Zulgad: Finish is perfect for Vikings but plenty of question marks remain
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Vikings might be 2-0 in the preseason after Saturday night's 30-28 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, but new coach Mike Zimmer would be the first to tell you the record means nothing.
All that matters is that the Vikings spend the final two games of their dress rehearsal - Saturday at Kansas City and Aug. 28 at Tennessee - making sure they are ready for the regular-season opener on Sept. 7 in St. Louis.
Training camp is over and the Vikings will be back at Winter Park this week to continue preparing for Zimmer's first year as a head coach. So what could be gleaned from Saturday's win? Here are a few things:
Zimmer owes the officials and the Cardinals a thank you note.
Arizona scored what appeared to be the winning touchdown with 1 minute, 11 seconds to go in the fourth quarter on a goofy (and as close as you can get to illegal) play in which the ball was swatted forward and then picked up by running back Zach Bauman and taken 6 yards for a touchdown.
Without that touchdown, Teddy Bridgewater wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to lead the Vikings on the seven-play, 83-yard winning drive in which the rookie quarterback completed five of six passes for 75 yards. The drive ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rodney Smith with 18 seconds remaining before a crowd of TCF Bank Stadium crowd that had been chanting "Teddy, Teddy."
Not surprisingly, this caused some to go with the story line that the Vikings have a quarterback competition on their hands. That's nonsense. Bridgewater, and everyone else in the Vikings locker room, knows that Matt Cassel is going to be the starter.
Cassel didn't play the first half because Zimmer forgot to take him out; he played the first 30 minutes because he's the starter.
Nonetheless, this was an ideal situation for Bridgewater, who was far from sharp in his debut in the preseason opener against Oakland (six of 13 for 49 yards and a 56.2 passer rating). The Cardinals opened the second half with a drive that ate up 10:06, leaving Bridgewater with only one series of work in the third quarter.
But playing against the bottom of the Cardinals' roster, Bridgewater got three series in the fourth quarter and finished 16 of 20 for 177 yards with two touchdowns and a 136.9 passer rating.
That performance did nothing to change his status on the depth chart but it served as a confidence booster for a young man who needed it. There's nothing wrong with that.
Cause for concern?
Zimmer spent plenty of time in training camp working with Xavier Rhodes in anticipation of getting the second-year cornerback ready for a stretch that will see the Vikings face Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers in Weeks 2-5.
It's safe to say that Rhodes remains a work in progress. That isn't a surprise but it could be a concern given that opposing quarterbacks are going to go after Rhodes now that Captain Munnerlyn is playing the other corner
Rhodes' biggest miscue Saturday occurred early in the first quarter when he went for a high tackle on Jaron Brown and ended up only slowing the wide receiver for a moment. Brown turned his short reception into a 51-yard gain that went to the Vikings 22-yard line. The drive ended with a Cardinals touchdown.
Rhodes broke up a Carson Palmer later in the quarter in which things got physical with Brown, but the receiver beat Rhodes again in the second quarter for a 35-yard gain to the Cardinals 3. That was a play Rhodes has to make.
Rhodes is young, we all get that. But he's a first-round pick and if he struggles the Vikings' season could become a lost cause before October hits.
A secondary point
Let's assume for a second that Rhodes turns into the corner the Vikings are expecting and Munnerlyn provides veteran stability starting on the outside and playing inside in the nickel.
That still leaves the Vikings needing to find a third corner to play regularly on the outside. With Josh Robinson unable to stay healthy and Shaun Prater suffering a mild concussion Saturday, Marcus Sherels got reps with the first team in the nickel.
Jabari Price, the final of the Vikings' three seventh-round picks in May, received first-team nickel reps in the preseason opener.
Sherels has overcome the odds in the past to make the Vikings roster. Part of the reason has been that he's a reliable punt returner and those are hard to find. But is he really your third best corner? For that matter, is a rookie taken in the final round of the draft your best option at your No. 3 corner? The answer(s) might be yes.
What's surprising about this is that veteran Derek Cox, who was signed as a free agent this offseason, has plummeted this far down the depth chart. Cox was thought to have a chance to be a regular in the secondary this season. Now, one has to wonder if he's going to make the 53-man roster.
What's up with Walsh?
Blair Walsh set an NFL record by starting his career 12-of-12 on field-goal attempts from 50-plus yards. As a rookie, he didn't miss on 10 attempts from 50-plus yards and last year he was 2-for-5.
Walsh has two attempts of 50-plus yards in the preseason and missed both. Against Oakland, Walsh hit from 30 yards but missed wide right from 53. Against Arizona, Walsh connected from 21 yards twice and 34 once but hit the left upright from 51.
Walsh also missed wide left on an extra-point attempt Saturday. (Under a rule the NFL is experimenting with, extra points for the first two weeks of the preseason have been from 33 yards.)
Walsh's misses might not be a big deal, but the Vikings did plenty of work on his mechanics after taking him in the sixth round out of Georgia in 2012. Could there be an issue with some of those mechanics?
Although the wind did not appear to impact Walsh's field-goal miss Saturday, the fact he has missed three times in the first two games also serves as a reminder that he is going to have to deal with wind and field conditions at home for the first time since he arrived in Minnesota.
There's nothing positive about this if you're Walsh.
It was interesting that Christian Ponder never left the sideline on Saturday.
Cassel clearly wanted to get more snaps after playing only one series in the preseason opener and he was given that opportunity when he played the entire first half. Bridgewater was then given the final two quarters.
Ponder likely will play much of the Vikings' fourth exhibition, when it's expected that most starters won't suit up, but it's pretty clear that Zimmer is at least toying with the idea of trying to go with two quarterbacks and create a roster spot for a guy who might have a future in Minnesota.
General manager Rick Spielman, who drafted Ponder, also would have to be on board with this plan.
It's pretty clear that Ponder's time in Purple is coming to an end and, while he is signed for this season, no one should be surprised that if his name turns up in the cut down to the final 53. The Vikings also could attempt to showcase Ponder in the fourth preseason game at Tennessee and hope someone will give them a seventh-round pick for him.