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Before the Vikings preseason opener we presented a scouting report that included five goals for the team as they hosted the Houston Texans at Mall of America Field. With the first preseason game officially in the books, we’ll follow that up with five observations from the Vikings 27-13 loss to the defending AFC South champs.
Flashy rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had four catches for 54 yards plus a 50-yard kickoff return to open the game and undrafted rookie fullback Zach Line had a 61-yard touchdown catch, but it wasn’t enough to top to the Texans. They had a rookie with an impressive debut, too, as their first-round receiver – DeAndre Hopkins – hauled in a 34-yard touchdown to help his team author a 14-point victory on the road to open the exhibition schedule. The Vikings led 13-10 going into the locker room at halftime, but Houston scored 17 unanswered points to cruise to victory.
Here are five observations from Friday night’s game...
5. We Want To See More of Ponder
Christian Ponder has made strides this offseason and training camp, and he’s poised to take another step forward in his career development now that he has more experience under his belt and the weapons around him in the passing game are more lethal. Friday night was his first chance to showcase this improvement on the big stage, but it was too short-lived for the casual observer to glean much. He connected with Jerome Simpson in impressive fashion for 15 yards on his first passing attempt, but he went back to Simpson on the next play and the offering went off the receiver’s fingertips and into the arms of a waiting defender. Ponder’s stat line won’t blow anyone away, and the stat line of his backup will cause some to wonder if there should be a quarterback controversy, but we are nowhere near that at this point and now we’ll just have to wait another week to see Ponder in a game situation.
4. Cassel Looks More Than Capable
One of the five goals for this game was to get backup quarterback Matt Cassel feeling more comfortable. That goal seemed to be accomplished, as Cassel went 12 of 19 for 212 yards with one touchdown and one interception in his first action as a Viking. The touchdown came to fullback Zach Line, who rumbled 61 yards for a score after a short reception. But Cassel had plenty of impressive throws, including a couple of deep digs to receivers Stephen Burton and Cordarrelle Patterson and then a nice connection to tight end John Carlson for 10 yards that set the offense up with a 1st and goal from the 2. There were a couple of happy feet instances and he may have held onto the ball a few counts too long here and there, but overall it was a solid showing for Cassel and affirmation to GM Rick Spielman and Co. that they will have a capable backup in tow for the season.
3. Locke Looks Good
The Vikings special teams group has been outstanding under coordinator Mike Priefer, and a large reason for that has been the performance of the actual specialists – the place kicker, the punter and the long snapper. This year’s group has undergone another significant change with the addition of rookie punter Jeff Locke, and this is just one year after undergoing another similar significant change in drafting Blair Walsh to replace Ryan Longwell. So far, so good with Locke. The rookie punter didn’t have a perfect night because his final two punts traveled just 39 and 38 yards and landed on the Houston 41 and 42, respectively, but prior to that he pinned Houston at its own 10, 7 and then 13. Locke also held for two successful field goal tries and a successful point after touchdown attempt.
2. Receivers Right on the Money
If you’ve paid attention to vikings.com during 2013 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, you’ve seen plenty of praise for the Vikings wide receivers. On Friday night, the receivers made good on that praise by performing well. Burton hauled in three catches for 67 yards, Patterson had four for 54 and even Joe Webb made a couple of impressive grabs in important situations. He had two receptions for 11 yards on three targets, which included a tough behind-the-body catch on 3rd and 2. Greg Jennings didn’t play and Jarius Wright made a quick exit, but the receivers had a strong showing and the Vikings will rest on Friday night knowing this group has made huge progress since the end of the 2012 season.
1. Patterson Dazzles in Debut
It was a great night for Patterson. The Vikings won the toss and received, and Patterson took the opening kickoff and dashed 50 yards through Houston’s coverage group, taking a few easy strides toward the middle before sticking his foot in the ground and turning upfield with an extra burst you just don’t see in a lot of football players. After that, Patterson made plays in the passing game, including receptions of 22 and 18 yards. In total, Patterson had five touches for an average of 20.8 yards per touch. He broke a few tackles, refused to go down and displayed a playmaking quality that tempted the Vikings into trading back up into the 1st round to draft him.