As of tonight, Vikings football is in the air. No, it's not the official start of the 2014 season. Tonight's game is the first of four preseason contests before the regular season commences. But preseason games are important, too. While they don't count in the standings, they are important building blocks for the team as it continues preparations for the upcoming season.
With that in mind, here are three goals for the Vikings as they kick off the preseason tonight against the Oakland Raiders…
1. Stay HealthyInjuries are the toughest part of the game. Every player works tirelessly, sacrifices their time and body, and plays as hard as they can. And to see an injury become the end result of that hard work is extremely disappointing for the player, his coaches and the entire organization. If nothing else, teams hope to come away from these exhibition games with healthy players. Here's to both teams playing hard and staying healthy tonight.
2. Be Penalty-FreeI don't know that winning and penalties have any correlation. Last year, the Colts and Patriots were the most penalized teams in the NFL and they both won their division. St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Oakland and Houston were among the least six penalized teams in the NFL, and none of them made the playoffs. Regardless of that, penalties are the result of one or both of two things: poor technique and mental mistakes. Mike Zimmer has little patience for either, and neither has a place on a football team that is looking to turn things around from a five-win season a year ago. Yeah, being penalty-free is a lofty goal, but isn't that the point of goals?
3. Execute Situational FootballThere will be dropped passes or poorly-thrown balls, there will be missed blocks and missed tackles, and there will be missed assignments and a moment or two of poor gap integrity. Mistakes happen…it's a part of the game. The good teams, though, perform at their peak when it matters the most. Situational football is when it matters the most. Trying to get a field goal up before halftime, threading the needle in the red zone, operating the no-huddle gracefully, and defending the end zone at the end of the game. Those are all examples of situational football. Every day during practice, Zimmer dedicates a period to situational football. He has high expectations for the Vikings in those critical situations, and the expectation is there tonight that the Vikings execute flawlessly in those critical situations.