The Vikings front office and coaching staff got to work immediately last January to digest the 2018 season and start gearing up for 2019. Vikings players and coaches began the offseason program midway through April, which concluded midway through June. The entire organization kicked into full gear with the opening of training camp in late July.
It's a concerted, intense preparation to produce a season in 2019 that will yield great dividends.
A key stretch in that preparation begins tonight against the Seattle Seahawks. It's Week 2 of the preseason. Yes, it's true that most starters will see less than two quarters of action. And no, this game doesn't count in the standings. But tonight's game will set the tone for the upcoming week. And the upcoming week is the preseason week that catches the most attention across the League.
The term "dress rehearsal" will get tossed around more times than you can count next week. The third preseason game is the one that, typically, sees the most action from the starters. It's the preseason game that draws the most attention from fans. Fair or not, representative or not, it's the game that generates the last significant narrative surrounding the team as it enters the ensuing regular season.
So, yea, the stretch of days from tonight's preseason game through roster cutdown day on August 31 is key. It's the last set of bricks to be laid in a foundation that dates back to January. And it kicks off at U.S. Bank Stadium at about 7:10 p.m. CT.
Ball security, toughness are keys for Zimmer's RBs
Trying to figure out how the Vikings running back depth chart will shake out this preseason? Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer identified a few key traits he looks for in his backs.
"You're evaluating them on are they holding onto the ball? Vision…if they make the right cuts," Zimmer said. "Protection. And if they can catch the ball. It's really those things.
"For the most part I think all of our guys have done pretty well as far as understanding what they're trying to do and what they're trying to get accomplished. In the preseason games it's different than out here in practice. They're going to get hit. And so holding onto the ball becomes important. And then yards after contact become important, as well."
Vikings running backs showed well in the preseason opener last week, totaling 202 yards on 24 carries. Mike Boone had a 64-yard touchdown dash in the second half and Ameer Abdullah had an explosive gain of 42 yards. The running back room also hauled in four receptions and one touchdown on five targets and the group should be credited for their pass protection because the Vikings allowed zero sacks on the night.
Abdullah did put the ball on the ground, losing a fumble to the Saints defense. That was the lone major blemish, however, as the group looks to put together another strong showing against another quality defense on Sunday night.
An on-the-money example about the advantage of playing off schedule
You never want to be off schedule, right? Wrong. Be careful using the word "never."
Earlier in the week, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was asked if he anticipated more designed movement – runs, bootlegs, moving pockets – in 2019 than what was asked of him in 2018. Cousins shifted the discussion away from designed movement and shared some insight about the advantages of playing off schedule (aka – improvising).
And he used some advice from a Vikings legend to illustrate his point.
"I think it's more off schedule. I always felt like that's a missing element in my game," Cousins explained. "The ability to not only run for yards but run around and then make throws. I was talking with Fran Tarkenton this winter and Fran said, 'Kirk, I only ran a 4.90 40 [yard dash]. I wasn't fast, but I ran around to then be able to throw.' I play with rhythm and timing, so I'm not trying to play off schedule all the time, but I think I have the ability to run around a little bit and I think I have the arm to make those throws. So, it's just a matter of doing it."
"We had seven third down plays in the game, that's unusual. In the NFL, sometimes it's anywhere from 10 to 14 a game so if you're only having seven, you're doing something right on first and second down." – Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak
It's easy to focus on performance on 3rd down when evaluating your defense or offense. But the truth of the matter is your performance on 1st and 2nd down has just as much, if not more, of an impact on your prospects on 3rd down than does scheme, play calling or anything else. Case and point: the Vikings last Friday night in New Orleans. As coach Kubiak pointed out, the Vikings had just seven 3rd down snaps. That's because the Vikings performance on 1st and 2nd down was exceptional. The Vikings generated 141 yards and one touchdown on 24 1st down snaps, and they were even better on 2nd down with 266 yards and two touchdown on 20 snaps. That averages out 5.9 yards per play on 1st down and 13.3 yards per play on 2nd down. Production like that on early downs will make the game's money down – 3rd down – a walk in the park.
View images from Verizon Vikings Training Camp on August 16 at the TCO Performance Center.
The Vikings will stick around town all week as they prepare to host the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3 of the preseason. Monday will be a players' day off for the Vikings and then a week of practices will commence at TCO Performance Center before the Vikings and Cardinals kickoff at U.S. Bank Stadium next Saturday at noon CT.
Stat of the Week – 0 sacks
The Vikings allowed zero sacks last week against the New Orleans Saints, marking the first time since September 4, 2009 that the squad allowed zero sacks in a preseason game.
Sunday night's game will be a nationally televised by FOX, with Kevin Burkhardt handling play-by-play duties and Charles Davis providing analysis. The great Pam Oliver will be on the sidelines for FOX. The game will be broadcast on the Vikings Radio Network, per usual, with Paul Allen handling the play-by-player and Pete Bercich in the booth as analyst. Former Vikings Greg Coleman and Ben Leber will be on the sideline. The Vikings Radio Network pre-game show is hosted by Mike Mussman and kicks off at 5:00 p.m. CT.