The Vikings finished their first preseason game at New Orleans, winning 34-25. But more important than the final score was what it showed about the Vikings’ readiness for the regular season a month from now, and who and what looked good and not so good.
Here’s a rundown.
Kirk Cousins and the Vikings Offense
The Vikings first-string offense looked crisp and fluid, and moved the ball well. They seemed to play fast. When was the last time that could be said in a preseason game ? Part of the reason for that was the play of #8, who was both mobile and accurate. He went 4-4 for 65 yards, ran for a first down, looked good rolling out, and seemed very comfortable with the offense. 158.3 passer rating- doesn’t get any better than that.
The Vikings coaching staff has to be fairly pleased with the offensive performance, particularly from the starters, except for the penalties... Rashod Hill.
OTAs and Training camp has been all about Chad Beebe solidifying the #3 WR spot, but it was Olabisi Johnson in the first preseason game who looked like he had the advantage.
Johnson changed the narrative about the Vikings rookie WRs not looking good. He got some first-half reps and made the most of them with a couple nice receptions, including a nice TD grab that, along with Thielen’s near-TD catch, highlighted the first-half offense. He also looked decent as a kick returner and was out there as punt returner late too.
I was surprised to see Olabisi Johnson playing so early in the first half, and that he got the most WR reps. I was also surprised Chad Beebe and Jordan Taylor seemed largely absent in the game. Taylor has one target for five yards late in the game, while Beebe went untargeted. His only action was one punt return for zero yards.
Eric Thompson has reported Bisi Johnson perhaps beginning to separate himself from the pack among depth receivers in training camp, and perhaps that led to his getting more reps (he had 33 compared to only 5 for Beebe and 6 for Taylor) in the first preseason game than expected. In any case, he looks to be challenging for a roster spot and even the #3 wide receiver spot if he continues to outperform.
Kyle Sloter vs. Sean Mannion
Sloter continued his Preseason HoF career, resembling Cousins is looking crisp, fluid, mobile and accurate. Sloter hasn’t looked as good in practice as Mannion, but he looked better than Mannion in this first preseason game. Mannion was okay, and had a nice TD pass to Bisi Johnson, but is a bit slower to process and throw compared to Sloter and Cousins. Mannion had the only real turnover-worthy throw on a short out route, and clearly doesn’t have the mobility of either Sloter or Cousins.
This game was fairly typical for Mannion, having recently watched his games as a starter for the Rams back in 2017. He’s not particularly mobile, even just in avoiding sacks. And while he’s competent, his delivery is a bit slow which increases the likelihood of interceptions with some throws - as was the case on that out route the Saints’ linebacker stepped in front of but dropped. He’s had that throw intercepted in the past in the games I’ve watched. Mannion was actually more accurate with his downfield throws last night than in the 2017 games I watched. But overall you can see why he’s not made it past backup status and ultimately why Sean McVay and the Rams let him go.
Sloter had a passer rating of 143.2, while Mannion’s was 105.3.
Bottom line, If Cousins went down, Sloter (still) looks like the best backup to step in and move the offense. That was the case last year too, but Trevor Siemian was still given the primary backup job. Hopefully the new offensive coaching staff, and ultimately Zimmer, will see it differently this year.
Jake Browning didn’t get a lot of opportunities to show what he can do, but he did ok with what he had. I don’t see him challenging for a roster spot, but with progress he could win a practice squad spot. He finished with a passer rating of 82.6, going 2/3 for 18 yards.
Interior Defensive Line
While you can point to some good pressures and sacks by Jalyn Holmes and Hercules Mata’afa, the overall picture was more of a mixed bag. Clearly Linval Joseph was missed inside, as numerous times the Saints offensive line was able to overpower the Vikings interior linemen, turning what may have been a short gain at best into a five or six yard one. All the Vikings defensive tackles were somewhat overpowered at times, which is a little concerning.
You could tell watching Hercules Mata’afa that while he was able to win some reps with his quickness and/or leverage, he’ll get better as he’s able to speed up his game and not think as much. He needs to get better as well in run defense and not getting washed out - which he can do by keeping his pads low despite his smaller size. Overall he did well for his first outing, particularly his pass rush and tackling.
Jalyn Holmes also graded very well, again despite getting overpowered on some running plays. His pass rush has improved, and tackling was good, but he could be more consistent and improve his technique.
Both the Vikings coverage units gave up some good returns, so improvement needed there. Plugging a lot of depth players into special teams - and finding out who can play and who can’t - can lead to some bad plays on special teams, but that should get ironed out as the better special teams players are identified.
The good news was that Dan Bailey didn’t miss an attempt, although he didn’t have any field goal attempts. Matt Wile also had some good punts - out-punting the coverage on one occasion.
There didn’t appear to be anything significant in the long-snapper competition, which seemed to be a draw. I suspect a tie goes to Cutting at the end of the month, however, as the younger and cheaper option.
Ameer Abdullah, Olabisi Johnson, and Jeff Badet all had decent returns. Hard to day who looked the best between them, so that competition continues. Chad Beebe had the only non-fair catch on punt return, but was tackled immediately for zero yards.
Who Got the Reps ?
Perhaps as interesting as any other preseason stat is how many reps players got. Here is a list. First column is defense, followed by offense and special teams.
Obviously reps, particularly for rookies and depth players, reflect the level of interest the coaching staff has in evaluating their play. Some of those reasons tend to be good ones - they earned reps in practice, or flashed some potential, or have shown steady improvement. But the reason may also be to find out if a player is up to the task, and whether they need to look elsewhere to fill the position. Coaches may also want to give promising players / high draft picks more reps to get a better idea of how to coach a player for most improvement, or to simply get them used to the NFL game.
On the other hand, for those on the roster bubble, not getting many reps can be ominous.
It was a bit surprising to see Holton Hill getting the most reps at CB, considering his doghouse status, but it also is a sign they want to keep him, despite the suspensions, because he is very promising. Hill was also the highest graded CB on the Vikings roster other than Nate Meadors - who was tops due to his rather fortuitous interception.
I'm not sure many people would’ve predicted Olabisi Johnson getting 33 reps, while Chad Beebe and Jordan Taylor only had 11 reps combined. There are some others that raise an eyebrow too, but those are perhaps two of the more interesting ones.
While Nate Meadors was the top rated defensive player, according to PFF, that came entirely on his gift interception, so I discount that heavily. After Meadows, Jalyn Holmes was second, followed by Armon Watts, Ben Gedeon, Anthony Harris, and Ifeadi Odenigbo.
Odenigbo especially helped solidify his spot as a backup defensive end along with Stephen Weatherly. Armon Watts probably earned himself some more reps. Ben Gedeon was the only linebacker to play well - all the rest were bottom half performers - including the starters.
Offensively, the TE group showed up well, as that rumblin’ and stumblin’ duo of Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Conklin took the top two spots. Adam Thielen, Kirk Cousins, Mike Boone and Olabisi Johnson rounded out the top six.
Brett Jones was the highest graded offensive lineman, followed by Riley Reiff. Those two were the only two OL with decent run blocking grades too. Guards John Keenoy and Danny Isidora did surprisingly well, as did tackles Tyler Catalina and Oli Udoh - albeit with the third team. Fullback Khari Blasingame also graded relatively well.
Irv Smith Jr., unlike Rudolph and Conklin, was at the other end of the grading spectrum, somewhat surprisingly. Bit of a rough start for the second round pick, who had an illegal formation penalty, a drop, and struggled in pass blocking in his first outing. Brandon Zylstra, C.J. Ham (surprisingly), and Dru Samia rounded out the worst performers on offense.
Zylstra seems increasingly in danger of not making the roster - he was the worst graded on special teams as well - given the performance of his competitors. C.J. Ham not doing well was surprising - and given his competitor Blasingame did play well, perhaps that opens the door to more competition at fullback. I guess we’re seeing why Dru Samia is stuck on third string. He started with a holding penalty and struggled in pass protection, clearly a disappointment to this point as an early 4th round pick who graded well in college.
Defensively, Kentrell Brothers was the worst graded, and Eric Wilson, Cameron Smith and Devante Downs weren’t far behind. They struggled in different facets, but none of the linebackers outside of Ben Gedeon graded well. Everson Griffen and Duke Thomas were the 2nd and 3rd worst graded, respectively. Griffen had a tough assignment in Terron Armstead but to come out that bad is a little concerning. CB Duke Thomas looks increasingly like he won’t make the roster, being at the bottom of his position group on defense and also near the bottom on special teams.
Depth Chart Impact
- I suspect Tyler Conklin, who’s also looked good in practice, may have passed Irv Smith Jr. on the depth chart.
- Olabisi Johnson seems to have emerged as the best of the rest at WR, and could challenge Jordan Taylor, Chad Beebe, and Laquon Treadwell for the #3 spot. The fact that he got reps at both KR and PR is significant too.
- There could be more of a competition at fullback between CJ Ham and Khari Blasingame
- John Keenoy could move up the depth chart at left guard, Dakota Dozier could move down.
- Ifeadi Odenigbo solidified his backup DE spot, although Karter Schult did okay.
- If Jalyn Holmes and Hercules Mata’afa look good enough to rotate at 3-tech, Shamar Stephen could become more of a backup nose tackle. I’m not sure Jaleel Johnson helped himself during this game, although he wasn’t terrible.
- Derron Smith may have passed Marcus Epps on the safety depth chart, although Epps has been one of the standouts in training camp.
This was the first time in forever that the offense looked better than the defense in preseason - particularly the first preseason game. That bodes well for the offense, but none of the defensive starters grading particularly well is disappointing, if not particularly troubling at this point.
Of course from here the focus for the standouts will be if they can continue to do well and progress, while for the disappointments it will be on whether they can turn things around.
Also, this is about as vanilla as you’ll see in terms of offensive and defensive scheme, so as that becomes more nuanced it will interesting to see how that effects performance.
Next Sunday against Seattle will be the next test.
Here are the official stats for the game.
Who had the best game overall for the Vikings ?
This poll is closed