The Vikings came out on the short end for the third time this preseason, dropping a 34-14 decision to the 49ers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on Sunday night. We all know wins and losses matter little in these exhibition games, but what happens within the games that leads to victory or defeat does matter.
Let’s put aside the final outcome and hone in on some of the details as we identify the five most significant takeaways from Sunday night’s game…
1. Offense slow-to-go at first, but eventually responds
Sunday night’s performance from the first team offense will do little to calm the anxiety of a Vikings fan base that is in search for signs of improvement from third-year quarterback
It was fun to watch Chad Greenway on Sunday night, and in fact he’s been a treat to watch all preseason with the energy level and explosiveness he has. Greenway had five tackles, one of which was for a loss, and he was around the ball constantly on Sunday night. The only criticism you can really throw at Greenway is that he’s had droughts of making the splash plays. But on Sunday night he put that criticism to rest, leaping high in the air to grab a Colt McCoy pass and come down with an interception. You would assume Greenway won’t play in the preseason finale on Thursday night, so Sunday night’s performance was a great conclusion to what has been a great training camp and preseason for the Vikings leading tackler in each of the last five seasons. In addition, it should be noted that
Position battles. Bubble players. Those are two terms we discuss a lot this time of year, as training camps are winding down and the preseason is set to make way for roster cutdown days and the dawn of another regular season. Two guys who are right in the thick of deep position battles are cornerback Bobby Felder and fullback Zach Line. Both guys have had good preseasons, and they got even better on Sunday night. Felder registered another impressive punt return, darting 30 yards after fielding Andy Lee’s first punt of the game. He now has five punt returns for 102 yards this preseason, including three returns of 20 yards and two of 30 yards. On top of that, Felder has made a few plays on defense, as well. Line collected his second touchdown of the preseason on Sunday night, hauling in a one-yard pass from Ponder in the second quarter. He had a 61-yard touchdown reception in the preseason opener, as well, and he’s also demonstrated lead blocking ability and some pass protection skills. He’ll be a hard guy to cut in the next week, and he might be a guy who doesn’t get cut at all and ends up on the final 53-man roster.
4. Offensive line still looking for rhythm
It’s prudent to be measured in our criticism of the offensive line because A) it’s an area of the team most of us know little about, especially relative to how much we discuss and observe the skill positions, and B) we have to keep in mind the offensive line is not blocking for Peterson and they didn’t have Felton lowering the boom behind them. But for a group that represented one of the strongest areas of last season’s team, it’s odd to see such up and down moments in the preseason. The good news is this is the best offensive line in the division and all five starters are returning, so it’s fair to expect massive improvement from this group once the regular season begins.
For several seasons I had fans write in to me or even tell me in person that Joe Webb should be switched to wide receiver and that the team needs to find a way to utilize Webb’s talents more regularly rather than having him hold a clipboard on the sidelines. I tried to keep the idea at arm’s length in an effort to support what the team’s plan was for Webb at the time. But now the team is fully engaged in transitioning Webb to wide receiver, and the most visible sign of progress may have come on Sunday night when the 6-4, 220-pound playmaker climbed the ladder and hauled in a three-yard touchdown pass from Ponder. He also had a de-cleating block when he was in on kickoff return, displaying an ability to do the dirty work in order to make the team.