I'm not a huge fan of baseball. I find it boring, especially on TV. I don't mind going out to live game in a stadium and just sitting back, drinking a beer and taking it all in as a lazy spectator. But generally speaking, I find baseball to be a pretty boring game to watch. I played baseball all through elementary and junior high (outfield represent!) and even playing the damn game was boring. Half the time in baseball, players are either standing around while the ball goes elsewhere or sitting through an entire inning on the bench waiting to bat. But whether you're watching the game or playing the game, there is one element that makes baseball even more boring than it already is: rain delays. It's not very often that the NFL has a rain delay, probably because there are so many fewer games (thus, less opportunity for storms) than MLB, but alas, the Vikings had to endure a dreaded rain delay last night. And I hate to admit it, but boredom crept in for me and I abandoned the game once it was delayed. But I saw the majority of the 1st team snaps on both sides of the ball and was able to make some mental notes on the things I was looking for out of this game. So, here's what I saw:
1. Teddy Bridgewater vs Derek Carr
I honestly liked what I saw out of both quarterbacks last night. Bridgewater looked sharp and efficient, and Derek Carr took a few deep chances, one that paid off and one that didn't. If you only look at the stat sheet, Bridgewater comes out looking like the better QB going 10 of 14 for 89 yards and a touchdown. Carr went only 4 of 8 for 78 yards and no scores or interceptions. Give Teddy credit for completing more passes and scoring a touchdown, but his longest pass of the night was a 21-yard dump off to McKinnon that was mostly yards after the catch. No other pass Bridgewater completed went further than 14 yards. Carr on the other had connected on a 40-yarder to Amari Cooper, and should have had another 30-yard deep ball to Seth Roberts, but he dropped it. He also had a nice throw to tight end Mychel Rivera for 19 yards after a nifty run after the catch. When it was all said and done Carr had an 84.4 passing rating while Bridgewater had a 111.1 passer rating. If Carr had connected on that deep bomb to Seth Roberts, his passer rating would have jumped up to 100.4, but alas drops are all part of the game. In any case, both quarterbacks played well, but you have to give the nod to Teddy on this one.
2. Getting wide receivers more involved in the offense
Of Teddy's 14 pass attempts, 8 of them targeted wide receivers. I suppose technically this represents a slight uptick in targets to wide receivers compared to last week. But, there is still one wide receiver who seems to be left out of the mix: Mike Wallace. Of Teddy's 27 pass attempts through the first three Preseason games, Wallace has been targeted only 4 times, less targets than all of the following: Charles Johnson, Jerick McKinnon, Kyle Rudolph and Jarius Wright. I'm not sure how to explain it. Perhaps they're not running plays that feature Wallace, or maybe he's not getting open. Or maybe he's simply a decoy in this offense that runs deep a lot, but Teddy is looking elsewhere. Who knows. It's only preseason, so I'm not going to overthink it, but Teddy seems to be favoring Charles Johnson so far. And Jarius Wright has been getting a lot of looks too, being on the field in three-receiver sets.
3. Starting safety battle.
What starting safety battle? Antone Exum didn't play a single snap last night, and as far as I can tell he was healthy. With Robert Blanton getting the start in three straight Preseason games, and looking serviceable in each one, it appears there isn't much of a "battle." I would be shocked if Robert Blanton isn't the starter next to Harrison Smith, and hey, I still believe he had an underrated season last year. I may still be in the minority, but I'm all on board with Robert Blanton as the starter.
4. Linebacker Rotation.
This one was tough to follow. It seemed like every other play we had a different mix of linebackers. Eric Kendricks got the start in the middle, but Gerald Hodges actually played the most snaps at middle linebacker. Audie Cole got a few snaps in the middle as well. Anthony Barr finally saw his first Preseason game action, including on both sides of the field, and I even spotted Brandon Watts playing the weakside linebacker position. I feel like there is even less clarity now for the linebackers than before. If the Vikings wanted to field the highest upside group of linebackers, it would have to be Barr-Kendricks-Hodges. The most experienced group would be Barr-Cole-Greenway, but they could also go with some sort of hybrid between the two with Barr-Kendricks-Greenway. I have a feeling we'll be seeing the same kind of rotation that we're seeing now in the regular season, as they try to field the right set of linebackers for the right situation. I could also seem them rotating Greenway out frequently in an effort to keep him fresh. In any case, some mixture of the following five linebackers will all see playing time this year: Anthony Barr, Audie Cole, Chad Greenway, Gerald Hodges and Eric Kendricks. They've all looked good and all deserve playing time somehow.
5. Special Teams battles.
A lot has already been said about Walsh's struggles, and I personally put a lot of blame on the weather (it was a freaking thunderstorm with tornado warnings and lightning...give the guy a break). If the inaccuracy continues over the next two Preseason games and into the first few weeks of the regular season, then I'll worry. Until then, I'm not going to get worked up about it. But what I was excited about was Jeff Locke's continued development. He continued to build on a strong effort last week by averaging 42 yards per punt with 0 yards of returns this week. He downed all three punts inside the 20 yard line, so let's hope he continue the strong play next week to make it an official trend. The punt return battle continues to rage on with Diggs having an excellent 29 yard return, while Sherel's only punt return was a fair catch. That said, Sherels did return a kickoff 49 yards (didn't see it) showcasing his elite return skills. It's a dead heat as far as I'm concerned, but I still give Sherels the slight edge. Based on the snaps counts Chris brought up, it would appear that Kevin McDermott and Cullen Loeffler are dead even in long snapping/holding abilities.
6. No injuries.
In what might be the most important thing of all in a Preseason game, we escaped injury free as far as I could tell. And that means...it's onto the awards!
WELL PLAYED AWARD
DE Justin Trattou
This was a tough one, but Justin Trattou had a sack, tackle for loss, quarterback hit, pass defense and three combined tackles. Even though it was primarily against the Raiders second team offense, he put forth a dominant performance and should be in the conversation for the #3 or #4 defensive end along with Scott Crichton and Danielle Hunter. As an undrafted free agent, he's got an uphill battle to beat out a pair of third round draft picks, but if he continues to flash like he did last night, look out.
Honorable Mentions: Teddy Bridgewater, Charles Johnson and Chase Ford
QB Taylor Heinicke
When you're in a battle for the third quarterback spot, it's generally not a good idea to go 0 for 4, and take a sack on top of it to lose 7 yards. Granted, he was playing with the third team (and I admittedly didn't see him play) and doesn't have much in the way of an offensive line or dependable receivers, but three of his misses were to Diggs and the other was to Bostick. Mike Kafka didn't really have much opportunity to prove otherwise, but he did manage to complete both of his pass attempts at least. Heinicke is going to have to have an amazing game over the next two weeks to unseat the veteran Mike Kafka for the #3 job.
In any case, I'm looking forward to the next game against Cowboys! Perhaps we'll see even more of the 1st team offense and defense in the next one.