The Vikings trail the Cardinals 14-13 at halftime at TCF Bank Stadium in the second preseason game. The first team offense played the entire first half, gaining 199 total yards on 30 plays.
The Good: Quarterback Matt Cassel had another impressive outing against the Cardinals first and second team defense. He went 12 of 16 for 153 yards and a touchdown. Cassel even had a few scrambles, leading the Vikings with 30 rushing yards on three carries. Against the second team defense, Cassel had a two-play, 62-yard drive that was capped on a 51-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Cassel also had a solid 13-play, 65-yard drive against the Cardinals first team defense that ended on a field goal in the first quarter.
The Bad: The Vikings defense got off to a rough start on the first drive, allowing a touchdown on a nine-play, 93-yard drive that lasted 3:26. Wide receiver Jaron Brown accounted for most of the yardage on a 51-yard reception due to cornerback Xavier Rhodes’ missed tackle. Linebacker Gerald Hodges also missed a tackle on running back Jonathan Dwyer one-yard touchdown run.
The first team defense remained the game for the first half, with a few changes at strong safety and middle linebacker, and allowed 162 yards. The defensive line did a better job in pass rush situations than its preseason opener against the Raiders last week. Linebacker Anthony Barr recorded a strip sack to close the first half.
The Ugly: The preseason is already difficult to watch once the starters exit. Tack on the emphasis the refs have on some of the rule changes this year, and it makes the game drag even more. There were a combined 10 penalties accepted for 56 yards.
There was plenty to like from the Vikings’ top units in their 10-6 preseason win over the Oakland Raiders eight days ago. The Vikings scored on their first two drives and the defense produced a pair of three-and-outs on the Raiders’ first two drives. Not too shabby.
There were some negatives, though, when it came to both the first-stringers and the backups who played more than three quarters of the game. And some important questions remain unanswered.
The hope is that the Vikings will provide a little more clarity tonight against the Arizona Cardinals, especially when it comes to the all-important quarterback position.
Here are three things I will be watching for at TCF Bank Stadium tonight:
1. HOW WILL CHRIS CROCKER DO IN HIS DEBUT? Head coach Mike Zimmer said the other day that he wants to get a good look at four safeties tonight: Chris Crocker, Kurt Coleman, Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo. The only one of those four who played against the Raiders was Coleman, and he picked off a pass and played pretty well. Sanford and Sendejo missed the game due to injuries but are expected to play tonight. And Crocker was new to the team, so he did not play. Since last Friday, though, Crocker has seen a lot of time with the first team next to Harrison Smith. I’m curious to see how the 34-year-old plays tonight. Will he make a claim for the position?
2. WILL THE OFFENSIVE LINE PROTECT BETTER? The starting offensive line fared well when it came to run blocking. They got good push at the goal-line on Matt Asiata’s 1-yard touchdown run and gave rookie Jerick McKinnon some room to run before exiting the game. The top group did, however, allow a pair of sacks to the Raiders. And the team as a whole allowed six sacks throughout the game. Afterwards, Zimmer said that two of his biggest critiques were the pass protection and the pass rush, and he feels the Cardinals will be a good test for his offensive line. That group must pass protect better this season to give whoever the Vikings’ quarterback is a fair chance.
3. CAN MATT CASSEL SEIZE THE STARTING SPOT? If the veteran quarterback doesn’t already have the starting gig locked up, it’s pretty darn close. Cassel led an efficient TD drive against the Raiders and followed it up with a mostly mistake-free week of practice. Meanwhile, his competitor, rookie Teddy Bridgewater, had an up-and-down performance in that preseason opener then threw five picks in a span of two practices in Mankato. There is nothing to worry about what it comes to Bridgewater. We’re seeing a young quarterback learn what he can and can’t do at the NFL level. But another sharp performance by Cassel and Teddy seems likely start the season on the bench.