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5 Key Takeaways From Friday's Preseason Loss To The Bills

Posted Aug 17, 2013

Vikings

The Vikings broke training camp on Thursday and headed to Buffalo for their second preseason game. By the time the team returned to Minnesota early Saturday morning, we learned a little bit more about what’s working well and what needs improvement with the regular season roughly three weeks from beginning.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from Friday night’s loss in Buffalo…

Offense Must Improve vs. Quarterback Pressure
From his first snap of the game to his last, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder faced pressure from rushing and blitzing Bills defenders. The Vikings first offensive snap of the game was a sack for a seven-yard loss and Ponder’s final snap of the night was an incompletion on which Bills linebacker Manny Lawson pressured the Vikings young passer. In total, Ponder was sacked twice and Vikings quarterbacks as a group were sacked four times while the Bills generated pressure frequently using some exotic blitzes and some basic four-man rushes. Now, the Vikings likely didn’t prepare for some of those pressures because it’s just a preseason games and teams are typically less-inclined to get tricky with schemes, but the point remains the Vikings must clean up a few pass protection issues. That responsibility falls at the feet of more than just the offensive line, too. Ponder must be sharp in working with the offensive line on protection and running backs and tight ends are part of the mix, too. It’s something the Vikings have the ability to clean up, and they must do so in a hurry because San Francisco will not take it easy next Sunday night.

Impressive Night for Jeff Locke
Last season the Vikings drafted a kicker and watched the rookie have an impressive season. Is the team due for a similar performance from their rookie punter this year? Through the offseason program, training camp and now two preseason games, the answer looks to be a resounding “yes.” Locke had another impressive showing on Friday night, hoisting up seven punts for a gross average of 48.9 and a net average of 39.7. More importantly, though, Locke landed three of his punts inside the 11 and two of them inside the 5. Also, five of the seven punts were returned for 10 yards or fewer.

Too Many Center-Quarterback Exchange Issues
It’s the preseason, so this is where mistakes can be made. But it’s never fun to watch center-quarterback exchange issues. The first item on every Vikings practice schedule is center-quarterback exchange. It’s such a simple process that we take it for granted far too often. The Vikings had two bad exchanges on Friday night, with John Sullivan and Ponder miscommunicating on one that cost the offense 14 yards on 1st and 10 and then Joe Berger and Matt Cassel also finding trouble that resulted in a touchdown for the Bills defense. This is an easy problem to fix and it will be fixed by the Vikings as soon as Monday, but just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. It’s important, and there’s no reason to see any more of them in the preseason.

Vikings

First Team Secondary Looks Improved
The Vikings have added significant young talent to the secondary the last couple years, and it’s starting to show in how the entire group is performing. Harrison Smith provided a jolt last season and Xavier Rhodes did the same thing on a smaller scale Friday night. He was the culprit to the Vikings interception early in the game when he stepped in front of a Kevin Kolb pass intended for Marquise Goodwin, deflected it high in the air, and then watched teammate Jamarca Sanford sprint in from the back end and scoop the ball for an interception before it could reach the ground. Later in the half Josh Robinson jumped a route and nearly collected his own interception and Smith himself made several nice plays against the run and in the passing game.

Bobby Felder Breaks Out
An unlikely candidate has emerged in the battle for punt return duties, and his name is Bobby Felder. The one-year veteran out of Nicholls State is a bubble guy in the defensive back group, but he’s actually had a nice camp in Mankato and always seems to be around the ball. And now he’s displayed some return ability, with three punt returns on Friday night for 62 yards, including a 37-yard return late in the game that gave the Vikings an opportunity to put together a game-winning drive. That didn’t happen, but Felder’s effort should be noted. It should also be noted that Felder had another long return of 21 yards earlier in the game, he down both of Locke’s punts inside the 5 and he finished the game tied for second on the team with six tackles. It was a nice night for Felder.