Botched snaps, fumbles, sacks, miscommunications, and a plethora of blitzes, plagued the Vikings in a sloppy 20-16 loss vs. the Buffalo Bills on Friday. Daniel House explains all this and more in his preseason game 2 notebook.
Ponder struggles, MBT flourishes
Christian Ponder finished Friday evening's game vs. the Bills with a less than stellar performance, recording 5 completions on 12 attempts, while adding 53 passing yards. The first-team offense failed to move the ball during their tenure and the team punted the ball a total of 7 times on the night. The game started with defensive end Jerry Hughes side-stepping Pro-Bowl left tackle Matt Kalil, en route to sacking quarterback Christian Ponder. The offensive line struggled, especially when they were pressured off the edge. The Bills defense blitzed frequently and used a ton of 'exotic' schemes during last night's contest. When asked about these formations, Ponder stressed the difficulty of this scheme, especially when the team didn't game plan for this style.
"Just their whole defense was pretty exotic," Ponder said, per the Bills' official website. "They had some exotic personnel and different schemes, it was a little different and sometimes it was a little hard for us to identify. ... They're a very exotic defense, a very good defense. They had a lot of different looks," Ponder concluded.
With the nature of this contest and the failure to prepare for a preseason game, there is no need to panic. If a team continues this type of blitzing with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, they will be taking a huge risk. Please remember, that Vikings fullback Jerome Felton missed the contest after having appendix surgery this week. He is a huge part of blocking and protection schemes for this team. With work this week, this problem will be resolved and the Vikings will be poised for a confidence booster vs. San Francisco, next Sunday.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson entered the game on Friday evening and failed to disappoint. Thompson finished the evening completing 10 of 17 passes, while accumulating 107 yards of offense. In addition, he added a perfect touch pass into the corner of the endzone and Rodney Smith hauled in a beautiful back-shoulder catch for Thompson's lone touchdown of the evening. MBT was very confident and poised in the pocket, firing the ball, while making good decisions from a schematic standpoint. He certainly has proven his legitimacy as the third quarterback on this roster, which could mean the end of the road for Vikings wide receiver, Joe Webb.
Matt Asiata was one of the huge disappointments from Friday evening's game vs. the Buffalo Bills. He was pushed around in pass protection and missed his assignment on multiple occasions, causing two sacks of the quarterback. Being a liability in protection can pose major issues, especially when a player is flirting with a roster spot. From a rushing standpoint, he received 4 carries and recorded a measly 10 yards. Asiata may have hurt himself, especially when he is trying to make a name for himself at the running back position.
Jennings records first reception
Greg Jennings recorded his first reception from quarterback Christian Ponder, during the early stages of Friday's game. Jennings began in the backfield, shifted to the outside at the snap, and caught a bubble screen from Ponder. He shook two tackles and lunged forward for a gain of five yards during his first reception as a Minnesota Viking.
Offensive line struggles
As discussed earlier, the Vikings starting offensive line struggled with pressure off the edge. This caused Rhett Ellison to line up on the end to provide more stability from a blocking standpoint. In addition to all of this, the centers had problems snapping the ball to the quarterbacks on two occasions. John Sullivan snapped the ball when Ponder wasn't looking, setting up a 2nd-and-24 after the fumble recovery and the third three-and-out of the game. Later, center Joe Berger entered and snapped a ball low to Matt Cassel, in which the ball bounded into the endzone and was recovered by Bills defensive end, Jamie Blatnick for a touchdown. With the blitzing and schematic issues, all combated with little planning during the week, it makes me less concerned about the protection problems.
Rudolph continues his progression
Despite a key third down drop on the first possession of the game, Rudolph bounced back recorded 3 receptions for 39 yards. He corralled a difficult pass from Ponder, which was looped over the top of the defense, for gain of 25 yards. Rudolph continues to be a reliable target for Christian Ponder and has the body of a tight end, combined with the hands of a wide receiver. Look for him to grow even more this season and reach double-digit touchdowns in 2013.
Floyd flourishes despite sore knee
Sharrif Floyd left the first preseason game vs. Houston the previous week, but returned and made an impact in his second contest in Vikings purple. He recorded several quarterback hurries and was great at getting leverage at the point of contact. With continued work over the season, I firmly believe Floyd could become an impact player for the team on third down and long situations.
Desmond Bishop makes his first appearance
Vikings linebacker Desmond Bishop missed the first preseason contest with a groin pull, but returned for the second preseason game vs. Buffalo. He not only returned this season, but for the first time since August 9th, 2012. Bishop entered the game late in the second quarter and was awarded 4 assist tackles and credited with a half-sack. He was late in coverage in the redzone, which resulted in a 4-yard touchdown from E.J. Manuel, to wide receiver Brad Smith. Bishop was left on an island on this play and should have been awarded help. In addition, he recorded the hit of the night, by corraling a Bills running back after the catch. Overall, Bishop had a nice debut, but durability will be evaluated over the coming weeks of the preseason.
Rhodes and Robinson provide comfort level
Xavier Rhodes missed the first preseason game vs. Houston with a hamstring injury, but it didn't take long for him to get noticed in his NFL debut. He blanketed a wide receiver, tipped a Kevin Kolb pass up in the air, which all resulted in an interception by Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford. He then went relatively unnoticed for the remainder of the game. I was most impressed with his ability to be physical at the line of scrimmage, but fall back and remain sound in coverage.
Josh Robinson recorded a few passes defensed and some nice tackles, which is a very important skill from a second-year player. If he can improve his skills from a vertical coverage standpoint, he will be a nice option to replace Antoine Winfield in the slot. I still have concerns about his ability to over pursue, but ultimately, he has done well early on.
Felder shines on special teams
Cornerback Bobby Felder was at the head of one the bright spots in the Vikings preseason game vs. Buffalo. He corralled two spinning Jeff Locke punts inside the 5-yard line and added two very nice punt returns, including a 37-yard return. He was shifty and elusive at the point of attack, gaining positive yardage for the special teams unit. Through all of this, you must wonder if Felder has solidified himself enough in coverage and special teams to oust Marcus Sherels from the roster. I believe there is a chance for this to happen, especially since Felder is a multi-dimensional player, unlike Sherels, who is solely a punt returner.
Locke improves from week 1 performance
Jeff Locke posted more length in his second outing, along with three balls he plopped inside the 20-yard line. He added a long of 61 yards and combated that with a 48.9 yard average on all of his punts. A markedly better improvement over week 1, where he struggled to punt the ball for length. Now, the next step is to improve hangtime, along with length. At moments, he was kicking the ball too far for the coverage team to get up the field. This is an easy fix for a punter, but requires work on foot placement and loft according to special teams aces throughout the league.
Adrian Peterson (coach's decision), Jerome Felton (appendectomy), Christian Ballard (personal reasons), and Jacob Lacey (knee) all missed Friday's game.
As of Saturday evening, the only known Vikings injury was wide receiver Jarius Wright, who suffered a concussion during the second quarter of the game. Coach Frazier needed more information before he could comment, but stated Wright would be evaluated Monday morning at the facility. We will have the latest when the information is released by the Vikings.
My final words:
Don't be scared about the prospects of the 2013 season over two preseason games. Yes, this game was extremely sloppy, with a ton of miscues, but lets remember this is preseason football. With two weeks to prepare for the regular season and minimal game planning from a schematic standpoint, there is no need to be concerned. The coaching staff is already preparing for the Detroit Lions to open the regular season. I won't judge the basis of the 2013 season off of a preseason game. This is the time for the team to learn, develop continuity, and to establish the right group of players for the 53-man roster.