Early Look: Vikings at Broncos

EAGAN, Minn. — It’s finally time for some football.

The Vikings will open their preseason schedule on the road Saturday night as they travel to Denver to face the Broncos. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. (CT).

This is the first of four preseason games. The Vikings will host Jacksonville on Aug. 18 and Seattle on Aug. 24 at U.S. Bank Stadium before wrapping up the preseason slate at Tennessee on Aug. 30.

Here’s a look at Minnesota’s preseason opener against Denver:

Passing: Minnesota signed Kirk Cousins as a free agent in March after the quarterback spent the first six seasons of his career in Washington, three of them as the starter.

Cousins, who has thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in each of the past three seasons, has worked all spring and summer to get on the same page with his new teammates in the passing game.

Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian is also new to Minnesota after spending the previous three seasons with the Broncos. He is 13-11 as a starter and has thrown for 5,686 yards with 30 touchdowns.

Kyle Sloter was with Denver for the 2017 offseason and throughout training camp and the preseason. The Vikings signed him as a free agent in early September.

Peter Pujals, a rookie undrafted free agent out of Holy Cross, is also on the roster.

Denver’s starting quarterback is a familiar face, as Case Keenum went 11-3 in 14 starts for the Vikings in 2017.

Keenum finished his only season in Purple by throwing for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also connected with wide receiver Stefon Diggs for the “Minneapolis Miracle” against New Orleans in the Divisional Round game against Saints.

Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly are the backups in Denver.

Rushing: Minnesota’s ground game was much improved in 2017 as the Vikings ranked seventh with 122.3 yards per game.

Dalvin Cook rushed for 354 yards and two scores through three-plus games before tearing his ACL. The second-year back has looked quick and explosive in practice and could see playing time Saturday.

Latavius Murray led the Vikings with 842 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in Cook’s absence and is fully healthy. He was recovering from offseason ankle surgery at this time a year ago.

Fullback C.J. Ham is back for his second season, while there are a handful of players trying to impress coaches for the third running back spot.

Mack Brown, Mike Boone, Roc Thomas and fullback Johnny Stanton could all see significant playing time against the Broncos as they try to earn a spot on the roster.

Devontae Booker rushed for 299 yards in 2017, which leads all Broncos running backs entering this season. The Broncos also return running back De’Angelo Henderson and fullback Andy Janovich.

Denver has three rookies in its running backs room in Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay and David Williams.

The Broncos ranked 12th with 115.8 yards per game in 2017.

Receiving: The Vikings might have the best one-two punch of wide receivers in the league.

Adam Thielen was a Second-Team All-Pro selection in 2017 after he hauled in 91 catches (seventh-most in team history) for 1,276 yards. The Minnesota native also had four touchdowns.

Diggs also had a solid season with 64 catches for 849 yards, including a 173-yard performance in Week 3 against Tampa Bay. Diggs had eight touchdown catches, which was tied for the team lead with Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings tight end who had 57 catches for 532 yards.

That trio has been hard at work with Cousins as the group prepares for its first season together.

Laquon Treadwell had 200 receiving yards and is headed into his third season; the Vikings added Kendall Wright, who led the Bears in receiving in 2017, in free agency.

There are a handful of other wide outs — including Stacy Coley, Brandon Zylstra, Tavarres King, Cayleb Jones, Jake Wieneke, Jeff Badet, Chad Beebe and Korey Robertson — who are battling for roster spots.

David Morgan and Blake Bell are back in the tight ends room, while the Vikings used a fifth-round pick on Tyler Conklin in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Denver wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders combined for 1,500-plus receiving yards and seven scores in 2017. No other Broncos pass catcher had more than 350 yards.

Defense: The Vikings produced the best defense in the league — and one of the best in franchise history — and the unit might be even better heading into 2018.

Minnesota ranked first in points allowed (15.8), the first time it had done so since 1971. The Vikings also allowed the fewest yards per game (275.9), the team’s best mark since 1993. The Vikings also had the best third-down defense (25.2 percent) in NFL history (the stat started being tracked in 1991).

Everson Griffen notched a career-high 13 sacks with three forced fumbles, and Danielle Hunter added 7.0 sacks. Brian Robison had 4.0 of his own. Linval Joseph anchored a defensive line that allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game at 83.6, and he also added 3.5 sacks. Joseph will now play next to defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who signed as a free agent in March.

Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks formed one of the most formidable linebacker duos in the NFL. Barr, a Pro Bowl selection had 98 total tackles (according to coaches’ tally) with a sack and nine tackles for loss. Kendricks led the Vikings with 136 total tackles (according to coaches’ tally) with 10 tackles for loss and added a 31-yard interception return for a score against Cincinnati.

Harrison Smith was a First-Team All-Pro who nabbed five picks to tie a career high, and he had 93 total tackles (according to coaches’ tally) along with 10 tackles for loss. Andrew Sendejo had 98 total tackles (according to coaches’ tally) with two interceptions. Xavier Rhodes routinely shut down opponents’ top wide receivers, and Trae Waynes showed great growth in his third season as he and Smith tied for the team lead with 14 passes defensed.

The Vikings also added a cornerback in rookie Mike Hughes, who was a first-round pick. Veteran cornerback Terence Newman also returned for his 16th season.

The Broncos are led by linebacker Von Miller, who has 83.5 sacks in 104 career games. He has double-digit sacks in six of his seven pro seasons.

Chris Harris is one of the league’s top cornerbacks, and defensive tackle Domata Peko is a well-known run stuffer. Denver used the fifth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to snag defensive end Bradley Chubb.

Special Teams: One of Minnesota’s top roster battles is at kicker, where veteran Kai Forbath is trying beat out rookie Daniel Carlson.

Forbath made 32 of 38 field goal tries, including six makes from 50-plus yards. He was 34 of 39 on extra points.

Carlson is a rookie fifth-round pick out of Auburn. He made 92 of 114 career field goals (80.7 percent) in college with a long of 56 yards.

Punter Ryan Quigley averaged 42.2 yards per punt and tied an NFL record by not having any touchbacks this season. Marcus Sherels averaged 9.5 yards per punt return with a long of 46, and averaged 24.6 yards per kickoff return. Hughes is also in the mix in the return game.

Broncos kicker Brandon McManus was 24 of 32 on field goals in the regular season and 27 of 27 on extra points. Denver brought in former Raiders punter Marquette King.

Over The Years

The Vikings are 7-7 all-time against Denver in the regular season, with the Broncos winning the past three matchups.

Minnesota last won against the Broncos in 2003, a 28-20 win in which Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss had 10 catches for 151 yards.

That game is most known for the final play of the first half when Moss tossed the ball back to Moe Williams as he was getting tackled, a move that allowed the running back to score as time expired.

Last meeting: Broncos 23, Vikings 20, Oct. 4, 2015, in Denver

The Vikings put up a strong fight against the eventual Super Bowl champions.

Denver led 13-0 early before the Vikings cut the deficit to three points after a last-minute touchdown pass in the second half by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

With the Vikings down 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, Adrian Peterson broke off a 48-yard touchdown run before the Vikings tied the game with just over five minutes left on a 33-yard field goal by Blair Walsh.

McManus kicked a 39-yard field goal with just under two minutes left to help secure the Denver win.

Barr intercepted Peyton Manning, and Kendricks recorded the first sack of his career by bringing down Manning in the second quarter.

This game was also the professional debut for Diggs, who introduced himself to the NFL with six receptions for 87 yards.

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