Preseason primer: 5 things to focus on during Vikings vs. Cardinals
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings (1-0) kickoff against the Arizona Cardinals (1-0) at 7:30 p.m. CT from TCF Bank Stadium.
The Vikings' early offensive production was enough to hold onto a 10-6 victory over the Oakland Raiders in their preseason opener on Aug. 8, while the Cardinals pitched a shutout in a 32-0 win against the Houston Texans on Aug. 9.
1. How will the QB snaps be split?
Matt Cassel played a nearly perfect 10-play drive that turned into seven points one play after a 22-yard corner route completion to tight end Kyle Rudolph just missed the pylon before he stepped out of bounds. Cassel could play as much as the first half, according to head coach Mike Zimmer, as the Vikings continue to feel out their starting offensive unit against a Cardinals defense that forced two interceptions from projected Texans starter Ryan Fitzpatrick a week ago. Teddy Bridgewater looked tentative at times during his NFL debut, but his workload may be lessened on Saturday from the 53 percent of snaps he saw against the Raiders. The Vikings should have every offensive starter available except for Adrian Peterson.
2. Safety rotation
Wearing a third jersey for Mike Zimmer in the past seven seasons, Chris Crocker will make his debut for the Vikings on Saturday. After taking first-team reps all week, Crocker may start alongside Harrison Smith as Zimmer continues to feel out the second starting spot. Zimmer named Crocker, Andrew Sendejo, Jamarca Sanford and Kurt Coleman as four players that will get long looks on Saturday to further evaluate who will start Week 1. Coleman grabbed an interception to go along with three combined tackles in his 30 snaps against the Raiders, though he'll likely see that workload diminish with Sendejo, Crocker and Sanford being added to the mix -- all three of which sat out the preseason opener. Safety Robert Blanton (hamstring) and cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) will not play vs. the Cardinals.
Additional listening: Andrew Krammer and Derek Wetmore break down Vikings training camp on the last day of practice. What did we learn about the QB competition? Who does Mike Zimmer want to see more of at safety? What will Anthony Barr be doing more of?
3. Hodges, Thielen continue to impress?
Will linebacker Gerald Hodges and receiver Adam Thielen continue to impress? Hodges recorded his first blocked kick of his football career against the Raiders, also putting a couple impressive plays on film with both the defense and special teams units. Thielen returned three punts for an average of 17.3 yards against the Raiders to go along with a 15-yard catch on third down and a coverage tackle on Raiders return man Denarius Moore. Both Hodges and Thielen were fringe players heading into training camp, though they've both separated themselves from the pack heading into friendly No. 2.
4. Pass protection
The Vikings allowed seven sacks to the Raiders in the preseason opener after finishing tied with the 10th-most allowed (44) in the NFL last season. Only six sacks counted as a third-down sack on Bridgewater was negated by one of the Raiders' 13 penalties on the night. The starting five allowed two of the six, including Bridgewater's first sack where he held onto the ball long enough for rookie Raider Shelby Harris to poke the ball out. Rookie David Yankey struggled as the game played out, allowing two sacks, per ProFootballFocus.com. Only one sack was pegged to a running back by PFF, meaning most of the Vikings' problems originated from the offensive line.
5. Running the rock
Who will backup Adrian Peterson? Rookie Jerick McKinnon impressed early, gaining 25 yards on his first four NFL carries against the Raiders. As the Vikings continue to feel out his role, they're likely to keep leaning on Matt Asiata as the third-down back, which complements Peterson better as a pass-protection asset. Though what we saw out of McKinnon on Aug. 8 was a good sign of his versatility as a ball carrier; he even threw a heavy hit into a Raiders defensive back as Cordarrelle Patterson caught a pass on a drag route. Vikings coaches have also praised Asiata's elusiveness as a runner, which he flashed a bit during his two carries for 12 yards to go along with the one-yard touchdown run. An end-around by receiver Jarius Wright gained 17 yards against Oakland and it'll be revealing to see how often they mix receiver threats into the run game with Patterson in the mix, too.
Extra point: Keep an eye on rookie linebacker Anthony Barr as the Vikings began mixing him in at defensive end with various sub packages this week. One third-down, pass-rushing line includes Brian Robison, Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen and Barr from left to right end.