Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more. The Minnesota Vikings kicked off their 2019 campaign in the Big Easy on Friday night, and came out of there with a fairly easy 34-25 win. We got to see new faces, old friends, a hated foe...and football. By god, real-but-not-quite-the-same-as-real football.
Although the game doesn’t count, it does matter. We were able to get a little confirmation bias on some things, some camp battles took on a clear focus, while you can almost feel roster spots slipping away for other guys.
It’s been a long time, hasn’t it, Led Zeppelin?
It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled
It’s been a long time since I did the Stroll
Oh let me get it back let me get it back let me get it back
Baby where I come from
It’s been a long time been a long time
Been a long lonely lonely lonely lonely lonely time
Yes it has
Your preseason SMR that won’t wipe out another good post on DN because of defensive holding follows.
First team offense: The first team offense took the opening kickoff and went 76 yards on eight plays, capped by a Kirk Cousins to Alexander Mattison 1 yard pass. They overcame a holding penalty on Rashod Hill on the first play that wiped out a nice Stefon Diggs reception, and Cousins looked very comfortable running the offense. He tucked the ball and ran for a big first down, threw a really nice rollout/checkdown to Kyle Rudolph for a big gain, and Adam Thielen looked in mid-season form, making a ridiculous 35 yard catch that was originally ruled a touchdown.
The running game when the first team offense was in was just okay, as Mattison started in place of Dalvin Cook because preseason, and Mattison only had six yards on three carries on that opening drive. Other than the one Cousins tuck and run where the pocket was collapsing faster than the Venezuelan economy, the protection was solid, though, and there were a lot more positives than negatives on that first drive.
Hercules Mata’afa, DT: Is it a stretch to say that Mata’afa was the best defensive lineman on the field on Friday? You could maybe make a case for Jalyn Holmes, who would have had two sacks had one not been nullified because of a penalty, but Mata’afa just seemed more consistent of the two, and I thought they were better than the rest of the defensive linemen who saw action. He had a beautiful sack, too, and it really showcased why he has such a fanbase. He beat the LG on a pure bullrush, collapsed the pocket, and while the guard still had him partially engaged he brought down Teddy Bridgewater with what looked like a one handed tackle. Just a...wait for it...Herculean effort on that play. Thank you, I’m here all week.
Tyler Conklin, TE: His second quarter catch and run off a middle screen was, first of all, a beautiful play design, and secondly, perfectly executed by Mannion, Conklin and his downfield blockers. It went for 34 yards, and was the big play in the Vikings second quarter touchdown drive. Also, ‘Conklin and his Downfield Blockers’ is a hell of a good name for a cover band if you’re interested. Just look at this football sex right here:
Mike Boone, RB: Mike Boone is to Vikings preseason running backs as Kyle Sloter is to Vikings preseason quarterbacks. The dude is just Mr. August, when the lights are brightest (because they play the games at night, amirite) and the weather is the most humid. His 64 yard TD run in the fourth quarter put the game away, and if the Vikings go with four running backs this year, he’s going to make the team.
Khari Blasingame, RB: When you are a guy that’s a longshot to make the roster over an entrenched veteran, you need to make the most of your opportunities when you get them, and Blasingame did just that. He was tied for the lead in receptions with three, had the most yards receiving, and scored a TD. You can’t do much more than that, and although I don’t think he’s unseated C.J. Ham, I do think he’s going to get a bigger look against the Seahawks. If nothing else, he’s earned it.
Olabisi Johnson, WR: In his dispatches from the front, Eric had mentioned a couple days ago that Bisi Johnson was starting to take the lead for the WR3 spot. After the game on Friday, it appears to be his to lose. He had two grabs for 35 yards, and a beautiful 18 yard TD catch on a slightly underthrown ball by Sean Mannion.
Alexander Mattison, RB: I like this kid. He started the game, and seemed to run with more authority as the first half wore on. I like his north-south style, and I think it would be cool if he turned out to be the next Leroy Hoard to Dalvin Cook’s Robert Smith. Both guys have a long way to go to get to that status, but the potential is definitely there.
Ameer Abdullah, RB: Abdullah’s night would have been sterling had it not been for a late second quarter fumble that was 100% his fault. He ran the ball well, and had a couple of nice kick returns, too. I think he’s solidly RB3 at this point, and as long as he doesn’t put the football on the ground, his versatility as a returner gives him the edge over Boone.
Jalyn Holmes, DT: Holmes had a team leading four tackles, and one sack. He seemed to be very active when he was in, and I have to say, with him, Mata’afa, Stephen Weatherly, and Ifeadi Odenigbo, the Vikings depth really seems to coming together and the defensive line is going to be a very, very solid unit.
Wide receivers not named Thielen, Diggs, and Johnson: Chad Beebe and Brandon Zylstra, your early Vegas Mr. Mankato favorites, were nowhere to be found on Friday night. If one or both guys don’t make the roster I won’t be surprised, because as of right now I have the Vikes WR depth chart as Diggs, Thielen, Johnson, and Treadwell, with no one else really making a case for a spot. With the way things are going, if you want to argue the Vikings should keep four tight ends (Rudolph, Smith, Morgan, Conklin), four running backs (Cook, Mattison, Abdullah, Boone), and only four wide receivers, I’ll listen. Will it happen? I’d be surprised. Would I be shocked? No, not really.
Duke Thomas, CB: Every time Duke Thomas had his name called, it was bad. ‘Thomas with the penalty’ and ‘Thomas on the coverage’ after a long completion are not the fast lane to make a roster.
Vikings special teams return units: They gave up big returns all night long. Even old friend Zach Line, a fullback fergodsakes, had a 25 yard kickoff return. Terrible.
Vikings linebackers: Eric Wilson had one nice tackle for loss, but other than that, I thought it was a bad night overall for this unit. Short passes that would be their responsibility to defend were there all night for the Saints, and when the mobile Taysom Hill was in the game, they were unable to contain him in the pocket, and Hill scrambled for several nice runs. In fact, Hill was the Saints leading rusher on the night.
Irv Smith, Jr., TE: Not the best debut for the second round pick, but not the worst, either. Smith was tied for the lead in receptions, with three, but they weren’t particularly eye popping. Well, he did have a nice 21 yard catch and run very late in the first half that was nullified by two penalties, because of course it was. At a minimum, it would have given the Vikings a chance to kick a field goal had the play held up. He also had a bad penalty late in the second quarter that wiped out an Abdullah run that would have put the ball inside the five, when it looked like the Vikings were going in to score. The Vikes ended up with no points, and then the Saints got a turnover and went down and scored. What could have been, at a minimum, a 17-6 game was now 14-12.
Buy: Sean Mannion has the inside track for the backup QB job. Mannion had a nice night, and didn’t play himself out of the backup job, like a lot of us felt Trevor Siemian did last year. His TD to Johnson was a bit underthrown, but he stood tall in the pocket and delivered the ball right as he was getting hit. He did make at least one throw that should or could have been picked, but overall it was a respectable night for Mannion.
Sell: Kyle Sloter has lost the backup QB battle. His first drive in the second half was impressive. He made two great throws to Conklin and Khari Blasingame for over 40 yards, and hit Blasingame for a two yard TD pass to cap the drive. Sloter just looks like a guy that could be the backup, and if nothing else, I’d like to at least see him get some work with the second team.
Buy: There was some encouraging play from the rookie class. I gotta say, there’s a lot to like from this draft class so far, at least in the somewhat limited action. Garrett Bradbury looked very much like the real deal in his only drive, and we’ve already talked about Mattison, Smith, Blasingame, and Johnson.
Sell: It was all unicorns and rainbows for the rookie class. Still, it was and up and down night for these guys. Smith had the untimely penalty, Mattison never really got it going on the ground, and other than the two catches Johnson had in the second quarter, he didn’t do anything else. Fourth round pick Dru Samia had a holding penalty called on him and graded out very poorly per PFF, but I don’t recall any horrible missed blocks or assignments, though.
Buy: Nate Meadors pick six. Heck of an effort by Meadors to pick the bobbled ball out of mid air and take it to the house. It was a tough adjustment on the bobble, and a really nice play.
Sell: Nate Meadors made the roster with that play. I still don’t know that was enough to get him ahead of a guy like Kris Boyd or Holton Hill and his doghouse on the back end of the roster, though. I mean let’s face it, if the Saints tight end holds on to the ball, it’s a seven or 8 yard gain, more than likely, and a very routine play.
Buy: Preseason games are inherently sloppy. Young players are trying to learn the game at the NFL level, veterans haven’t played in seven months, and with all the substitutions constantly going in and out it and at times, it almost looks like a hockey game when lines are shifting. Both teams were bumbling and stumbling, and the referees are throwing more flags as they are wanting to highlight what the league is emphasizing in terms of fouls this year.
Sell: The amount of penalties can be excused because it was preseason. Eric Wilson had a nice TFL erased, Ifeadi Odenigbo had a sack that was almost a strip sack nullified, the first team defense had a penalty on a third and goal that gave the Saints a fresh set of downs...and that was all in the first half. The Vikings had 13 penalties for 176 yards, which is unacceptable for any game, preseason or otherwise. That has GOT to be cleaned up, as no team in the NFL can overcome that many mistakes and win consistently.