Allen is going to take a play off, its then, and it's OK. And Alan Williams may have wanted to try a few new things himself, seeing as how he essentially proved that the initial defensive strategies worked just fine. Frankly, Robinson aside, I think the defense we saw in the beginning is the defense we can expect to see throughout the year.
And c'mon, it's not like the Vikings are the only team to have had a bad performance in the 3rd preseason game. Do you guys really think that the Lions would curbstomp the Patriots, picking off Tom Brady 4 times in the process, if the games mattered? No. That would not happen. And we all know it.
So, everyone- relax. It's just preseason. Even the most important preseason game is still just preseason. What we saw yesterday is not likely anything close to what we'll see come Detroit and after. Take a deep breath, step back from the ledge, don't light that gasoline-soaked pile of jerseys in your living room. (Seriously. Don't do that in your living room.)
I will finish by saying that I really, REALLY hope Kevin Williams is OK. And that that cheap-shotting 49er [redacted] gets what's coming to him.