The Vikings might have beaten the Bills 17-10 in their preseason opener on Thursday in Buffalo, but that doesn’t mean the reviews from coach Mike Zimmer and his staff are going to be kind.
This is especially true when it comes to the first-team offense. That unit finished 28th in the NFL in total offense during a disappointing 2016 and saw key changes made in an attempt to improve things. This included the promotion of Pat Shurmur from interim offensive coordinator – he took over when Norv Turner quit in early November – to the full-time job.
This is Shurmur’s third time working closely with Sam Bradford and, with the quarterback entering the final season of his contract, it’s clear every attempt is being made by the Vikings to force them to provide the veteran with a lucrative, long-term extension.
There were no signs of progress Thursday.
Bradford and many of the first-teamers played three series, put up no points and provided far too many reminders of what went wrong a year ago.
Bradford completed five of seven passes for 35 yards with his longest completion going for only 9 yards. We know Bradford can complete passes – his 71.6 completion percentage last year established an NFL single-season mark – but the goal is for Bradford to hit on more deep passes. The goal also is for Bradford to not face consistent pressure but the Bills sacked him twice.
The Vikings’ opening series got off to a good start with running back Dalvin Cook gaining 6 and 3 yards on back-to-back carries before the rookie caught an 8–yard swing pass on third-and-1 to put the ball at the Minnesota 37-yard line.
That was followed by a Bradford incompletion on a pass intended for Stefon Diggs and a 3-yard run for Cook. But on third-and-7, Bills defensive end Eddie Yarbrough beat high-priced right tackle Mike Remmers to sack Bradford.
The Vikings’ following series went three-and-out, with Bradford being sacked on first down, and the first-team offense did little in its final effort of the evening.
The offensive line was playing without starting left tackle Riley Reiff, who was signed to a big free-agent contract this offseason, but has been dealing with a back injury. The Vikings also were without running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.
That gave Cook more opportunity to play and he remained in the game after most of the starters departed. Cook, playing on his 22nd birthday, rushed for 13 yards on five carries and caught four passes for 30 yards. His biggest miscue came when he missed a block on the second sack of Bradford.
Zimmer improved to 13-1 in the preseason as the Vikings coach, but he clearly wasn’t pleased by what he saw in the opening half.
“There really wasn’t much that I liked to be honest with you,” in the opening 30 minutes, Zimmer said a halftime of the Vikings’ telecast. “We didn’t play the run good on defense, we had guys running up the field trying to get to the quarterback in running situations, we didn’t protect the quarterback very well.”
That was a theme far too often in 2016 as well. Zimmer is unlikely to rest easy until the offensive line proves it is capable of keeping Bradford upright and healthy and allows him time to find receivers more than 9 yards down the field.