It’s late on a Friday night and if you’re anything like me writing this, you’ve had multiple Grain Belts to celebrate the Vikings first appearance of the season. Note that I didn’t say game, because Friday’s preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints was more like a glorified scrimmage that NFL owners charge full price for. And I didn’t say victory because even though they won the game 34-25, was it really a game? Anyway, now is not the time to get philosophical.
What this time is for is to analyze how the Vikings looked and what that may mean as we inch closer to the games that count beginning with the Sept. 8 opener against the Atlanta Falcons. While our judgement may be clouded in the thick, preseason smoke (and some Friday night Grain Belts), there are still some things that we can be excited about moving forward.
Kirk Cousins and the Viking offense looked terrific
Kirk Cousins spent most of the season playing dodgeball from critics who believe he should break every record in the book because of his $84 million salary. He also dodged Twitter users who believed that he should break Aaron Rodgers’ soul by chugging a beer that didn’t look like someone on a bad first date. Either way, Cousins was ready to roll when the bell sounded in this one.
Cousins looked like an entirely different quarterback and was confident in the face of pressure. His first pass attempt (which was called back because of a Rashod Hill holding penalty) was a step up into a closing pocket before firing a laser to Kyle Rudolph. As the drive progressed, he would find Adam Thielen on a 35-yard bomb that would set up a roll out to Alexander Mattison for the Vikings first unofficial touchdown of the season.
Notice the key words here. Roll out, stepping up into the pocket, quick releases. John DeFillippo’s head must be spinning reading this and I don’t think I can blame him. Cousins looked like the quarterback we thought we would get when we signed him to that massive deal and if offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and offensive consultant Gary Kubiak can continue to make things easy for him, he could be in for a big year.
The Vikings running game came to life
The Vikings decided to keep Dalvin Cook out of this one, which is a good move for someone that has missed roughly half of his games since entering the league. Despite not having their starter in, the Vikings ground game, which will be the catalyst for this offense, set the tone on what would be a successful night.
Along with Mattison’s receiving touchdown, the Boise State product would show some flashes despite mostly running into the back of the offensive line with nine carries for 30 yards. Ameer Abdullah, Mike Henderson and Mike Boone would follow suit as the Vikings racked up 195 yards on the ground in this game.
This has to be music to Mike Zimmer’s ears after he begged DeFilippo to commit to the running game last year. Once the electric Cook takes his place in the backfield, this could be a situation where several backs could be ready to explode when the regular season hits.
The battle in the middle
One of the biggest competitions throughout training camp is to see who will take a roster spot at defensive tackle. With the first two spots locked in by Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen, Friday was a great opportunity that was seized by Jalyn Holmes and Hercules Mata’afa.
Mata’afa has been an intriguing name in Viking circles this offseason and in his first game in a Vikings uniform after tearing his ACL in June 2018, he looked explosive and decisive while using his power to pick up a second quarter sack of Teddy Bridgewater. There’s still a long way to go here, but the Washington State product made the Vikings look smart for keeping him around during his redshirt year.
The other defensive tackle that flashed was Holmes. A third-round pick in 2018, Holmes didn’t see the field much, but looked solid in his preseason opener. After having a sack taken away, he would eventually make up for it and finished with four tackles on the night.
In a vacuum, it was a good night for the Vikings defensive line even if the defense had its struggles stopping the Saints. If either Holmes or Mata’afa can step up during the preseason, it will make life a lot easier for the Vikings.
Other quick thoughts
- Dan Bailey went 4-for-4 on his extra points. I’d say this is a cause for celebration, but we know that feeling of eternal hell awaits us once the season starts.
- Laquon Treadwell picked up an illegal block in the back penalty in the second quarter, which makes me wonder if the Vikings will have the guts to swallow hard and take the cap hit to either trade him or cut him to let some other team deal with him.
- Gosh, I love Teddy Bridgewater. When this whole Saints thing is over we should get an apartment together or something. Please come back. Teddy looked fantastic for the Saints including a two-minute drive before the half that found Dan Arnold in the back of the end zone. Remember, this guy nearly had his leg amputated about three years ago, so the fact he’s playing any kind of football and looking good doing it is straight up crazy.
- Preseason god Kyle Sloter needed just one series to make his case to be on the Vikings roster. Meanwhile, Sean Mannion under threw a pass to a wide-open Bisi Johnson, but his adjustment in mid-air helped come down with the ball and blow the game open.
- Sean Payton actually challenged a defensive pass interference call…in a preseason game…and lost.