The Minnesota Vikings are now 2-0 under head coach Mike Zimmer, albeit the two wins are in the preseason. This game came down to the wire, including an fumble recovery touchdown on 4th and goal by the Cardinals to go ahead by 4 points with 1:49 left, and concluded with a perfectly orchestrated 2 minute drill by rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
The defense started out slow, and struggled with tackling Cardinal receivers after the catch, but Zimmer it together as the game went on. Overall, the special teams unit played well, and the offense was efficient behind both Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater. Cassel played the entire first half, and Bridgewater came on in relief to play the second half. Adrian Peterson was dressed, but didn’t see the field at all.
To start the game, the Vikings’ offense looked great under Matt Cassel for the second week in a row. Cassel finished the game 12-16 for 153 yards and a touchdown, ending with a 125.3 passer rating. Kyle Rudolph was Cassel’s biggest target, catching a 51 yard touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter, and ended the game with 4 receptions for 89 yards and a score. So far, it looks like the slimmer Rudolph is much more quick and agile, and is running very crisp routes and running well after the catch.
The running game really struggled, especially in the first half with Matt Asiata running the ball. Asiata ended up with only 19 yards on 10 carries. Matt Cassel ended with more rushing yards (30 yards on 3 attempts) than Asiata and Jerick McKinnon had combined. This shouldn’t be a problem though, considering Adrian Peterson did not play. The Vikings repeatably motioned the running back in the backfield to the outside, setting up good matchups for guys like Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph who were lined up on in the inside.
The defense looked flat the first few defensive possessions, giving up a 9 play 93 yard drive that was filled with poor tackling by the secondary after the Vikings punted on their first drive. Shortly after, the Vikings’ first team defense seemed to get it together and played much better sound football.
Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr recorded another sack and got his first forced fumble when he sacked Cardinals’ quarterback Drew Stanton to end the second quarter. Other than this play, however, Barr didn’t make an impact in the game, failing to record any other tackles. It’s obvious his pass rushing needs works, and he needs to develop more pass rushing moves; there were a few plays where he pinned his ears back and really tried getting after the quarterback but got stood up at the line of scrimmage and failed to get any pressure on the quarterback.
Zimmer’s defense did exactly what everyone expected it to do, rotating guys everywhere on the field, having them play multiple positions. At one point, the first team linebackers were Audie Cole, Anthony Barr, and Jasper Brinkley. At one point, Barr put his hands on the ground and played defensive end, and Brian Robinson moved inside to defensive tackle to rush the passer.
Even though I’ve been very critical of Chad Greenway in the past, he really impressed me today, ending the night with 5 tackles, and a few solid plays in pass coverage (along with a questionable pass interference call that he was flagged for.) Shariff Floyd had a great game too; he may have only had one tackle, but he was in the backfield often and pushed the pocket towards the quarterback consistently against the pass.
Xavier Rhodes really showed up today as well, looking great in coverage, minus one misplayed jump ball in the 2nd quarter.
The offense under Teddy Bridgwater looked phenomenal. Entering this game, I thought the gap between Cassel and Bridgewater might be too wide for Bridgewater to overcome and become starter week 1. After this impressive showing by the rookie, though, Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner may take a closer look at the former Louisville Cardinal. Bridgewater only had 4 incompletions on 20 attempts, a video-game like 80% completion percentage to go along with 177 yards and 2 touchdowns. It seems as though Bridgewater took Zimmer’s advice from earlier in the week, and stopped making things so hard on himself and just went out there and played football.
The thing that impressed me the most about Bridgewater was his final drive with less than two minutes left to put the Vikings in the lead for good. In this situation, he looked comfortable and did not lose his cool despite having the game come down to him in the last two minutes. Overall, Bridgewater looked much more comfortable in the pocket, made much more decisive decisions, and was very elusive in the pocket. Most importantly, Bridgewater was not sacked, nor did he fumble or throw any interceptions. With Bridgewater under center, the Vikings scored 17 points on 4 series, compared to Matt Cassel’s 13 points on 5 series.
Adam Thielen really showed up to play again, this time making his mark on offense with 4 catches for 54 yards. After another good performance, I would be surprised if Thielen DIDN’T make the 53 man roster.
Defensively, the second team defense played well enough to win the football game, despite neither the first team or second team defense causing any turnovers. Marcus Sherels led the team in tackles with a whopping 9, although a few of them were tackles that he made after poor coverage.
What the Vikings need to improve on
Despite getting the win last night, there were some things that I think the Vikings will be working on this week, and for the rest of the preseason. Of course it starts with situational football, something Mike Zimmer has been preaching all preseason: the Vikings were just 3 of 9 on third downs last night, and the Cardinals were 4 of 4 on 4th down and 7 of 15 on third down. If the Vikings want to win games, they will need to play better defensively on third and fourth down to get the ball back to the offense.
The Vikings made a few bonehead mistakes, resulting in 102 yards of penalties. After a good clean game last week, the Vikings took a step backwards here. However, it should be noted that most teams in the preseason have been flagged excessively, due to referees really trying to emphasize certain penalties (including pass interference.) They also failed to cash in on 3 red zone opportunities which only led to field goals; the Vikings need to make more of these red zone field goals into touchdowns.
Another thing the Vikings will want to work on is forcing turnovers. After having an interception last game, the Vikings failed to record a turnover; and besides Barr’s sack to end the first half, the Vikings were also without a sack.
Blair Walsh struggled again this week (to his standards anyways), kicking 3/4 from the field, missing a 51 yarder in 2nd quarter, and also missing his final extra point of the game.
Despite not forcing any turnovers on defense, the Vikings did not turn the ball over in this game, something that has plagued them in the past. The Vikings also went the entire game without giving up a sack; a feat that is shared by both the offensive line for working in harmony, and the quarterbacks for getting the ball out quickly.
Despite giving up the lead with under 2 minutes left to go, the Vikings put together an impressive 83 yard drive with 1:11 left in the game. Winning close games was something the Vikings failed to do last season, giving up leads in the last few minutes of the game on multiple occasions.
Other than Blair Walsh’s unimpressive game, the rest of the special teams unit had a great game. There was plenty of room to run on kickoffs and punts, and there were a few good returns by the Vikings’ special teams.
Despite quarterback play always coming to bite the Vikings in the rear end, last night the Vikings quarterbacks impressed with 125.3 and 136.9 passer ratings for Cassel and Bridgewater respectively.