The Minnesota Vikings stayed undefeated in preseason openers under Mike Zimmer with a 34-25 win over the New Orleans Saints Friday night.
Sam Ekstrom watched the game and jotted down some notes. Here they are.
- Third-round pick Alexander Mattison is used to huge workloads, getting over 300 carries in his final year at Boise State. As far as preseason games go, his 10 touches made for a busy debut. Mattison carried the ball nine times for 30 yards and caught a one-yard touchdown from Kirk Cousins to complete the Vikings’ opening drive. But perhaps his most impressive play was one that didn’t count. On Minnesota’s third drive Mattison performed a perfect blitz pick-up, then released from the block to catch an 8-yard pass from Sean Mannion. Rashod Hill’s second holding call of the game wiped it out.
- The Saints rushed the ball well all night, going for 141 yards on 4.9 yards per carry. TV cameras showed head coach Mike Zimmer shaking his fist after a seven-yard Saints running play in the fourth quarter, an apparent sign of frustration at his unit’s inability to slow the rush. Of New Orleans’ six different ball carriers, only starter Alvin Kamara was held below 4.0 yards per carry.
- The Vikings rushed it even better. They finished with 27 carries for 213 yards, punctuated by Mike Boone’s 64-yard touchdown scurry. Boone finished with 70 yards to lead the team and remind fans that he’s still there after seemingly being usurped by Alexander Mattison and Ameer Abdullah. Speaking of Abdullah, he was splashy as well with 63 yards on four carries — but he’ll want to have back an unforced lost fumble. Even recent pickup De’Angelo Henderson (seven carries, 42 yards) ripped off some big runs late. First glimpse of the wide zone scheme? Not bad.
- How did the pass catchers fare? Big night for Bisi Johnson, who continues to distance himself from other rookie receivers. Johnson caught two passes from Mannion, including a leaping touchdown grab against Patrick Robinson. The catch of the night, no surprise, went to Adam Thielen, who reeled in a diving catch at the goal line from Cousins to set up Mattison’s score. Second-round pick Irv Smith Jr. made three catches for 21 yards but also committed two penalties on his 21st birthday. Tyler Conklin showed some nice mobility on a tight end screen in the first half.
- We’ll have to wait a bit for the snap counts, but it seemed like an active game for fullbacks. Not only was C.J. Ham in the game for much of the opening touchdown drive, his backup Khari Blasingame caught three balls for 28 yards and a touchdown from Sloter. He also executed some great blocking on Boone’s long touchdown run. Fullback usage may see a rare uptick in this new offense.
- Despite getting gashed a bit in the run game, the Vikings’ second-team defensive line made plenty of noise — some that didn’t make the stat sheet. Jalyn Holmes and Ifeadi Odenigbo each had sacks that got wiped out by defensive holding calls, while Holmes and Hercules Mata’afa converted sacks that stood. The Vikings put decent pressure on Teddy Bridgewater throughout the first half, but to Bridgewater’s credit he remained efficient, posting a 110.4 QB rating while throwing one touchdown.
- An update on Kyle Sloter’s all-time preseason stats: 9 games, 78-of-106, 74%, 8 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 rushing TD. That’s insane, especially considering his underwhelming play throughout training camp. Zimmer acknowledges that Sloter makes plays when he’s in games but isn’t always comfortable in practice settings. That’s a head scratcher for the coaching staff, but it sure makes the second half of these preseason games more fun.
- Personnel items of note: Duke Thomas got second-team corner reps (and struggled); Jordan Taylor strangely didn’t see the field until very late in the game; Karter Schult was the fifth defensive end; Chad Beebe returned the first punt despite being the backup punt returner on the unofficial team depth chart; fourth- and fifth-round picks Dru Samia and Cameron Smith are still with the third unit at their respective positions.