The first and the fourth pre-season games are, for the most part, throwaway games. They’re all throwaway game, but the first and fourth one even more for me. The first one because it’s the first time the players have seen any meaningful football since December, and the last one because the starters don’t play, and it’s guys at the bottom of the roster trying to make one last impression before cutdown day.
You can still have some takeaways, mind you, but they should be taken with a grain of salt. The same can be said for the second and third pre-season games, but I think we can see some clearer patterns develop that may or may not tell us about the upcoming season. I hedge my bets here, though, because we all have memories of either how good or how bad this team looked in preseasons past, and then the exact opposite occurred.
Yet, I still want my team to look good, and give me some confidence as we head towards the regular season opener. So with that in mind, this is what I’d like to see when the Vikings take the field against the Seahawks tomorrow night.
Limit checkdown throws. Last week, Sam Bradford was 5-7 for 35 yards, with a long completion of nine yards. Everybody wants to focus on the two sacks the Vikings first team offensive line gave up, but Bradford had a clean pocket to throw from more often than not last week. And he checked down on all of his throws, except his last one to Stefon Diggs that was badly off the mark. I know this is a basic offense, with not a lot of motion or audibles at the line right now, but hey, let’s take a shot or two downfield.
Improve pass protection. One of the things that will be under a microscope for the entire season will be how well the offensive line protects the quarterback. Last week was an inauspicious beginning, as the Vikings first team gave up two sacks in three possessions. There were times, though, that Bradford had time to set up and throw, and I felt it was kind of a mixed bag. Part of this problem should solve itself once Riley Reiff returns, so I’m not too worried right now. But I would like to see Sam get off the field with no sacks on Friday. That would be kinda cool, and stuff.
Stop the run. The Vikings first team defense didn’t allow any points last week, which was good. But they allowed a chunk of yards on the ground, and that wasn’t so good. Remember that it’s the pre-season, and the Vikings ran very few, if any, run blitzes, double A gap stuff, or anything else exotic. Still, even a base 4-3 or nickel package can do a better job at minimizing big gains, and I’d like to see that happen.
Run the ball effectively. Last week we saw some glimpses of Dalvin Cook running the ball well a couple times, but the overall results were reminiscent of last year—29 carries, 90 yards, and a 3.1 yards per carry average. BUT...C.J. Ham did score from 2 yards out on a FIRST AND GOAL, which was borderline amazing after watching Matt Asiata slam into a wall of voodoo down on the goal line all of last season. But 3.1 yards a carry isn’t going to cut it, so I’d like to see some holes open up, and some decent runs as a result.
Stay healthy. The amount of nagging injuries keep piling up, which is also piling up the angst. Trae Waynes banged up his shoulder early in the game last week and didn’t return, but will be okay. Riley Reiff and Latavius Murray are still not going full speed. Everson Griffen and Rashod Hill have had a couple of minor dings, and Bishop Sankey’s season is over after suffering a knee injury last week. Mike Zimmer mentioned that he wants to strike a balance between playing guys he thinks are ready, and not getting anyone hurt. Let’s hope he nails that one for the rest of the pre-season.
Prediction: Again, it’s pre-season and I don’t care. Let’s call it 20-16 Vikings, just because Mike Zimmer places a priority on winning pre-season games. FYI, if you are a degenerate gambler and are betting on pre-season games, DO NOT take my prediction as any sort of guidance. I suck at predicting games in the regular season, much less the pre-season. I suggest you save your money and buy a Lotto ticket, anyway. $500 million, yo.