Each fan is different in regards to their outlook on the pre-season. From a personal point of view I enjoy it to watch some of the later round draft picks and undrafted free agents, as they compete to make the roster and to see if we can uncover a diamond or two to improve the team. Outside of this as long as the first team get to play a few drives and they come out of the game without injuries it is job done. Having said that it was hard to ignore the Vikings starting players’ poor performance in the pre-season games – out of the 4 games played they finished the pre-season with a 2-2 record but with more questions than answers posed by the starters, on both sides of the ball too…
With this in mind there were a lot of mixed views and predictions ahead of week one against the New Orleans Saints, a lot of the media and fans in general were predicting a win at home for the Vikings maybe due to home field advantage in what on paper looked like a close match up, but some Vikings fans across various media platforms were not as confident.
The actual performance however was very encouraging, and should give the Vikings hope for the rest of the season, a superb 29-19 win which was as much about a very good offensive display from all units as it was the defense holding a Drew Brees led team to 19 points.
A new look offensive line was always going to pose questions especially with 4 new starters in Mike Remmers, Nick Easton (at guard,) Pat Elflein, and Riley Reiff. The questions though were answered as they protected Sam Bradford very well all game only allowing 1 sack, something which Bradford acknowledged in his post-game press conference stating that “they kept me clean all night.”
This allowed Bradford to have a very impressive night himself, possibly the best game of his NFL career, his stat line read 27 of 32 for 346 yards and 3 touchdowns, but even this doesn’t tell the whole story as Bradford made some excellent throws including a superb 21 yard throw through a very small window to Jarius Wright.
Bradford’s performance was also greatly helped by his receivers as Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen got open all game, Diggs made some great catches finishing with 93 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns, while Thielen had 9 receptions for 157 yards.
One of the big story lines of this game was the return of Adrian Peterson, much was made of his return and the day ended in disappointment for him as he was only given 6 carries in which he gained 18 yards, this was underlined by an exchange of words between him and Saints head coach Sean Payton. I believe this could be a sign of things to come for Peterson in New Orleans as he cannot really be used in the passing game and it looks as though they are going to be using a rotation of himself, Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. Peterson even in his prime, was at his best being fed the ball over and over again – often only gaining short yardage, sometimes even negative yardage before eventually finding holes and breaking off big runs, it will be interesting to see how it plays out if he continues only getting a small amount of carries in a rotation like this, my guess is not very well.
Dalvin Cook on the other hand looks a perfect fit for the Vikings offense, he broke Peterson’s debut rushing record (127 yards,) showed he could be part of the passing game and even picked up a block for Bradford. This versatility will be vital to the Vikings chances and the performance limited Murray and McKinnon to just 5 carries between them.
Drew Brees’ stats were not terrible, even if they were not quite what we have come to expect, 27 of 37 for 291 yards and a touchdown but although the Saints moved the ball down the field they were not good in the red zone, in fact they only scored 1 touchdown which was at the end of the game when the Vikings were already 29-12 up in the game. This was not helped by the fact that Zach Strief the Saints starting right tackle had to leave the game and rookie Ryan Ramczyk was starting at left tackle, allowing defensive ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter to put big pressure on Brees.
Out of all that came out of this game from a Vikings point of view there were only a few things I can find as possible negatives. One thing to say is that it would be good to see them get 2nd year receiver Laquon Treadwell involved more – he had problems adapting to the NFL in his rookie year but on Monday night he found himself open on numerous occasions,only to be targeted just once, which he hauled in for a 7 yard gain. The most concerning point however may have been Trae Waynes at cornerback, Waynes was targeted 10 times and allowed 9 receptions for over 90 yards. With the Vikings travelling to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers on Sunday, they will need to try and find a way of fixing this otherwise Ben Roethliberger will exploit it.
In all, this was a very good showing from the Vikings, offering encouragement after a discouraging pre-season, there will be tougher tests to come as the Saints defense is hardly the stingiest in the league, but the signs are there that the Vikings could be well on their way to becoming a more balanced team with a much improved offense, I am excited to learn more as the weeks progress starting with Week 2 vs the Steelers.