Vikings 1st-Team Defense Looks Ahead to Regular Season

MINNEAPOLIS — Like most preseason games, there were some ups and downs for the Vikings on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

That included Minnesota’s first-team defense, which played four series against Arizona’s first-team offense and allowed nearly 120 yards on a pair of scoring drives.

But the Vikings also forced a pair of three-and-outs on the other two drives, limiting the Cardinals to nine measly yards on those six plays.

“We still have to continue to work and look to continue to improve,” said Vikings safety Anthony Harris. “We made some plays, but right now it’s continuing to build that consistency.”

The Vikings opened with a three-and-out against the Cardinals and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, but Arizona responded with an eight-play, 54-yard drive that resulted in a 32-yard field goal.

Minnesota allowed a 33-yard pass on the drive, along with a 10-yard screen play that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer challenged for a fumble, but the play was upheld.

“We started with a three-and-out today, so that was good. But we want to hold that up throughout the game,” Harris said. “But then they came out and kind of made a few plays, and we limited them to a field goal. We just want to come out and start fast and get off the field as quick as possible.”

The Vikings hit back with a three-and-out before Murray and the Cardinals marched down for another field goal, aided by pass plays of 18 and 19 yards on the series.

By the time the starters came off the field, the Vikings had given up six points, and stopped Arizona on four-of-six attempts on third downs.

“To me, there wasn’t big plays [allowed] today. I know we got beat on the one deep ball, but we didn’t play it right,” Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. “But we allowed third-down conversions, and that was disappointing.

“We don’t game-plan for these things, and we run very vanilla stuff, but that’s not that point,” Zimmer added. “If your job is to cover a guy, cover him.”

The Vikings were able to bottle up Murray, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, as the dual-threat quarterback had four carries for nine yards.

“You saw him. He was scrambling all over the place,” said Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. “We had to watch where we were rushing or else he would have been gone. We had to lay back on our rushes.”

The Vikings defense was down a pair of Pro Bowlers, as Linval Joseph and Harrison Smith did not play.

Joseph returned to practice this week and likely won’t see any action in the preseason, while Zimmer said keeping Smith out was just “precautionary.”

Jayron Kearse got the start in Smith’s place, breaking up a Murray pass at the line of scrimmage and providing solid coverage in the secondary, as well.

Kearse continued a run of strong preseason games, and his teammates took notice.

“JK went out and made some plays,” Harris said. “He’s been doing that all preseason, just coming out and bringing a lot of energy and making a lot of plays. He’s playing with a lot of excitement, and it looks like he’s having fun.”

Kearse said he has worked on incremental growth as he enters his fourth season in the NFL.

“It’s me just being comfortable with the defense and having complete confidence in myself knowing what I do and what I can do well,” Kearse said. “Coming in as a rookie, I had to fight for a roster spot, and things can get kind of crowded, and you question yourself when you make mistakes and you’re at the bottom of the depth chart.

“This is the most confidence I’ve played with, and it’s showing on the field,” Kearse added.

As the Vikings first-team defense gets set for the regular season, they do so having not given up a touchdown in preseason play.

Minnesota’s top defensive unit played seven series in exhibition play, allowing four field goals and forcing no turnovers.

Now the real work begins.

“We’re doing the right things. We’re in the right position and guys are making plays,” Kearse said. “We’re taking the right step to get ready for the season opener.”

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