Saturday, August 23, 2014

Five Things to Watch for against the Chiefs

The Vikings continue preseason action on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs tonight. What five aspects do you need to watch for?

Updated: August 23rd, 2014 11:00am

By: Daniel House

The Vikings will continue preseason action tonight against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. It will be their first road test of the season, along with Mike Zimmer's first coaching stint away from the state of Minnesota. The team is looking to win on the road this season, which is something they couldn't successfully accomplish last season. With that said, the coaching staff is working hard to develop a disciplined team that can hold up to the standards of playing on the road in the NFL. The first test will be held in a hostile fan environment at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. The kick off temperature will be over 90 degrees, which will test the players conditioning levels. How will the players respond to their first road challenge and will the roster battles intensify?

The Quarterbacks Square Off

I wouldn't really call the quarterback position a worthy battle at this point, but it certainly is a spot to monitor closely. Mike Zimmer hasn't named a starter for the 2014 season, but he has strongly indicated he has a date in mind to divulge the information. The job will likely be handed to Matt Cassel for the regular season, but this is just another opportunity for rookie Teddy Bridgewater to impress the coaches. It seems like another solid performance by Matt Cassel will help him solidify the starting job. Cassel will be returning to play against the Kansas City Chiefs, where he played for four seasons before joining the Vikings. The Kansas City defense will be a great test for both Cassel and Bridgewater as they were second in the league in forced turnovers last season. Neither quarterback has created a turnover this season and it will be interesting to see how they handle playing a team that is very physical in the secondary.

The First Road Test

The Vikings finished 0-7-1 on the road last season and are looking to improve this statistic under new head coach Mike Zimmer. The coaching staff has been crafting ways to change the game day routine and help the players adjust to the road lifestyle. Traveling and the accommodations are much different on the road and it arguably can be one of the biggest adjustments for an NFL squad. The crowd plays a role into the game and the players must adjust to hostile conditions when communicating on the field. This will be the first chance for this group to attempt this task and it comes in a very loud stadium environment, which helps the cause.

Starting jobs are up for grabs

The middle linebacker spot is still open for battle, along with the safety spot next to Harrison Smith. Tonight will likely be the last extended look we will receive at the Vikings starters in the preseason. Robert Blanton will be returning from injury and should see action at safety, along with veterans Chris Crocker, Jamarca Sanford, and Kurt Coleman. Mike Zimmer wants to get one last look at who can play within his system and to do so, he will be heavily rotating these players with different positional groupings. At middle linebacker, Mike Zimmer says he would like to rotate Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole every two series tonight. He wasn't able to do so last week because of Arizona's personnel match ups, but he is hopeful he can solidify the competition in tonight's game.

The Offensive Line against KC's front-seven

The Vikings struggled early in the preseason, but recovered in the last preseason game against the Cardinals. Tonight, the group will be challenged by a very good Chiefs front-seven that includes Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston, and Dontari Poe. The pass rush will be the best the Vikings have seen in the preseason and it will be important to watch how they handle more intensified pressure. I will be looking for the same attributes with the second and third tier players to see who can emerge for the final two roster spots. Kansas City finished sixth in the league in sacks last season and it will be important to see how the Vikings offensive line responds to this challenge.

Can Blair Walsh figure things out?

Kicker Blair Walsh can boom 70-yard field goals in warmups, but as of late, he hasn't been able to connect in the games. He is just 4-for-6 on field goal attempts and 2-for-3 on extra points during his early outdoor stint at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings will be playing in difficult conditions this winter and Walsh will need to fix the issues very quickly. He connected on just 87% of his kicks last season and he can't afford to continue a downward trend. Walsh will see another outdoor challenge tonight and we will see if changes are noticeable from practice this week.

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