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10 Things We Learned This Preseason

Posted Aug 30, 2014

Preseason games don’t count in the standings, but they sure do matter to football teams. They matter because it’s the final opportunity for teams to prepare for the upcoming regular season. From personnel to scheme to coaching style, teams forge their identities in those four exhibition games.

What did we learn about the Vikings this preseason?

1. Quarterbacks are ready for a big year
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, so it is probably no coincidence that the Vikings went 4-0 this preseason given the fact that the Vikings team quarterback rating of 104.0 was tops in the NFL. Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder combined to go 71 of 110 (64.5%) for 736 yards with seven touchdowns and just one interception – Cassel, named the starting quarterback by head coach Mike Zimmer, was 26 of 39 for 367 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 103.3. Vikings quarterbacks led the offense to 19 scores in 39 preseason drives, including 11 scores in the final 19 drives.

2. The Vikings are on the right track with turnovers
Taking care of the ball on offense and taking away the ball on defense. That’s the name of the game in the NFL, and that’s what the Vikings did in the preseason. The Vikings tied for the fewest turnovers this preseason (1) and they were +5 in turnover margin, second-best in NFL.

3. Mike Zimmer’s defense is diverse
The Vikings had the No. 2 scoring defense in the NFL this preseason, allowing just 12.2 points per game. Also, the Vikings were the second hardest defense to pass against, allowing just a 66.4 passer rating, and they collected 11 sacks in the four exhibition games. More than just the production, it was how Zimmer got his defense to produce. Constant rotation along the defensive line, Anthony Barr playing linebacker and defense end, Harrison Smith blitzing, Brian Robison standing up and dropping into coverage…all sorts of tactics and strategies. Zimmer’s defense is diverse.

4. The rebuilt defensive line is talented and deep
Disruption and pressure came in droves from the defensive line this preseason, with Tom Johnson (2.5) and Corey Wootton (3.0) combining for 5.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Neither Johnson nor Wootton is a returning Viking and neither will be a starter in Week 1, illustrating the point that the rebuilding effort was successful in terms of adding production and depth. The starting four of Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Brian Robison will be well-fortified on the depth chart.

5. Shamar Stephen may be a great draft steal
A huge reason the defensive line can claim depth as perhaps its top trait is the performance of tackle Shamar Stephen. He was as a seventh-round choice last May, but he’s already vaulted up the depth chart and will be Joseph’s backup in Week 1.

6. Anthony Barr is poised to become a star
As mentioned above, Barr has already demonstrated he can play multiple positions. He will be a starting outside linebacker in the base defense and can also slide down to play defensive end in sub packages. Barr’s ability to rush can’t be disputed, but against Kansas City in the third preseason game he made several plays away from the ball and after getting off blocks.

7. Kyle Rudolph is back and better than ever
Coming off an injury and fresh off of signing a new contract, Kyle Rudolph looks better than ever in Norv Turner’s offense. He dropped weight and is being asked to run different kinds of routes with Turner running the show on offense. He had seven receptions for 149 yards and one touchdown this preseason.

8. Adam Thielen proved that every roster spot matters
One of the biggest preseason standouts was Adam Thielen, a Minnesota native and product of Minnesota State, Mankato. He did not make it through final cuts last year, but was retained on the practice. He stuck around, improved during the offseason program, and now is on the 53-man roster, proving that every spot on a NFL roster – active list or practice squad – matters.

9. Blair Walsh is ready for a huge season
Yes, Blair Walsh had two missed field goals this season (both from 50+) and he also missed an extra point in Week 2. That caused some consternation, but it was short lived. Walsh made his last nine field goals of the preseason and finished the four exhibition games going 11 of 13. He was also blasting touchbacks like they were going out of style. Walsh is poised for a huge season.

10. Return game got even better
Last season, the Vikings return game almost couldn’t have been any better. Cordarrelle Patterson ranked No. 1 in kickoff returns and Marcus Sherels ranked No. 2 in punt returns. Patterson had two touchdowns and Sherels had one of his own. But the return game may actually have gotten better during training camp. It got deeper, at least. Thielen had returns of 75, 26 and 23 yards, and rookie Jerick McKinnon looked good on his kickoff return reps. With Patterson set to see an increased role on the offense and Sherels a candidate for the same on defense, Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer can rest easy knowing he has good backups at both spots.