More football is on tonight! Well, at least a football-like substance will be on display at CenturyLink Field as the Minnesota Vikings visit the team that eliminated them in heartbreaking fashion last season: the Seattle Seahawks. It’s a REVENGE GAME!
Or not. The preseason and postseason obviously have a few minor differences. The starters will play only a few drives. The points scored will matter as much as they do on an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway?. And the weather might be just a little more pleasant. According to the Seattle forecast, the temperature at kickoff will be 87 degrees warmer than the last time the Vikings and Seahawks played each other.
Despite the facts that the final score is irrelevant and nobody is in danger of getting frostbite, tonight’s game is incredibly crucial for a lot of people involved. There is no shortage of story lines as the Vikings take the field in Seattle. Here are the top ten issues I’ll be paying attention to.
Tackling the problem head-on
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to every Vikings fan’s least favorite game show: Who Sucks the Least! Let’s meet our contestants!
He’s a former sixth overall pick and All-American from Alabama that has had a fairly mediocre career compared to the expectations he had coming out of college. Now he’s hoping a fresh start in a new city will help pave the way for success—and Adrian Peterson. Please welcome Andre Smith!
He’s a second year tackle and fourth round draft pick that got thrown into the deep end his rookie year. When Phil Loadholt’s Achilles went out, he kept letting defensive ends in. Can he turn last year’s Freshman Frustration into a Sophomore Surge? Let’s find out: heeeeere’s T.J. Clemmings!
After Loadholt announced his retirement, I assumed the job was Smith’s for the taking. After covering camp in Mankato, I still held the assumption. Not because Smith was dominating by any means but because Clemmings was still getting beat fairly often by the second team defense.
But then last Friday happened. Smith let his former teammates into the backfield like he was a bouncer and they were cute girls trying to get in the club. Now the starting right tackle gig is wide open. I personally don’t care who the right tackle is Week 1; I care more that whoever ends up there earned it with solid play in the preseason. If the starter is simply the lesser of two evils, it could jeopardize the health of Teddy Bridgewater and the overall success of the season.
Yes, that miss is inevitably going to be brought up during the broadcast tonight. Several times. No matter what Walsh does in this game—and the rest of the season for that matter—nothing will change that miss. You know it. I know it. Blair Walsh knows it. If he makes all his kicks tonight, Walsh won’t right any wrongs or exorcise any demons. If he misses one or two, it isn't a sign that he's damaged goods and he can’t get over shanking that chip shot last January.
If Walsh misses another bunny in Seattle, you’re allowed to get a little nervous. But if he misses a long kick, don't start freaking out.
There will be plenty of time for that later.
The cornerback conundrum
The pressing issues at cornerback (pressing...cornerback...get it?) are much less dire than those at right tackle, but they’re still very interesting nonetheless. Will Trae Waynes build on his promising performance in Cincinnati and continue to make strides toward earning the starting gig? Will Terence Newman play this week? If he does, will he still be the incumbent starter over Waynes? Will Mackensie Alexander show any progress and look more comfortable with his rookie learning curve? Will Jabari Price eventually need skin grafts after getting burned by nearly every receiver he has faced in the past month? Will I ever stop asking rhetorical questions about Vikings corners?
Lining up the leftover linebackers
We already know that Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks will get the lion’s share of the snaps while Chad Greenway will get a lamb’s share when the regular season starts. But the second team behind them is still up for grabs. Emmanuel Lamur had a very good game against the Bengals, leading the team in tackles and making a couple key plays. Audie Cole did his usual Audie Cole things, even if he didn't get one of his trademark preseason pick sixes. Kentrell Brothers was a little quieter than the other two in his 41 snaps last week, but he still showed enough to make Edmond Robinson nervous if he continues to miss time. I’m not sure that there’s room for all four players on the roster, so Thursday night is very important for all of them.
The safety dance
Antone Exum Jr. did pretty well overall in his expanded role last week, even if it seems like he might never earn the full trust of Mike Zimmer. For whatever reason, the Head Coach just doesn’t seem confident enough in his third year safety. Exum is like the high school senior that drives a Camaro and has neck tattoos trying to convince the local pastor that happens to be the head of his NRA chapter that it’s OK to date his youngest daughter.
I appreciated seeing the debut of Jayron Kearse that was mostly positive even if he made a couple rookie mistakes. I'd actually like to see Michael Griffin get a bit more run this week if only to make sure we aren't missing anything with the veteran. It was hard for me to gauge his performance with a 16 play sample size. I'd really like to see Anthony Harris get more run because I'm still rooting for him to make his case for the starting gig. Hopefully he can go in Seattle.
No mo’ MoBo?
Moritz Böhringer, I feel like we hardly knew ya. The sixth round rookie from Germany has been absolutely buried on the depth chart throughout camp and got only nine measly snaps in Cincinnati. Perhaps even more damning was the fact that he was on the field for only two special teams plays; one would think that his only realistic chance of making the squad would be as one of Mike Priefer’s charges. Will MoBo see an expanded role or is last week’s very sparing usage a sign that the coaches already have their mind made up about him?
Will Adrian Peterson play?
I’m kidding. Of course he won’t. I’m just making sure you were still paying attention.
Whither the wideouts
It looks like the top two wide receivers on the team will be Stefon Diggs and Charles Johnson until further notice. But after that the depth chart gets a little cloudy. I’m especially interested in the performances of Laquon Treadwell and Adam Thielen. The rookie had a nice debut and played 14 more snaps than Thielen last week. Treadwell will need to keep it up, because Thielen is still climbing that depth chart like it was an obstacle in a Tough Mudder course. I’ll be paying special attention to the three wide receiver sets early on tonight to see who gets the nod with the first team.
Speaking of three wide sets, Jarius Wright better get healthy in a hurry before he becomes an afterthought in this offense. He has had a fairly disappointing start to 2016 and needs to prove that he can still be depended upon to move the chains from the slot position.
Good news! Jeff Locke punted the ball pretty darn well on Friday, averaging 47.0 yards on six punts and pinning Cincinnati inside their 20 four times. Bad news! The punt team coverage was kind of crap, especially on the late 80-yard touchdown return by Alex Erickson. Maybe the coverage team wasn’t used to running so far? Either way, as of right now Locke’s job looks secure. A lot of those guys rotating in the special teams coverage? Not so much.
Centers of attention
The battle of attrition between John Sullivan and Joe Berger wears on for another week since Berger had to slide over to right guard against the Bengals. Hopefully Brandon Fusco will be back because I’d really like to see how Berger performs compared to Sully in a game situation. But among all the hoopla about the starters, don't forget about Nick Easton. Easton is garnering all sorts of love from Vikings diehards, and with good reason—he has had a very good camp and is making a strong case for himself to make the final 53. Keep an eye on number 62 on offense once the subs start coming in.
Can’t make the club from the tub
Last week ten players didn’t even make the trip to Cincinnati due to various maladies. When you’re a bubble guy like Brandon Watts, Scott Crichton, or Edmond Robinson, you can’t afford to miss out on much more action. I would hate to see any of those guys get the axe before even getting a chance to prove their worth in a preseason game.
Fringe guys not taking the field might be important to their respective futures, but household names sitting due to injury has a bigger impact on the team as whole. Is it time to start worrying about more established guys like Fusco, Kendricks, and Sharrif Floyd if they continue to sit? I’m especially concerned about Floyd, who always seems to be nicked up and at risk of missing time. I’m not saying that these guys need to show me 40 snaps before I trust their health, but it sure would ease a lot of minds if they could suit up and play a series or two before the games start to count.
Anything I missed that you’ll be looking for tonight? Let us know in the comments below. As we always do this time of year, let’s hope for an entertaining game and no injuries to either team.