There was a lot to like from Saturday nights drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs. Sure, there were some moments that made me feel that this team has a ways to go, but it's nice to see the Vikings go on the road and win big, even if it was a pre-season game.
The first team offense was kind of uneven, the first team defense played bend but don't break, but when the second and third team guys got in there, the blowout came. They did some dirty deeds on the Chiefs, and when you look at the salaries and add in the fact that some of those guys won't be with the team come Tuesday, they were dirt cheap. Dirty deeds...done dirt cheap. Take it away, Mr. Young and company:
Your dress rehearsal for the regular season SMR follows.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Alan Reisner, TE: Reisner only had two catches for 13 yards, but they were both third quarter touchdowns that put the game out of reach for the Vikings. When you add this performance to last week's game against the Cardinals, you have to think that Reisner has surpassed Chase Ford for the third tight end spot.
Shaun Prater, CB: Okay, this tendency for Vikings defensive backs to intercept passes thrown by opposing quarterbacks is unsettling. I don't know what to make of this trend, and quite frankly, I'm not sure if it's even legal. Prater had a nice pick of a horribly thrown Tyler Bray pass, and he also added to that with a nice blitz and sack of Bray in the fourth quarter.
Fred Evans, DT: Evans probably had the best game of any defensive lineman in the pre-season last night. There were times that he looked un-blockable. He was very disruptive on the inside all night, collapsing the pocket, and forcing the action. He blew up a Chiefs inside running play, forced the back to the edge, and still made the tackle for a loss.
Jerick McKinnon, RB: McKinnon ran well last night, and was a marked improvement over last week. He hit the hole with authority, displayed a vision I wasn't sure he had developed this early, and ran the ball in chunks, finishing with 43 yards on only six carries, primarily against the Chiefs first team defense. The future at running back doesn't look as bleak this morning as it might have a week ago.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB: Bridgewater once again came in and played very solid football. He lead two TD drives that were the benefit of either the defense (Prater interception) or special teams (Adam Thielen 75 yard punt return) giving him excellent field position to work with, but he still finished them off when given the set up. He was only 4/7 for 40 yards, and that was due in large part of the Vikings working the clock by running the ball once the game was out of reach. Still, the things you want to see in a QB--vision, awareness, pocket presence, decision making--are all there, and Bridgewater keeps getting better every week.
Captain Munnerlyn, CB: The big free agent signing from the off-season had a big time interception in the first half, and showed us why the Vikes spent a lot of money on him. The Chiefs were set up deep in Minnesota territory thanks to a pass interference call on Josh Robinson, and were looking to tie the game. QB Alex Smith threw in to the end zone, and Munnerlyn undercut the route and made a nice pick. Granted, he shouldn't have returned the ball out of the end zone, but that was a big time play.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR: Speaking of big time plays, Patterson had the offensive highlight of the night, catching Matt Cassel's pass on the first drive and going 53 yards for the score on the opening drive. He ended the night with 3 catches for 71 yards, and he looks ready for the regular season.
Matt Kalil, T: Kalil struggled all night against a perimeter edge rush, and was also schooled on an inside spin move by Dontari Poe. With two premier edge rushers residing in the NFC North in Jared Allen and Julius Peppers, Kalil needs to get it figured out, or he's going to get Matt Cassel killed.
Austin Wentworth, T: On the Vikings second series, Phil Loadholt hurt his knee and had to be taken to the locker room. It looks like he's okay, as he returned later, but in the meantime Wentworth came in and played. And it was awful. He gave up two sacks, and was the main reason Matt Asiata got stuffed for a three yard loss deep in Vikings territory. His second sack given up resulted in a safety for the Chiefs.
Marcus Sherels, CB/PR: Sherels had a very 2012-ish game in the secondary, and he also fumbled a punt return. With guys like Prater and Thielen playing well last night, I can maybe see a scenario where Sherels could be on the outside looking in. The third pre-season week is the worst time to put in your worst game, but that's exactly what Sherels did. I still think it's remote that he gets cut, but the question is now out there.
Matt Cassel, QB: Outside of the opening drive, Cassel was very inconsistent. The Vikings offense struggled to move the ball, and the only other scoring drive in the first half was a FG in the second quarter. He fumbled the ball out of the end zone for a safety and threw a pick once the Vikings did seem to get the ball moving at one point. As well as he's played so far, this was a subtle reminder that Cassel is who we thought he is--a veteran journeyman who can have pretty good moments, but also some pretty bad ones.
Buy: Pre-season games are meaningless. Let's face it, they are. Who did the Vikings play in the pre-season last year? Two years ago? What was the record? Most of you would have to look those questions up. There are some things you can take away from pre-season, but let's keep things in perspective.
Sell: Pre-season games are completely meaningless. All of that said, there are some very encouraging signs for the Vikings. Last year, as the pre-season wore on, there were warning signs that this team wasn't going to be good, and it carried over. This year, there are some indications that this team is going to make some noise, and we hope it does carry over. Both sides of the ball look to be improved, and it makes me excited for the start of the regular season.
Buy: The Vikings having a legitimate offense. One of those signs is the Vikings having a legitimate offense. The first team has put some impressive drives together, and Adrian Peterson has yet to touch the ball. The Vikings look to have an arsenal of weapons, from Kyle Rudolph, to Greg Jennings, to Patterson. And the quarterback play has been legitimate NFL-caliber so far. It's going to be fun to see this unit when Peterson is in the backfield.
Sell: The Vikings defense being a tire fire in 2014. I'm not a fan of the 'bend but don't break' defense, which is what the Vikings looked like they employed last night. But it worked, as the Vikings defense kept the Chiefs out of the end zone. I'm not a fan of the 'bend you over a table and abuse you' defense, which is what the Vikings were last year, so I'll take what I can get. Still, there's a lot more aggression, a lot of disguised blitz looks, and an unpredictability that we haven't seen around here for awhile. There's still some work to be done, but this unit is going to be improved over last year.
Buy: The Vikings special teams are going to be fine. K Blair Walsh was 3/3 on field goals, Adam Thielen had a huge 75 yard punt return, and other than one breakdown on kick coverage, the coverage units looked pretty good. I was mildly concerned about special teams after the first two pre-season games, especially Walsh, but it feels like things are on course here now. Sherels' fumble aside, naturally.
Buy: Jerick McKinnon over Matt Asiata. If the progress McKinnon made last night wasn't a glitch in the Matrix, he needs to see the field more than Asiata. McKinnon's ablity to pass protect is still going to be the determining factor, but he's a guy that can make things happen with the ball in his hands. Asiata, who did have a very nice 31 yard reception that got the Vikings out of a deep hole on their first possession, is still very much a north/south runner that will get you three yards.
Sell: Bridgewater over Cassel. Even though Cassel had his worst game of the pre-season, and Bridgewater threw for two TD's, I still think Cassel is going to be the starter. Cassel's had the majority of the work with the first team offense, has looked good, for the most part, and hasn't played so egregiously that his job should be in danger. But he needs to be looking over his shoulder, though. Because if he falters, I believe the Vikings would have every confidence in Bridgewater.
So the Vikings move to 3-0 on the pre-season, and wrap up the pre-season on Thursday against Tennessee. The first set of cuts come no later than 4 PM EST Tuesday, then the finale on the 28th, then the final set of roster cuts come on the 30th. Stay tuned, as the last part of the exhibition season is going to come fast and furious.