The Vikings defeated the Arizona Cardinals 30-28 on Saturday night, moving to 2-0 in the preseason for the 16th time in franchise history and for the first time since 2009. The quarterbacks looked good, the defense had some ups and downs, and the team as a whole responded to adversity, showed some grit and started to feel at home at TCF Bank Stadium.
What else can we take away from Saturday night’s game? Here are three lessons and three questions from the win over Arizona.
1. Rudy is ready
Ever since it was announced Norv Turner would be the Vikings offensive coordinator, Kyle Rudolph’s role in the Vikings offense seemed to be on the rise. Then early in training camp, Rudolph and the Vikings reached agreement on a contract extension. Rudolph has dropped weight and Turner has adjusted the way Rudolph runs routes. So far, it’s all working out. The fourth-year tight end has five catches for 111 yards and one touchdown in two preseason games, including a dazzling 51-yard touchdown reception in Saturday night’s win over the Cardinals. Yes, Rudy is back and better than ever. Rudy is ready for 2014.
2. Depth exists at skill positions
Teddy Bridgewater just led the Vikings to a come-from-behind victory, going six of seven for 77 yards and a touchdown on the final drive. He’s listed as the backup quarterback. Rodney Smith had four catches for 55 yards on Saturday night, including the game-winning touchdown. He’s listed as a third team receiver. Joe Banyard had six carries for 64 yards, two catches for nine yards and two kickoff returns for 59 yards. He’s listed as the fourth running back. Adam Thielen and Jarius Wright have both contributed this preseason, and neither of them is listed as a starter anywhere. The Vikings have depth at the skill positions, which will make for some tough cuts come the end of the month.
3. Sherels responded to Thielen’s challenge
Last week, Thielen was one of the main storylines coming out of the victory over Oakland. Aside from hauling in a 15-yard reception on a 3rd down, throwing a key block in the first series of the game, and making a tackle on special teams, Thielen also returned three punts for 52 yards, including a 26-yard and 23-yard returns. It was evident he was ready to challenge Sherels for that punt returner job. Sherels made it clear that he was answering the bell. Aside from playing much of the game on defense and leading the team in tackles, Sherels also registered an impressive, Houdini-like 32-yard punt return to remind everyone that he was the second-leading punt returner in the NFL last season.
1. Who will start at quarterback in Week 1?
Mike Zimmer seems like he has a good idea what he’s going to do at quarterback and he even seems to know when he’s going to let everyone else know about it. But he hasn’t declared his intentions fully. Matt Cassel has done everything asked of him and has done nothing to relinquish his hold on the starting job. But Bridgewater hasn’t done anything to show that he’s not capable of starting in the NFL as a rookie.
2. Should we be concerned with Blair Walsh’s misses?
A miss from 53 yards last week is followed by a missed 51-yarder and a missed extra point this week. What is happening with the misses? Granted, two of them were from 50 yards. Also, it should be noted that Walsh was hitting from 65 yards in pregame warmups on Saturday and he’s been nothing short of perfect in training camp, particularly in the evening practices, where he’s gone 22 for 22 on field goal tries. There’s likely nothing to worry about, but that won’t stop anyone from paying close attention to Walsh over the next two preseason games.
3. Is Zimmer closer to knowing who will start at safety with Harrison Smith?
Injuries have ravaged the Vikings strong safety spot. Robert Blanton appeared to be the starter, but a hamstring injury has sidelined him. Andrew Sendejo came on strongly late last year, but an injury has sidelined him for much of Zimmer’s time as head coach. Last year’s starter, Jamarca Sanford, also missed a bunch of time during the offseason program. Mistral Raymond was forced out of last week’s win with an injury. Chris Crocker was signed a couple weeks ago and saw his first game action on Saturday night. Kurt Coleman has been healthy and played well last week, but how did he play against the Cardinals? This is truly a position battle that has yet to be answered as the Vikings head to their final two preseason games.