Quarterback Matt Cassel maintained his steady play against the Cardinals on Saturday in a competition against rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Strong safety Chris Crocker started at strong safety in a four-way battle with Andrew Sendejo, Jamarca Sanford and Kurt Coleman.
But there’s also an ongoing competition at middle linebacker involving Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole. Both linebackers played well into the second half with Brinkley receiving the start with the first team. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he wanted to rotate Brinkley and Cole every two series, but it was a challenge due to the personnel grouping the Cardinals used on offense for most of the game.
Zimmer said both Brinkley and Cole didn’t get too many reps, likely due to the Vikings countering with the Cardinals’ three receiver sets with their nickel package. Cole had 31 snaps while Brinkley finished with 17. He’ll have the same plan again next week against the Chiefs.
Brinkley finished second on the team with five tackles. Cole finished with two tackles.
“I see mistakes more than I see when everything is perfect,” Zimmer said. “There was a couple of those by both of them but for the most part they were all right.”
Brinkley brings the run stopping ability Zimmer seeks on defense but during a drive in the third quarter was subbed out for Cole on third downs in pass situations. Cole doesn’t have the experience like Brinkley, starting in five games in his previous two seasons, but looks more comfortable at middle linebacker than when used as an outside linebacker. It’s something to keep an eye on over the next week.
Who says preseason games are boring?
Let’s not get too carried away with last night’s 30-28 preseason victory over the Cardinals. Then again, let’s also not simply dismiss the record-setting play we saw from the quarterback position simply because it’s preseason, a time when opponents don’t game plan or show their most creative defensive schemes, or keep their best players on the field.
Yeah, the following are preseason passing records, but they’re worth noting and admiring since the Vikings have now played 242 preseason games since opening for business with a 38-13 loss to the Cowboys in Sioux Falls on Aug. 5, 1961:
. Teddy Bridgewater set a team preseason record for highest completion percentage (80.0) in a game with at least 20 passes. He went 16 of 20. The previous mark was 74.1 by Daunte Culpepper against the 49ers in 2004, the year Culpepper would have won league MVP if not for one of Peyton Manning’s finest seasons.
. Bridgewater and Matt Cassel also set a team preseason record by becoming the first pair of QBs to surpass a passer rating of 125.0 with at least 15 attempts apiece. Cassel started and had a rating of 125.3 on 16 attempts. Bridgewater finished and had a rating of 136.9. Christian Ponder didn’t play.
There also was this near record for Bridgewater:
. His 136.9 passer rating came within two-tenths of a percentage point of surpassing a team mark that has stood for 43 years. Bob Lee had a 137.0 rating against the Bears on Aug. 21, 1971.
After the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer didn’t announce his starting quarterback for the regular season opener in St. Louis. It will be Cassel, but why come out and name him at this point? Why not enjoy a competition that’s pushed the veteran Cassel to grab onto the job like an Adrian Peterson handshake? Why not enjoy the rookie Bridgewater bouncing back from a poor preseason opener and some rocky training camp practices to lead the Vikings from behind twice with pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes?
“The way they’re both playing right now,” said receiver Jarius Wright, “it’s easy to take your pick.”
The fact that Bridgewater played as well as he did and didn’t gain any ground on Cassel is a tribute to how well Cassel has learned Norv Turner’s offense and how comfortable he is with the talent around him.
And, as tight end Kyle Rudolph noted with a smile, “We have a lot of weapons. And we haven’t even shown our best weapon [Adrian Peterson] yet.”
The fact Bridgewater bounced back from a disappointing preseason opener is a tribute to his work ethic, Turner’s experience with all sorts of QBs the past 30 years and Zimmer’s approach with the rookie.
Zimmer can be a gruff, salty-tongued old-school coach who jumps on players in practice. But he also has shown that he’s got other pitches he can go to in his coaching repertoire. In this case, it was Zimmer who seemed to calm Bridgewater down by telling him the simplest of Pop Warner 101 coaching: “Just go out and have fun” and if he makes a mistake, they’ll correct it and move on.
“I’m a young guy and a lot has been thrown at me,” Bridgewater said. “I tend to overthink things. Coach Turner and Coach Zimmer always tell me to just do what you do best and that’s play football and have fun, so today I was able to go out and play relentlessly and not overthink plays and trust everything they’ve been telling me.”
So, yeah, it’s preseason. But after suffering through the three-headed QB fiasco that helped ruin last season, the Vikings and their fans should be excited about what they saw last night and the potential that was there both now and long-term.
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.