With the penultimate preseason game approaching on Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals, the Minnesota Vikings seem to be closing in on their 53 man roster, and positional battles are getting decided. That’s what a lot of folks are focusing on, and rightly so, but what other things should we be looking for in this ‘dress rehearsal’ game, as a lot of people like to call it? Let’s take a look at some keys to the game, and we’ll also look at the few remaining positional battles as well.
Keys To The Game
No injuries: Obviously, this is the first and foremost wish for any preseason game. The Vikings seem a lot thinner at some positions than I had originally thought, and an untimely injury in the secondary, for example, will really test the depth at that position. It’s not something I want to see as they head towards the season opener. Just stay healthy and get to the regular season.
First team offensive consistency: Overall, the first team offense has been decent, as their three drives have resulted in a touchdown, a field goal, and a punt. In the first game, the pass protection was pretty solid, but the running game couldn’t get going (4 carries, 7 yards, TD). In the second game, the running game wasn’t much better (19 yards on 9 carries), but it felt like Alexander Mattison had a little bit more running room. I know the stats don’t really bear that out, but yeah, they looked better to me. That said, pass protection was a lot shakier, though, as Kirk Cousins had to run for his life once when the interior line collapsed, and he seemed to be pressured a bit more. He still had some solid pockets to set up and throw in, though, like his first pass to Kyle Rudolph, and his two long passes to Adam Thielen. Overall, I’d like to see consistency in both areas for the offensive line.
First team defense: I know it’s preseason, and I take everything we see with a grain of salt, but the first team defensive performance so far has been underwhelming. Without Shamar Stephen and Linval Joseph the first two games, the Vikings interior line has looked really shaky. They haven’t been able to neutralize the run, and the line as a whole has generated little pressure on opposing quarterbacks. I would like to see both of those things improve on Saturday.
Mental mistakes: Finally, this should be the game where everyone, for the most part, is on the same page and moving in the same direction. The amount of penalties went down from week one to week two, and they should keep dropping. Last year the Vikings had a difficult time overcoming penalties, and I’d really love to watch a well-disciplined football team that doesn’t beat themselves this year. Let’s start doing that Saturday.
Key Positional Battles Remaining
If you believe Mike Zimmer, and I do, at least with his positional battle updates...RB2 and QB2 have been settled. Alexander Mattison is the backup to Dalvin Cook, and Sean Mannion is the backup to Kirk Cousins. Period, dot, end of story. But there are other roster spots that still need to be settled, and we could get those answers Saturday. And for what it’s worth, I have Mike Boone, a guy a lot of folks would like to see as RB2, safely on the roster as RB3.
Fullback: I am on the Khari Blasingame train, or part of the Blasingame hive, or I stan for Blasingame...whatever the cool kids phrase is these days. I like him. That doesn’t mean I dislike C.J. Ham, or think Ham has done anything to lose his roster spot. But Blasingame has impressed, and although it’s still Ham’s spot to lose, he is making the decision very, very difficult.
WR3/4/5: After Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, your guess is as good as mine. Well, throw Chad Beebe in with the other two, because it looks like he’s becoming the holder for field goals and extra points. I don’t know that makes him the defacto WR3, though. On Sean Mannion’s pick-six throw last week, more than one article I saw said it was more Beebe’s fault for not recognizing and adjusting his route to the defense, as opposed to Mannion’s throw. Only the players and coaches really know for sure, but Mannion and Beebe were definitely not on the same page. And that does make me wonder if a veteran WR would have been, and if that play would have even gone down like that. The only other two guys that have really flashed at all have been Olabisi Johnson, against the Saints, and Brandon Zylstra, against Seattle. That gives you five wideouts, but it’s not a backend group that gives me a lot of confidence right now. I’m not seeing anyone step up and hands down claim a roster spot yet, so when Mike Zimmer says the final WR group might not happen until after cutdown day occurs and they can scan the free agent wire, I tend to believe him.
CB: Whether Mike Hughes ends up on the PUP to begin the season or just misses the first game or two, depth is an issue here. Holton Hill’s eight (?!) game suspension really throws the back end of this group into turmoil, but I still really like the top four guys of Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Hughes, and Mac Alexander. Assuming they go with five CB’s and 4 safeties, and assuming Hughes isn’t ready for a few games, I think the last spot is down to Craig James, Bené Benwikere, or they may go off menu and grab a free agent after cutdowns.
Special Teams: I’m still not sure what the Vikings are going to do, although I think they do, and this is just a mind game at this point. You don’t give up a fifth round draft pick for a kicker and then not keep him...wait, it’s the Vikings, anything is possible here...still, Kaare Vedvik is in. I think he’ll do the punting and kicking off, and Dan Bailey will be the kicker. Am I certain? LOL, other than Vedvik making the roster, no not at all.