Friday, August 12, 2016

Notebook: Vikings hang on for a 17-16 win over Cincinnati to open the preseason


The Vikings opened the preseason with a matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Minnesota played up-and-down for most of the night, but held on for a 17-16 win over the Bengals to kick off the season. 

Updated: August 12th, 2016 11:20pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings opened the preseason with a matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Minnesota played up-and-down for most of the night, but held on for a 17-16 win over the Bengals to kick off the season.

The Vikings opened the night with three consecutive pressures that forced the Vikings offense off the field. It took until the second drive of the night for the team to get things rolling. Teddy Bridgewater aired the ball out and found Charles Johnson for a 49-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead. Late in the second quarter, the Bengals went on a 5-play, 54-yard drive that was capped by a 3-yard touchdown reception by receiver Alex Erickson. Before halftime, Shaun Hill and Laquon Treadwell got the Vikings into field goal range and Blair Walsh hit from 51 yards out to give Minnesota a 10-7 halftime lead.

In the second half, quarterback Joel Stave led the team on a brilliant 10-play, 74-yard drive, which ended with a 10-yard touchdown by Duluth, MN native, C.J. Ham. Finally, Mike Nugent added a 23-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter and the Vikings allowed a 80-yard punt return touchdown by Alex Erickson. Jeff Locke out-kicked the coverage and the unit displayed poor tackling as Erickson took it to the house. The Bengals tried a two-point conversion, but failed. Joe Licata lofted a fade to James Wright, but Vikings cornerback Tre Roberson was in great position to force an incompletion. The Vikings led 17-16 with 2:45 left. Jeff Locke punted the ball back to the Bengals and on the next drive, quarterback Keith Wenning threw a desperation interception to Jayron Kearse on 4th-and-long. Minnesota took a knee and closed out the game with a 17-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

There were several key takeaways from this game and I have them all put together in this comprehensive post-game notebook:

Bridgewater airs it out deep, Hill and Stave perform well
Teddy Bridgewater flashed in his two drives at the helm of the Vikings offense. He fired a strike to Adam Thielen on a post across the middle. Thielen made a leaping catch on the throw which had some velocity coming out of Bridgewater's hand. Most notably, Bridgewater stepped into the pocket and fired a deep touchdown pass to Charles Johnson. Johnson beat the cornerback on a double move and Bridgewater perfectly placed the pass for a 49-yard touchdown strike. Bridgewater went 6-for-7 with 92 yards and a touchdown. He was efficient and made the throws in tight spaces and up the field. Bridgewater was pressured on his first drive, once holding the ball too long and taking a sack. A play later, right tackle Andre Smith was beaten badly by Carlos Dunlap, forcing Bridgewater to throw the ball away on third down. On the second drive, Bridgewater had more time in the pocket and took advantage by making some difficult throws and executing on the long touchdown.

Shaun Hill really looked comfortable in the pocket tonight. He completed six of his seven throws for 52 yards. He got the Vikings into field goal range before halftime by making two throws. He found MyCole Pruitt for a 13-yard gain. He followed it up by hitting rookie Laquon Treadwell on a slant for 18 yards. Hill's lone incompletion was a drop by a dragging Troy Stoudermire. He showed that when the lights come on, he juices up the oil can and brings his best performance.

Joel Stave led the Vikings on a very impressive 10-play, 74-yard touchdown drive, which took 5:46 off the clock. Stave found tight end David Morgan three times, including a 22-yard reception that set the Vikings up nicely in the red zone. One play later, C.J. Ham plunged into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown. Stave had a few mistakes and inconsistent high throws, but for the most part, put together a pretty solid performance. He did throw a pass behind Isaac Fruechte that went off of his hands and into the arms of Bengals safety Jimmy Wilson for an interception. Stave needs to put together some more impressive performances, but showed some nice potential tonight. He really improved from where he was at during training camp practices.

Ham gets in the end zone
C.J. Ham showed some nice patience and vision as he made several cuts behind the blocking of fullback Blake Renaud. Ham plunged into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Ham led the Vikings with 12 carries for 35 yards and a touchdown. He displayed an excellent blend of vision and power in the running game. Additionally, he added a 9-yard reception out of the backfield on an arrow route. Ham received more action than Jhurell Pressley and took full advantage of the opportunity.

Morgan making an impact
As I noted numerous times in training camp, the Vikings added a great talent when they selected David Morgan in the sixth round of the draft. Early in the game, running back Jerick McKinnon tried running to the left side, but all of his lanes were clogged. He cut back to the right and David Morgan beautifully sealed off the edge, allowing McKinnon to pick up eight yards. Morgan not only made an impact as a run blocker, but he contributed through the air too. He hauled in three passes for 38 yards, including a 22-yard reception to get the Vikings in the red zone. Morgan stood out tonight as one of the rookies that will make a frequent impact this season. 

Treadwell getting involved, Patterson doesn't see the field 
Laquon Treadwell ran two quick slants and got open on a post up the field. Treadwell had four catches for 41 yards in his NFL debut. The rookie used his physical frame to make a contested catch on a slant and nearly broke the tackle for a long touchdown run. He was targeted on a fade up the sideline, but the pass was slightly overthrown by Joel Stave. Treadwell had no trouble getting open and will help the Vikings convert across the middle on routes in traffic. He didn't make a huge splash in his debut. However, he showed that with more experience, he will continue to grow as a receiver.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was active, but didn't see any time on the field. It is unclear if he was being held out for precautionary reasons as he recovers from injury, or whether he just didn't see any action.

Offensive line allows some pressure, depth holds up well
The Vikings offensive line unit didn't handle their first drive of the season very well. They allowed three straight pressures on the first offensive series. On the first play, they allowed pressure as Teddy Bridgewater rolled out to his right. He bought time and stiff-armed Geno Atkins to get the pass off to MyCole Pruitt. On the next play, Bridgewater had Jerick McKinnon open down the field, but held the ball too long and took the sack. On the final play of the drive, right tackle Andre Smith was beaten with a speed rush by Carlos Dunlap.

During the second series, Bridgewater had more time and took advantage of the extra space in the pocket. He found Adam Thielen for a 22-yard strike across the middle and connected with Charles Johnson for a deep 49-yard touchdown. Tonight proved that if Bridgewater has time, he can make plays. However, the offensive line needs to perform consistently well if that is going to happen. Maybe when they develop more chemistry and nail down a rotation, that will help the offensive line become more cohesive.

Entering the game, I was a little worried about the backup offensive line depth for the Vikings. On the surface (without watching tape yet) it appeared the second and third units on the offensive line didn't fare too badly. Zac Kerin and Nick Easton pushed the Bengals interior defensive line 10 yards back on a Matt Asiata running play. Aside from the sack on Bridgewater early in the game, none of the quarterbacks were taken down. Jeremiah Sirles and T.J. Clemmings didn't seem to allow much edge pressure and the quarterbacks had time to make throws. The only noticeable poor performance I spotted was Willie Beavers getting pushed over on back-to-back plays. He was getting outmuscled and was put on his rear end once. I need to watch some tape over the weekend to fully evaluate the offensive line, but at the surface, I wasn't too disappointed with the reserve units.

Defense gives up some yardage
The Vikings defense didn't display its best effort tonight. Against the run, they allowed 3.2 yards per carry as a defensive unit. The first team unit alone allowed over 3.5 yards per rush tonight. That number needs to improve. The linebackers weren't playing very aggressive and the defensive lineman weren't holding their man to allow the linebackers lanes for penetration. Run defense was a major concern last year and tonight the entire team didn't do a great job in that category. They didn't play physical enough and let the Bengals set the tone at the line of scrimmage.

On the first defensive series, cornerback Xavier Rhodes was targeted three times and allowed 23 yards through the air. The Bengals were getting into a rhythm with short passing and a running game that was flowing well. The defense needs to bring more physicality and hold up better against the run moving forward. With Linval Joseph not playing much and Eric Kendricks and Sharrif Floyd out with injuries, the defense can't be evaluated. However, the reserves and other contributors need to do a better job of playing with the physical edge that this defense requires.

Justin Trattou had a sack and Zach Moore nearly notched one, but slowed Joe Licata enough to force a throwaway. Both Trattou and Moore continued to build upon their solid training camp performances. From an under-the-radar standpoint, defensive tackle Toby Johnson was getting some good pressure in the passing game and had a nice run stop in the backfield. He did allow one long run by not staying in his lane, but he showed some nice potential tonight.

Lamur is a tackling machine
Emmanuel Lamur led the team with 8 total tackles and made some nice tackles in the open field. He did have some trouble getting off of his blocks and I counted at least two times where he had trouble in coverage. He flashes his athleticism and tackling ability, but it was a little inconsistent tonight. Lamur needs to play more physical and if he can do that, I think it will correct some of the issues. Most notably, Lamur had an awesome run stop with Kentrell Brothers on 4th-and-short, which forced a Cincinnati turnover-on-downs early in the game. Brothers had an up-and-down evening and looked slow a couple times. I want to see more of him on film, but he certainly was just average at quick glance.

Waynes looks good, Alexander and Kearse add picks, Exum with a pass breakup
Cornerback Trae Waynes had two passes defensed early in the game, including a near diving interception on a deep ball up the sideline intended for Tyler Boyd. Additionally, Waynes shut the door across the middle on a quick slant intended for A.J. Green. Waynes didn't bring his best effort in the second half. He gave receivers some cushion and Mike Zimmer was particularly upset he was lining up 9 yards off the line of scrimmage on one play. Waynes showed more good than bad, but still has work to do.

Mackensie Alexander added a couple pass breakups and was in great position for most of the night. He added a nice interception that bounced off another defender and into his arms. He nicely blanketed Alex Erickson on a quick slant and forced an incompletion. Alexander will develop with more reps and it was encouraging to see him come out and perform well this early in the preseason.

On the surface, it appears Jayron Kearse was out of position in coverage a few times. Alex Erickson beat Kearse who was isolated on the receiver. Erickson caught the pass and waltzed into the end zone. On the bright side, Kearse had a sweet rush off a blitz on third down, forcing a Cincinnati punt. At the end of the game, Kearse hauled in a desperation interception that was heaved into the middle of the field. I want to see more film, but it seems like there was good and bad with Kearse's first performance in the NFL.

Antone Exum had a sweet pass breakup on a throw up the seam and blitzed at the end of the game to pick up a sack. Exum put his athleticism on display and used his closing speed to make those plays. Exum put some good tape out there and certainly didn't hurt himself. Michael Griffin blitzed off the edge and knocked away a pass. Otherwise, his performance was rather nondescript.

Punt coverage team gives up a long return touchdown
Tonight, the punt coverage team gave up a long touchdown. Jeff Locke out-kicked the coverage and Coach Zimmer was not happy. In his post game press conference, he said, "it was not a good punt." Locke boomed the ball 65 yards and the coverage couldn't recover from it. They had some opportunities to make the tackle, but wiffed really badly. Blake Renaud missed a tackle, Brian Leonhard over ran the play, and Kyle Carter didn't have the speed to chase down Alex Erickson as he took the punt 80 yards for a touchdown.

Blair Walsh made his one field goal attempt from 51 yards out and drilled all of his extra point tries.

Finally, Troy Stoudermire had a phenomenal 33-yard kick return to open the second half. He used his vision and speed to find lanes the blockers opened up.

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