Updated: August 28th, 2016 7:05pm
Updated: August 28th, 2016 7:05pm
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
The Vikings opened brand-new U.S. Bank Stadium with a 23-10 win over the San Diego Chargers. Fans were excited to experience the new venue they waited over a decade to see completed. The crowd noise filled the stadium as the players were introduced and it appears the sound will be thunderous much like the Metrodome was for many years. According to Tom Pelissero of the USA Today, the crowd noise reached its peak at 114 decibels. That number is slightly less than the “Beastquake” at CenturyLink Field in 2013 (137.6 decibels). It seems the noise will exceed 114 decibels during the regular season in Minnesota. In fact, it felt like it had the potential to be louder.
The concession stands offered a wide variety of options and fans particularly enjoyed the “Revival” fried chicken. Wi-Fi internet connection appeared to connect fans on social media rather well, aside from a few sections who had inconsistent coverage. The product on the field was exciting and the starters played a half of football to open the new stadium. Teddy Bridgewater returned after missing the second preseason game and put on a show for the Minnesota faithful. The offense displayed some electricity, but had two drives fizzle out inside the red zone. Last year, this was a reoccurring theme and after the game, both Mike Zimmer and Teddy Bridgewater said the offense inside the 20-yard line must improve. The Vikings offensive line improved up front from a running blocking standpoint and the pass protection wasn’t horrible either. T.J. Clemmings had a rough day, but other than that, the offensive line gave Teddy Bridgewater time to do his job. Jerick McKinnon was on the loose, Kyle Rudolph added a touchdown grab, and Laquon Treadwell won a jump-ball battle on a two-point conversion.
I’ll discuss all of that and more inside my post-game notebook:
Bridgewater puts on a show
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked confident, poised, and ready to handle the offense during his final tune-up of the preseason slate. During one half of football, Bridgewater finished the day 12-for-16 with 161 yards and a touchdown. Two of his incompletions came off a play where he tripped over guard Brandon Fusco and another passing attempt was dropped by tight end Kyle Rudolph. Abort those two mistakes from Bridgewater’s stats and he finished the day with an 87.5% completion percentage. He also added a brilliant 22-yard run up the middle where he put a move on Chargers safety Adrian Phillips. Bridgewater made an athletic play outside the pocket and slid before the defender could make contact with him. He executed all the throws in the offense and orchestrated a beautiful 2-minute drive, completing passes of 19 and 22 yards, before finding tight end Kyle Rudolph for a 27-yard touchdown strike. Bridgewater isn’t afraid to make throws into tight windows and hopefully the trend will continue into the regular season. If he can command the offense like he did today, the Vikings have a chance to take a big step forward offensively.
McKinnon runs wild
Jerick McKinnon flashed his superior athleticism and incredibly low center of gravity on several runs. His most notable sprint came on a 35-yard run up the middle. A great lead block by fullback Zach Line and a huge hole opened by center Joe Berger allowed McKinnon to explode in space. McKinnon ran the ball 8 times for 56 yards, averaging 7 yards per carry. Coming into the game, the running game was averaging about 2.5 yards per carry. Today was a huge step forward in running blocking for the first-team offensive line. McKinnon had some running lanes and he took full advantage of them.
Offensive line shows strides in the running game
The first-team offensive line unit was without Matt Kalil, but still held up relatively well in the running game. His replacement, T.J. Clemmings didn’t, but the rest of the unit performed great. Joe Berger opened a huge hole for a long Jerick McKinnon run and Brandon Fusco laid a nice block as he was pulling outside for another carry. The offensive line helped the running game improve their yards per carry average by over 4 yards, which is excellent growth. I said in my game preview I wanted to see an improvement in the running game and today was a step in the right direction. Alex Boone opened some nice holes and even Andre Smith caught my eye twice in the running game. I want to watch more film, but I’m cautiously optimistic thus far.
In the pass protection aspect of the game, T.J. Clemmings was not good. On numerous occasions, Clemmings had some trouble handling the San Diego front seven. He gave up several sacks and couldn’t get leverage in the running game. He filled in for the injured Matt Kalil and didn’t put out any good tape. What’s more, the other swing tackle, Jeremiah Sirles hardly even touched Ben Gardner and the defensive lineman picked up an easy sack of quarterback Joel Stave. Aside from the tackle spot, the other offensive line positions didn’t stand out as being poor, but I’ll take a look at the film soon.
It is also worth noting John Sullivan didn’t play and Joe Berger worked with the first-team at center. Nick Easton finished the second half and Sullivan was given the day off. Mike Zimmer said they wanted to get a long look at Berger inside, since he was forced to play guard the first two preseason games. Berger put on a great showing and might make the decision difficult for the coaching staff.
Diggs running great routes, Treadwell wins jump ball battle
After the game, even Mike Zimmer was discussing the fantastic route running of wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Today was another great performance by the second-year receiver. He led the team with five catches for 71 yards, including a 22-yard gain on a crosser in the first half. Diggs sets up his man so well and then uses his precise footwork to gain an advantage on the defensive back. He is explosive after the catch and slammed on the brakes as he let a defender slide past him on a reception. Diggs is going to play a major role in the offense and after a solid training camp, he has taken another positive step towards being a dynamic playmaker in the offense.
Rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell showed the type of skill-set he can bring to the table inside the red zone. During a two-point conversion attempt, quarterback Shaun Hill put nice touch on a pass that lofted over the head of Chargers defensive back Trevor Williams. Treadwell high-pointed the throw over the outstretched hands of Williams and hauled in the contested catch. He will be used frequently in the red zone and isn’t afraid to utilize his physical frame as an advantage.
Rudolph is up-and-down, Pruitt goes down injured
Early in the game, tight end Kyle Rudolph dropped a pass up the seam from Teddy Bridgewater. The pass was slightly low, but he could have hauled in the throw. Additionally, after picking up a nice gain across the middle, Rudolph fought for an extra yard and fumbled. However, he made up for his mistakes by high-pointing a strike from Teddy Bridgewater and waltzing into the end zone for a 27-yard score. He made a difficult catch look easy across the middle. He needs to play more consistent, but if he can continue to develop his connection with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the sky is the limit.
Tight end MyCole Pruitt hauled in a pass in the flat and cut to the middle of the field. He was smacked between two defenders, fumbled the ball, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. Pruitt was injured on the play and went to the locker room early. He was listed as questionable to return with a leg injury. After the game, Mike Zimmer said he will have an MRI on his leg tomorrow.
Trattou continues to make plays, Toby Johnson gets a run stop
Defensive end Justin Trattou continues to make plays and forced a fumble as he stripped San Diego quarterback Kellen Clemens. The ball rolled onto the ground and was recovered by rookie defensive end Stephen Weatherly. It was Trattou’s second sack of the day and number 4.5 of the preseason. He is wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks and has taken his pass rushing skills to the next level. In addition to the fumble recovery, Stephen Weatherly got plenty of looks today and applied some nice inside pressure on the quarterback.
Defensive tackle Toby Johnson continues to impress. He put together a great training camp and shed a blocker for a fantastic run stop on 4th-and-short today. He is putting some good tape on display and the Vikings might consider keeping him around as roster cuts loom.
The first-team pass rush didn’t apply much pressure, but with Everson Griffen out and the Vikings running different schemes defensively, it is hard to evaluate their pass rush. Last week, they made pass rushing an emphasis against Seattle, and today, that just wasn’t the case as much.
Alexander picks up his second preseason pick, Waynes forces an interception
Cornerback Mackensie Alexander was all over the field making plays. He lined up on the outside and in the slot. The young cornerback had two passes defensed and dropped an easy interception in the end zone. However, on the next play, he lined up in the slot and made a leaping interception over the top of the wide receiver. He appears to be getting more comfortable pressing wide receivers and his footwork has been fantastic. He picked up a taunting penalty after his interception and Mike Zimmer wasn’t happy about it. Alexander needs to control his celebrations and he will be fine moving forward. However, after a weaker showing against Seattle, today was a fantastic bounce back game for the young rookie.
Cornerback Trae Waynes was in great position to intercept a Phillip Rivers pass, but he knocked the ball into the air, and it was intercepted by safety Harrison Smith. Waynes didn’t allow the receiver to make a play on the ball and gave Smith the opportunity to collect a takeaway. Later in the game, Waynes added a nice tackle in space and held his own in extended action.
Both Alexander and Waynes proved they can provide excellent depth if they are called upon during the regular season. It appears they both have the chance to develop into top-tier cornerbacks in the league.
Kearse gets an interception, Vikings get banged up at safety
Safety Jayron Kearse has a knack for picking up interceptions. He added his second of the preseason on an overthrown pass by San Diego quarterback Mike Bercovici. He hauled in the pass and made a long return up the sideline. He took a big shot between two defenders, got up slow, and returned on the next series. Kearse also forced an incompletion as the wide receiver felt his footsteps across the middle. He is in position to make plays and looked more confident with his overall alignments this week.
Safety Antone Exum Jr. injured his leg and will have an MRI. He had a brace on his left knee and will be examined more tomorrow. In addition, according to Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune, safety Michael Griffin left the locker room on crutches. In his post-game press conference, Mike Zimmer said his back “locked up.” Suddenly, with Anthony Harris injured, the Vikings only two healthy safeties alongside Harrison Smith are Jayron Kearse and Andrew Sendejo. Sendejo was forced to play most of the game after those injuries occurred.
Depending on the severity of those injuries, the Vikings might be forced to bring in another safety as they prepare for a short turnaround against the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night.
Walsh perfect on field goals
Blair Walsh connected on all three of his field goal tries from 23, 33, and 23 yards out. He didn’t appear to have any issues and made all of his extra points. Additionally, in pregame warmups, he was drilling kicks from 60 yards out. He looks comfortable kicking within the confines of an indoor stadium.
The Vikings have a short week and will close out the preseason schedule with a matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams. Kickoff is at 7:00 p.m. CT.