Vikings Preseason Positives
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY SportsPreseason records are basically hollow. They matter about as much as dental floss to a state fair carny. There is no direct correlation between preseason NFL success and regular season success or vice versa. Thus, I really hesitate to mention (but will anyways as I did on Twitter Saturday night) that the last time the Vikings began the preseason 3-0 was 2009 – the year they went 12-4 and advanced to the NFC Championship. Just file that away in case similar success transpires this season. That way we can all look back fondly and say “we knew it all along… saw it coming in August.”
Having said all that, it’s generally better when your team plays well, stays healthy and wins some games as opposed to the alternative in preseason. It can’t hurt team confidence.
A few more preseason statistical positives to take with a large grain of salt: through Saturday the Vikings ranked eighth in the NFL with 70 points scored and fifth in the NFL with 46 points allowed. Their plus-24 differential ranked fifth in the league. Again, all truly meaningless, but I think we can all agree it’s better than ranking near the bottom in all those categories. The Vikings finished 1-3 each of the last two preseasons and had a cumulative differential of minus-32 points.
No doubt, the Norv Turner offense looks like it has some viable weapons and should be in good hands at quarterback… and we haven’t even seen Adrian Peterson play in this offense yet. By the way, I think that goes beyond just “keeping Adrian healthy.” I think there’s some gamesmanship at play here, too. The coaching staff doesn’t want to unveil the new ways in which Peterson will be used this season. Hint: catching more passes and even split out wide on occasion. That’s a different topic for a different post.
Let’s see if we can even spin the somewhat bad news into a positive.
The Vikings still haven’t settled on two of the starting positions in the back seven on defense: middle linebacker and strong safety.
Middle linebacker appears to be a two-horse race. Jasper Brinkley started against the Chiefs Saturday night and appears to be slightly ahead of Audie Cole in the battle at MIKE. Cole (33 snaps) got a longer look than Brinkley (20 snaps) against the Chiefs, though, so this one will probably be decided Thursday night in Nashville. I prefer Cole; however, neither has played an entirely clean game this preseason and the position will likely remain one of worry for Vikings fans regardless of who starts in Week 1.
The bigger concern is at strong safety. Chris Crocker, 34, started Saturday and is the most familiar with head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense having played for him in Cincinnati. The worrisome part is that the Vikings had to go out and sign the 12-year veteran just three weeks ago because nobody else was taking charge at the position. Robert Blanton made his preseason debut against the Chiefs and played 34 snaps to Crocker’s 10 after missing three weeks with a strained hamstring. He could still make a late push. Others in the mix include Kurt Coleman and Andrew Sendejo, both of whom played fewer snaps than Blanton Saturday. Jamarca Sanford’s chances were sabotaged by a quad injury Saturday. Vikings fans shouldn’t feel particularly good about any of these choices. I would not be stunned if the team brought in another safety to look at following roster cuts this week.
The positive spin: the rest of the starting jobs are basically settled.
No, Zimmer hasn’t named his starting quarterback yet, but his secret will be shared soon and I’d be stunned if it’s not Matt Cassel. The positive there is that both Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater have looked pretty good this preseason and if Cassel got hurt or had a run of bad games few people would feel uncomfortable with the reins being handed to the rookie.
More positives: Blair Walsh looks like he’s back to being Blair Walsh after going 3-for-3 in field goal attempts Saturday.
The Vikings have four interceptions through three preseason games after having the fewest in the NFL over the last three years. The aggression on defense is noticeably different from the last couple seasons under Leslie Frazier.
First-round draft pick Anthony Barr is looking like a quick study. The defensive line rotation appears to be in good shape. Particularly impressive on Saturday were Fred Evans and Shamar Stephen.
Despite some inconsistent play from Matt Kalil at left tackle, the offensive line looks pretty strong – and the center, right guard duo of John Sullivan and Brandon Fusco is as good as you’ll find in the NFL.
Just as I hesitated to address preseason records and stats above, mentioning the injury situation also gives me pause. Not that I believe in jinxes or anything, but knock on wood. If objective 1A during the preseason is settling on starters, a depth chart and roles, objective 1B has to be staying healthy. To that extent, the Vikings have again succeeded. Jamarca Sanford has a quad and Mistral Raymond (who is on the roster bubble) got hurt Saturday. The only other concerns are Linval Joseph, who should return in time for Week 1, and Phil Loadholt, who suffered a minor ankle contusion against the Chiefs.
Thursday’s game in Nashville against the Tennessee Tians will not feature many snaps from the starters. In fact, you can bet that some will join Adrian on the sideline and be kept far from harm’s way. The few remaining starting gigs and roster decisions will be on the line and with any luck the Vikings will escape the preseason relatively unscathed on the injury front.
It’s purple preseason positivity, people. Don’t get carried away with the Purple Kool-Aid and begin planning playoff parties. Just pass it on and enjoy it for what it is. The regular season starts in 13 days. Happy Monday.
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