Sunday, August 24, 2014

Notebook: Defense shines in the Vikings 30-12 win over Kansas City

Defensive turnovers emerged in the Vikings 30-12 win over Kansas City in the third preseason. What did Daniel House see during tonight's game? Take a look inside of his notebook.

Updated: August 24th, 2014 1:02am

By: Daniel House

The Vikings continued their preseason schedule tonight and traveled to Kansas City to square off with the Chiefs. The intensity was high from the start and this was probably the last look the fans will get at the starting rotation before the Vikings open the regular season in St. Louis on September 7th. The first-team played roughly three quarters tonight and there were flashes of positivity on both sides of the ball. The defense was the thrilling aspect of tonight's game and recorded three interceptions, while notching five sacks. The Vikings grasped the lead early and never turned back, winning the game 30-12. I compiled all the notes and let you take a glance into my notebook from tonight’s matchup.

Cassel and Bridgewater average tonight

The quarterbacks have performed well through the first two preseason games, but tonight the performance was average. Both Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater both played well enough to win the football game, but both made a few mistakes. Cassel finished the night 9-for-17 for 152 yards and a touchdown, but he forced a deep throw to Jerome Simpson into double coverage, resulting in an interception. Cassel's highlight of the night came on a deep route combination that stressed towards the corner. He hit Cordarelle Patterson and took advantage of the safety being late to his assignment, leading to a 53-yard touchdown reception. Cassel later squeezed a pass between the safety and linebacker, but Greg Jennings failed to slide his second foot inbounds for the completion. Cassel may have been not quite perfect tonight, but his performance didn't result in any different direction being taken at the quarterback position.

Teddy Bridgewater played with a short field, thanks to the Vikings defense creating turnovers in the second half tonight. Bridgewater finished 4-for-7 with 40 yards and two touchdowns. He found his favorite receiver Allen Reisner for a pair of touchdowns catches. Teddy has developed continuity with the Iowa product and has thrown three touchdowns to Reisner in the last two weeks of the preseason. Bridgewater wasn't provided many opportunities to shine tonight, but played extremely well in the circumstances. Teddy continues to grow as a quarterback, but it doesn't seem like the team is in any hurry to rush him into a starting role.

McKinnon and Williams lead the running backs 

Jerick McKinnon was awarded with more carries out of the backfield tonight and really performed well in the process. He rushed for 43 yards on just six carries and broke off for a shifty 24-yard run late in the third quarter. McKinnon proved he has the tools and athletic skills to be a threat for the Vikings. His vision has improved and his ability to slither between defenders is very underrated.

Undrafted rookie Dominique Williams provided his first solid performance during his NFL career. He rushed for 53 yards on five carries and added several pivotal first down runs in the 4th quarter. Williams is a diminutive running back that hasn't witnessed much time in the league, but tonight he provided a burst and some quick cuts up the field. Williams will be closely monitored as the Vikings begin roster cuts in the coming days.

Patterson splashes at wide receiver

Cordarelle Patterson is bound to have a huge role in the Vikings offense this season and tonight Vikings fans got a taste of how he will be used this season. Patterson hauled in three passes for 71 yards, including a long 53-yard touchdown on the first series of the game. He did drop a pass he should have corralled and with just one defender to beat, he likely would have scored a touchdown. Patterson continues to show he will be a threat up the field and the Vikings will run many patterns to isolate him in space. The next leading wide receiver was Jarius Wright, who hauled in just one catch for 14 yards. The Vikings had a short field for most of the night, which didn't yield many opportunities to adequately get a look at many of the fringe wide receivers.

Reisner shines with two touchdowns

Allen Reisner has been the go-to wide receiver for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater this preseason. Tonight, they completed the trifecta and notched two touchdowns, to pair with their connection against Arizona last week. Both catches were of eight and five yards, respectively, but Reisner is proving he's able to make catches in the red zone. It will be tough to keep him on the roster, unless the coaching staff feels he has shown enough on tape to suffice the release of Chase Ford. This doesn't seem likely, but the front office has always liked what Reisner has been able to bring to the table in his stints with the team in the past.

Offensive line struggles 

Matt Cassel will be hoping he can be better protected this season, but tonight didn't provide him with that sense of security. Matt Kalil was beaten on three occasions, most notably on a speed rush by defensive end Tamba Hali. Hali bull rushed Kalil and he was badly beaten off the ball by the young pass rusher. Cassel was sacked three times, two of which came at the hands of the Vikings left tackle. Phil Loadholt was injured early in the game and left for the locker room to receive X-Rays on his lower leg. He would later return and his injury doesn't appear to be serious. During his absence, Austin Wentworth was burned off the line of scrimmage by Jaye Howard, who stripped the ball from Matt Cassel, leading to a Chiefs safety. It sent me back to J'Marcus Webb getting toasted off the line of scrimmage in Dallas last year. Let's just say, it wasn't pretty.

On a positive note, Charlie Johnson was used more as a pull guard and laid several nice blocks in the second level for Jerick McKinnon in the second half. This is a scheme that was implemented this year and is something we will see from all the guards on the roster this year. It is encouraging to see Johnson run block well, but that has never really been the issue with the veteran guard. He struggled against the pass on several occasions tonight, but he provides a serviceable option until rookie David Yankey is ready to handle the starting duties.

Blitz, blitz, and more blitz

The Vikings were really providing pressure tonight, while lining players up on the line of scrimmage on a frequent basis. Anthony Barr was blitzing up the middle and off the edge and Brian Robison was used in a package tonight, which involved him being lined up as a linebacker. He blitzed hard and the Vikings overloaded the pocket, but it yielded minimal results, providing Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith with an open lane to sprint for a 15-yard gain. This aggressiveness did lead to five sacks and three interceptions, which is encouraging for a group that couldn't create turnovers last season.

Defensive Line provides great pressure

Many different faces continue to rotate through packages and it is resulting in success for the Vikings defensive line. The front-four notched five sacks, but should have closed on about three more this evening. Some players weren't staying in their rushing lanes and on several occasions the players just couldn't wrap up. Everson Griffen and Brian Robison both were getting great rushes off the edge and added sacks. These plays were set up by beautiful interior rushes by Shamar Stephen and Fred Evans. Both Evans and Stephen were getting great leverage, which opened up opportunities for the defensive ends to make plays. Evans made several great plays against the run and stopped a screen pass in its tracks. The coaching staff will have a very difficult decision to make when they decide who will make the team on the defensive line. It may be tough for both Evans and Stephen to crack the 53-man roster, but it seems like maximum effort will be placed on trying to make it happen. As a whole, if the defensive line can close on some more sacks, it will continue to create opportunities for the secondary to create turnovers, which is ultimately the goal in this defensive scheme.

Barr continues to show his athleticism, MLB battle becoming solidified 

Mike Zimmer has been teaching Anthony Barr many tools early in his career and the rookie is responding at a very quick rate. He made two very nice plays against the run tonight and added one great play in coverage. Those were two areas the coaches wanted to see Barr improve and he is growing quickly in that avenue. He continued to rush the passer and nearly added a sack early in the second quarter of tonight's game. The sky is the limit for Anthony Barr and it will be exciting to see how the coaching staff utilizes his skill-set in the regular season.

Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole shared reps in the middle of the linebacker group and I think the battle shifted slightly tonight. Brinkley made two great stops against the run and assisted on a sack in the third quarter. More importantly, he look improved in coverage, while Audie Cole was beaten three times in the game tonight. Cole shared responsibility on one of the plays, but he was ultimately liable for part of the play. The coaching staff might lean towards starting a veteran in the middle, with Audie Cole being an option for the future. It is far from set, but it appears at a quick glance, the competition may have accelerated a bit tonight.

Chad Greenway also added an interception and made a nice play on the ball, while dropping into his correct responsibility in the defense.

Munnerlyn and Prater add interceptions 

The Chiefs offense was making a charge in the red zone, but cornerback Captain Munnerlyn perfectly jumped an underneath route in the end zone, adding an interception. He did make a mistake running the ball out of the end zone, resulting in him being tackled inside the five. This led to a quarterback strip and a safety, but it was great to see Munnerlyn get actively involved, while proving he has the playmaking ability in the secondary. Shaun Prater also added an interception of a Tyler Bray pass in the third quarter and nearly took it to the end zone after running the pass back 34 yards. The aggressiveness up front has provided more opportunities for the secondary to be successful and create turnovers.

Xavier Rhodes bounced back and added a pass defensed, along with two great coverage plays over the top of the tight end. Rhodes continues to grow and it appears he is becoming more comfortable in Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme.

Josh Robinson returned to lineup tonight and entered the game during a nickel package, before exiting quickly after creating a defensive pass interference call. This certainly doesn't help his cause, but Mike Zimmer was pleased to have Robinson back on the field for action tonight.

"I was glad to see that he sucked it up and went out there and played," Zimmer said in his press conference following the game.

Safeties shuffle heavily

Chris Crocker received the start alongside Harrison Smith tonight and made a beautiful play in coverage, blanketing Anthony Fasano on an out route to the sideline. Following this performance, Crocker didn't see much action and was substituted for Kurt Coleman. Coleman wasn't really noticeable in the back end, but did add a nice tackle on a run play. Robert Blanton added a great play in coverage, but didn't really see a heavy amount of snaps tonight. Andrew Sendejo saw more action tonight and dropped a tipped pass that should have been hauled in for an interception. Jamarca Sanford left with a quadriceps injury and Mistral Raymond exited with an unknown injury. This doesn't bode well for two players who were battling for a roster spot in tonight's game.

Thielen adds phenomenal punt return

After a muffed punt return by Marcus Sherels, Adam Thielen added a beautiful return, improving his chances to make the roster. Thielen showed good vision and patience on a 75-yard return, bouncing off a tackle and waiting for his blockers before he cut around the right side, getting tackled just short of the goal line.

Injury Report: 

Jamarca Sanford left with a quadriceps injury and Mistral Raymond exited with an unknown injury. Phil Loadholt left with a lower leg injury, but later returned. He will be taking x-rays tomorrow on the injury, but it doesn't appear to be serious.

Jabari Price (undisclosed injury), Brandon Watts (lower leg), Gerald Hodges (knee), Chase Ford (foot), and Linval Joseph (calf), all missed tonight’s game with their respective injuries.

What’s Next? 

The Vikings will continue closed practice sessions at Winter Park this week and will travel to Tennessee for a preseason matchup with the Titans on Thursday.

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