EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The Vikings first team defense looked impressive as a unit in the preseason opener, surrendering no points against the Buffalo Bills.
A sack from defensive end Everson Griffen and a tackle for a loss by linebacker Anthony Barr were two signs of the first team's ability to rush the passer and cause negative plays for the opposing offense.
Two of the largest gains allowed by Minnesota's top unit were rushing plays to Bills running back Jonathan Williams.
A 17-yard run that left the Bills short on a third-and-long and a 15-yard rush by Williams to start the next series marked areas to improve for the next matchup on Friday night against the Seattle Seahawks.
"I think it was a coordination of things where the guys were in the wrong gap, where the guys weren't getting off the block and were just trying to handle their responsibility," Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said Wednesday.
Edwards noted that stopping the run has been an emphasis for his team that finished 20th in the NFL in that category in 2016 (1,711 yards allowed).
"That's one thing we definitely have an emphasis on. We realized that we have got to stop the run in order for us to be able to pressure the quarterback," Edwards said. "We're going to have to be able to stop the run some with seven in the box, and guys realize that. We have to talent to get on and off blocks and be able to make plays where we're not giving up big yardage on first and second down to make it a third–and-manageable situation."
Edwards thinks the defense will get more comfortable as they continue to work-in live tackling, which the team did not do much of during training camp.
Here are two more points from Edwards followed by a few points from special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
2. Mackensie Alexander's progress
Vikings second-year cornerback Mackensie Alexander is a top candidate to fill the Vikings nickel back position guarding the opposing team's slot wide receiver.
Captain Munnerlyn had confidently owned the position for the past few seasons and the starting spot is up for grabs after he signed with the Carolina Panthers in the offseason. Edwards spoke about Alexander's performance in Buffalo.
"I thought he did a good job," Edwards said. "One thing he's been, he's been pretty consistent right now with the technique and the fundamentals and doing a good job mentally with the calls and the communications. We just look for him to keep that consistency going, and to keep getting better at the things we're asking him to get better at."
3. Facing Russell Wilson, preparing for mobile quarterbacks
After opening against Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor, the Vikings will be facing another mobile quarterback who has the ability to move around the pocket in Seattle's Russell Wilson on Friday night.
Edwards sees this as a good preparation for NFC North opponent Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.
"Of course in our division we got some quarterbacks that are able to get out of the pocket, so that's something that we have to prepare for and see twice a year out of two teams," Edwards said. "So for us, it'll be critical. With Wilson, he's very special in the pocket. He has a good feel for pocket pressure, and we've got to do a good job of rushing him and keeping him contained, not getting too high and allowing him to step up and run the ball."
1. Kicker battle
The Vikings will continue to monitor and track the competition at the kicker position between Kai Forbath and Marshall Koehn.
Forbath knocked in a 36-yard field goal in the second quarter in Buffalo as well as an extra point in the third quarter.
Koehn converted on his lone extra point attempt Thursday night following C.J. Ham's two-yard touchdown.
"Right now, they're both kicking very well," Priefer said. "In practice, they've done a pretty good job. Over on the side, they've kicked probably around 90 percent each, and in the team work it's only around 75 percent, so that needs to get better. They're both kicking off well. So, they're handling it like pros just like the punters are. It's been a good competition thus far."
Priefer said in the spring he has monitored about 325 field goal attempts from both kickers, and each is about at the 90 percent mark.
2. Punter competition
Veteran Ryan Quigley and rookie Taylor Symmank continue to battle for the starting punter position.
Priefer was pleased with their performances in Buffalo as well.
"I was very pleased with the overall performance. I thought Ryan [Quigley] was three-for-three in his punt attempts, and I thought Taylor was probably three-of-four," Priefer said. "He had that one 31-yarder that just wasn't good enough. We controlled the field position with our punt team overall, and I thought we did a good job. We covered punts well and we protected well. They really didn't come after us. Overall, it was a good night for the punt team."
Priefer is embracing the competition between the two.
"Both those punters are good kids; they work hard, they're very, very talented," Priefer said. "Ryan's got a little bit more experience, but Taylor has come in, I think a year under his belt out of school has helped him mature, and [he has] gotten stronger. The competition has been great. They've handled it like pros; I'm real proud of all the guys the way they've handled the competition so far."
3. Facing Blair Walsh
Mike Priefer worked with Blair Walsh, the Vikings former kicker, for four-plus seasons and will face him as an opponent for the first time against the Seahawks of Friday night.
The Seahawks signed Walsh in the offseason.
"When he first got to Seattle I was happy for him and I congratulated him and that's pretty much it," Priefer said. "I will say hello to him. I have got no ill will. I like Blair. He's a fine young man, and we had four-and-a-half years together, so I've known him for a long time. "
Priefer hopes that Walsh has let go of the missed kick in the 2015 divisional playoff game as time winded down in the Seahawks 10-9 victory over Minnesota.
Walsh made 133 field goals on 158 attempts in his four-plus seasons for the Vikings.
"He did a lot of really good things here in Minnesota," Priefer said. "I know it didn't end well here for him and for us but at the end of the day he's a very talented young man."