There’s a little bit of sarcasm in saying that the Bridgewater looked good in an “important” preseason game, but insofar as the third game of the preseason provides the best possible test case for the regular season, Bridgewater looked sharp in the 23-10 win for the Vikings over the Chargers.
12/16 with 161 yards and a touchdown, Bridgewater finished his impressive preseason with 18 of 23 passes completed with two touchdowns and 253 yards for a passer rating of 141.5, the second-highest of any quarterback in the preseason barring Blake Bortles’ performance later tonight against Cincinnati.
So too, with Adjusted Yards per Attempt, where Bridgewater’s 12.7 ranks second to Bortles’ 12.8 out of 87 passers with at least 15 attempts.
The young Vikings passer was decisive and displayed excellent decisionmaking, arm strength and pocket presence throughout the game. Though still at issue in the red zone, Bridgewater showcased the kind of aggressiveness that might lead to the explosive plays Mike Zimmer has said he’ll look for this season.
Generally speaking, Teddy didn’t get much help from the offensive line despite the praise the announcers heaped on the protection unit, but the first drive wasn’t a bad look from them. Overall, the line looks to be a little improved, and the biggest problems didn’t come from someone expected to start the season.
T.J. Clemmings was a liability in both pass protection and run blocking, playing at left tackle as a result of a Matt Kalil injury earlier in the week. Clemmings not only gave up a sack and several pressures, but was losing ground in the running game and more than once gave up the block that led to the tackle. One highlight, though: Bridgewater’s fantastic run for a first down was a result of Clemmings giving him the impetus by escorting a defensive lineman into the pocket.
On the other hand, Alex Boone seemed to be a blessing. While there were problems in the first two games with some of his play, he turned it on in this game and not only was a key block on McKinnon’s long run in the first drive but also helped to provide clean pockets in the passing game. Boone played like the Vikings will expect him to this season.
With John Sullivan sitting out the game in a cap on the sideline, Joe Berger took all the first team reps at center and looked pretty good. I’ve been doing some shotgun review for an Adrian Peterson piece and had some issues with Berger in those snaps last year, but he did well when the Vikings operated out of shotgun in this game. Berger did well to take on nose tackles one-on-one, and that ability freed up the Vikings to attack the second level on runs.
I didn’t notice anything too upsetting about Brandon Fusco, but I may see something on rewatch worth noting. There were some minor communication issues, it seemed like, between Fusco and Smith. That may be to be expected at this point given that Fusco missed some practice time recently. He did miss a critical run block on second and goal, but otherwise didn’t stand out to me.
Andre Smith gave up some pressures as well, though it did at least take him a bit longer to give up that pressure than for Clemmings, if that’s any consolation. It also happened less often. I didn’t notice anything egregious from Smith in the run game except on one run in the red zone, where he nearly gave up tackle for loss that McKinnon salvaged.
I usually have a problem with Zach Line at fullback, but as a blocker, I didn’t see too much worth critiquing. He helped break open a few runs, and often his effort was wasted by other blockers who were doing less than him to create lanes.
One of those players was Kyle Rudolph, who was not only at fault in an obvious situation that the broadcast replayed up close, but was generally a poor run blocker and gave up the tackle to McKinnon for a lose very shortly after Jerick’s big run in the first quarter. He and Clemmings were both responsible there, and it was a theme for both of them in their short time on the field.
While Rudolph’s touchdown was certainly impressive, a short-armed near drop to start his day as a receiver was followed by a fumble. Generally speaking, I don’t think players make up for one bad play with one good play—especially when comparing a touchdown to a fumble or interception. Turnovers not only abort a scoring drive, but create one for the other team. If a player fails to score a touchdown on a particular play, the team can either attempt to make up for it on the next play or kick a field goal.
So, even with that touchdown, I’d argue that Rudolph had largely a poor day—especially with all of his blocking miscues.
As for Bridgewater, the praise I gave him earlier stands up, but I do think some of the pressure that arrived came in part because the ball came out late. It’s not a huge problem, but Bridgewater should get some partial blame on one of the sacks because of it. He also made some poor decisions in his first trip to the red zone and should have scanned the field faster.
At running back, Jerick McKinnon was a blessing. Not only was he explosive and athletic, he exhibited mature running back decision-making skills and juxtaposed patience with aggression in the running game. In the first drive, he turned a first down red zone run from a modest success at five yards to a first down after slipping out of the hands of a defender who (once again) freed himself from Rudolph’s block.
Not only did McKinnon turn his opportunities into big gains, he salvaged poor blocking into successful runs.
Among the receivers, it’s clear that Stefon Diggs had a fine day. Though he didn’t end up in the end zone, Diggs continues to show that he can be the primary receiving option in the offense. He caught the ball on drags and corner routes for the offense today, but has been fantastic throughout the preseason on a variety of routes. He was wide open deep on Kyle Rudolph’s touchdown and was consistently open throughout the first quarter. His cutback on his final reception was pretty fantastic.
Charles Johnson had some issues when confronted with tight spaces but definitely played like a functioning starting wide receiver, and I wouldn’t mind a situation where he plays between the 20s while Treadwell replaces him in the red zone—especially early on.
Among the backups, it seemed like center Nick Easton had an excellent game, guard Zac Kerin had a better game than I’ve seen from him in a little bit, and guard Isame Faciane struggled.
I didn’t see much of the guards backing them up, Willie Beavers or Austin Shepherd. As for the tackles—Jeremiah Sirles and Carter Bykowski—all I saw was disappointment. (NOTE: PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS MAKES THE POINT THAT SIRLES WAS NOT AT FAULT FOR THE STRIP-SACK AND GRADED HIM WELL. AFTER RE-WATCHING, I AM INCLINED TO AGREE THAT EASTON IS AT FAULT).
Blake Renaud struggled a bit at fullback, and if there was any real competition for the spot, I think Zach Line would have sewn up the spot. As it is, the Vikings have consistently demonstrated faith in Line and he will continue to play fullback for them.
Matt Asiata didn’t get much opportunity to impress, but he didn’t in his limited carries. C.J. Ham continued to look pretty good, and his athletic ability seems to be much better than tested at this point. While he’s not a burner, he demonstrated shiftiness that complemented his decisionmaking well. Jhurell Pressley had some run at the end of the game, and didn’t get much yardage for the space he was afforded. The most important issue, however, might be his problems in pass protection, and he gave up a sack.
MyCole Pruitt will worry more about a leg injury than the rest of his game, and we’ll find out more about his leg soon. Still, it wouldn’t be fair to knock Rudolph for his fumble without mentioning Pruitt’s. The difference might be that I didn’t notice big blocking miscues from him before he was forced to leave.
David Morgan seemed to have an excellent day, not just as a blocker but as a receiver. As for Kyle Carter and Brian Leonhardt, I didn’t note anything from either of them.
The only backup receiver I noted was Laquon Treadwell, who aside from an excellent red zone conversion, also found himself open underneath for Shaun Hill and Joel Stave. Because the conversion is counted as a special teams play, he only has one reception in the stat sheet, but deserved more because of how he seemed to find soft holes in zone coverage.
I didn’t catch much of Wright, though his 26-yard catch speaks well to him. He seemed to have run the wrong route on a different play and overall the fact that he didn’t appear with the first team at all may be a bigger problem than his actual play.
I don’t have many notes for Patterson or Thielen.
It’s difficult to evaluate Brian Robison, but he improved over the course of his short day. He got blown off the ball in run defense early on for a running conversion on second down. After that, he did well in run defense and logged a few pass pressures that helped the Vikings close down on the Chargers offense.
On the other side, Danielle Hunter had a pretty good game, though I wouldn’t argue that it was complete. He had a little bit of an issue setting the edge in the run game, but did a fine job overall, especially in creating pressure.
Inside, Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph did an excellent job manning the middle, and the only big problems with the run game on the inside occurred when one of them was on the sidelines. There was an inside run (Melvin Gordon’s touchdown) with the ones that bothered me, but the defensive tackle that was pushed off the ball was either Tom Johnson or Shamar Stephen—though I’m pretty sure it was Stephen.
Floyd did take a rep or two at nose tackle, and it was not good. When at three-technique, he generated pressure, and played well.
Chad Greenway’s day was up and down and his first test saw him miss a tackle. He did well when asked to rush the passer and squeezed the fullback into running lanes more than once on subsequent drives, so without a review I’ll say it would be tough for me to grade him. It did take him time to run down Kellen Clemens, if that means anything to you.
Anthony Barr, of course, had a great game. Aside from blowing up Melvin Gordon behind the line of scrimmage on a well-timed run blitz, he only seemed to have one error in coverage (a Danny Woodhead reception) and generally executed his assignments well.
Corner Trae Waynes had one highlight play, with his deflection of a pass that turned into a Harrison Smith interception, but he also had some miscues in man coverage and zone coverage. One of those miscues was exploited when targeted, but many weren’t—including a lost receiver in the end zone he had to labor to catch up to.
Oh, and there was the suplex. It’s been called a penalty much more consistently over the past several years, so I don’t have an issue with the flag, especially because it came after the whistle—but I definitely don’t have an issue with Waynes.
Terence Newman was fine, though the third down reception he gave up early in the game might be easier to remember than his otherwise good coverage. He even contributed in the run game by holding up against stalk blocks and diverting runners.
And Mackensie Alexander should be happy.
He had a phenomenal game, though it seems like Sam didn’t pick up on my joke.
Would it be blasphemy to argue that Harrison Smith didn’t have the best day? Maybe it’s because he should be held to a higher standard than other safeties, but before his interception, he was slow to react to his coverage assignments. On the other hand, it is more difficult to evaluate safeties than anyone else.
Andrew Sendejo was not just late in coverage assignments, but didn’t fill quickly enough in the run game. He played quite a bit in the game as a result of an Antone Exum injury (not to mention that Anthony Harris was out of the game from the get-go). We later learned that Michael Griffin might have also been injured, as he was on crutches in the locker room.
Michael Griffin might be remembered for his poor angle on the Gordon touchdown run, but he also had a difficult day in coverage. It seemed like he was having issues with handoffs in zone coverage.
Jayron Kearse had some issues breaking down coverage and had a facemask penalty that set the team back, but he should be proud of his interception—even if it looked like the pass was directed to him more than anything else. If this game was a deciding factor in a competition between Sendejo and Kearse to start the season, I don’t know if Kearse’s interception would put him over the top.
As for other backups, I noticed positive performances from defensive tackle Toby Johnson. Aside from the Gordon run, I didn’t note much from Shamar Stephen, but I don’t think he played well on balance.
Also on the defensive line, Stephen Weatherly recovered a fumble but didn’t get much else done in the game. On the other hand, defensive ends Justin Trattou and Zach Moore were both impressive, with Trattou balling out for most of the game (and caused the fumble that Weatherly recovered).
At linebacker, Kentrell Brothers continued to disappoint me and the stuff he’s known to be bad at (speed to the edge) was put on display, while he didn’t execute on what his strengths were coming out of college—reacting slowly to the snap and slipping off of tackles.
Edmond Robinson showed up in coverage, and had some other good plays in the run game besides that.
There’s not much to see with regards to other corners—I didn’t see much of Captain Munnerlyn to evaluate and Jabari Price was once again disappointing. There was not much of Tre Roberson or Marcus Sherels.
Overall, a quick-strike offense (how unusual for Minnesota) and a largely good defense with only one major mistake made for an entertaining first half where the Vikings were dominant from play to play.
If the third preseason game is supposed to be the best indicator for the regular season, the Vikings are well positioned.