Preseason primer: 5 things to focus on during Vikings vs. Chiefs
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The Minnesota Vikings (2-0) kickoff against the Kansas City Chiefs (1-1) at 7 p.m. CT from Arrowhead Stadium.
Teddy Bridgewater's last-minute touchdown pass to Rodney Smith gave the Vikings a 30-28 win over the Arizona Cardinals last week; the Chiefs lost 28-16 at the Carolina Panthers on Aug. 17.
1. Is it happening (on offense)? - After two exhibition games under offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Matt Cassel is the second-highest rated quarterback by ProFootballFocus.com. His 77.3 completion percentage (17-for-22) trails just two quarterbacks with at least 20 attempts this preseason, while the Vikings' starting offense has found success without its primary weapon in running back Adrian Peterson. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (5 rec., 111 yds, TD) already proclaimed Turner a genius after the Vikings' starting unit played the entire first half against the Cardinals. The pieces have been there; even without stable quarterback play, the Vikings finished 14th in scoring offense last season. We haven't seen what Turner's offense will become by the Sept. 7 season opener, but there will be much to glean from the 'tune-up' game vs. the Chiefs. It's a small sample size, but -- is this what we can expect from the Vikings' starting offense in 2014 (four scores in six drives for 20 points without Peterson) or is it just misleading exhibition play?
2. Eyes on Rhodes - Second-year starting cornerback Xavier Rhodes' missed tackle helped lead to the Cardinals' longest play from last week when Jaron Brown took a screen pass 51 yards. Brown bested Rhodes later with a leaping grab over him, despite Rhodes' perfect position to make the play. Outside of those two plays, Rhodes' night wasn't as bad as the highlights suggested. He laid a booming hit on tight end Darren Fells, finished with two tackles and a pass deflection. Bumps in the road will come, but he'll also be expected to quickly rise above those shortcomings after an impressive rookie season.
3. Carousel in the secondary - Another game and another week when Harrison Smith doesn't know who he'll be playing next to this season. Robert Blanton is expected to see his first action of the preseason after sitting out training camp with a hamstring injury. I wouldn't be surprised to see Smith, who played nearly half the snaps vs. Arizona, lose some snaps early as the Vikings try to sort five candidates in Blanton, Jamarca Sanford, Andrew Sendejo, Chris Crocker and Kurt Coleman for the second safety spot. No one has commanded the third cornerback job, yet, either. Josh Robinson (hamstring) was an early front runner, but hasn't been able to stay healthy. Marcus Sherels started with the defense last week as his 61 defensive snaps were the most among Vikings defenders against Arizona. Derek Cox, Shaun Prater and Jabari Price are also in the mix for an outside cornerback spot when Captain Munnerlyn shifts into the slot in nickel packages. Both Prater (head) and Price (unknown) missed practice this week and it's unclear if they'll play tonight.
4. Brinkley or Cole? -A rookie in Anthony Barr on one side, a veteran with a restructured contract in Chad Greenway on the other and a question mark in the middle. Zimmer still isn't sure who will start at middle linebacker for the Vikings as Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole swapped series last week. Brinkley has assumed most of the first-team reps in practice since he was re-signed this spring, but hasn't done enough to be named the starter. Greenway should continue to be mic'd up to relay plays to his teammates, which removes a minor duty at middle linebacker with two weeks until the season opener.
5. Walsh seeking consistency - Blair Walsh kicked a 70-yard field goal in warmups at TCF Bank Stadium, but he's just 4-for-6 on field goals and 2-for-3 on extra points in the Vikings' temporary home. Walsh's field goal conversion rate dropped from 92 percent his rookie season to 87 in 2013 and time will tell if 13 of 16 outdoor games this season becomes a factor on his effectiveness. His longest field goal this preseason is 34 yards, with misses from 51 and 53 yards.
Extra point: Zimmer is still feeling out a pass-rushing combination for third-down situations. Last week, one mix included Barr and Everson Griffen on the ends, Brian Robison playing three-technique and Tom Johnson at nose. When healthy, Linval Joseph">Linval Joseph (calf) could take Johnson's spot should the Vikings use that look in the regular season. Sharrif Floyd is also in the mix. However, the Vikings will continue to feel that out during tonight's preseason game against the Chiefs.