Column: Banter and Boxscores: By Zach Stich
Although Friday evening ended with a 20-13 preseason loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Minnesota Vikings have several positives that they can take from the exhibition game.
First, it could have been worse. I hate to start a story on a downer but when you are missing two potential starters on the offensive line and two starters in the secondary, you feel like it could be a long day. Riley Reiff is still recovering from a back injury, while Alex Boone made his way on the list this time around. Trae Waynes was out with a should injury that he sustained in the last preseason effort and Andrew Sendejo was also out with an injury. As a fan, I would say just be happy with a 14-6 halftime deficit.
On a positive, look at the first few drives for the starting offense. The Vikings, despite missing four potential starters on offense, seemed to be effective as a good blend of run and pass allowed the team to get within striking distance. A couple of penalties haunted the Vikings in the early going and I assume that this will be a point of emphasis for the team before the next game.
In correlation with the above comment, the play of the interior offensive line (Nick Easton, Pat Elflien and Joe Berger) was an outstanding plus. Going up against a tough Seattle defense, the offensive line was able to move the chains because of these three and gave quarterback Sam Bradford time in the pocket to make his reads. Most people would like to see Bradford hit more open men, but Seattle’s secondary is still one of the best in the league.
Dalvin Cook has already moved himself ahead of all other Viking running backs in my opinion. I haven’t seen Latavius Murray play yet (due to injury), but I think the second round pick has the starting spot locked up. Former starter Jerrick McKinnon still doesn’t look good after taking a beating last season, despite a better push up front. McKinnon will need to work as a David Palmer-esque running back in order to make him worth a roster spot in 2017, while Murray will have to play tough between the tackles like he did for the Oakland (Las Vegas?) Raiders in 2015.
Cook also brings the tangibles of a modern day running back that the Vikings haven’t ever had. His pass catching ability will give the offense a threat out of the backfield akin to former San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson. It will be nice to see plays and drives extended because our running back won’t look like a robot trying to catch a watermelon.
Defensively, I think we can hold onto the idea that the Vikings pass rush is still alive and well. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter will be forces on the edge and backups Brian Robison and, potentially, Tashawn Bower will give quarterbacks fits on long passing downs.
I try not to worry about the team in the preseason. These games are usually a way to knock the rust off and get back into playing speed. It also helps flesh out the back half of your roster. But Friday’s game did leave aw thoughts in my mind.
Where is the coverage in the middle of the field? Quarterback Russell Wilson picked apart the Vikings starting defense, sans two, by throwing to the middle of the field. This can mean two things: The Vikings are playing the run harder then the pass or their linebackers are not getting enough depth in their drops. In a sideline interview with Ben Leber, Eric Kendricks said the team focused on the run during his time on the field. I hope so, because otherwise slot receivers will have their way with the Vikings this year.
Another concern came from the offense (yes, I praised them for potency in the first half). Penalties and not finishing drives will kill the Vikings in 2017. If the team has any chance of making the playoffs this season, they need to eliminate the clumsy mistakes.
Also, play selection seems to be a concern. I am not one to believe the Vikings will open up their bag of tricks during meaningless games, but new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmer needs to establish a little bit of excitement for the fan base in order to get behind him. I love Cook’s explosiveness with the ball in his hands, but running screen passes every preseason game better be a setup for a fake during the regular season.
On a parting note, Blair Walsh is now the Seahawks kicker. Ironic to see the man that gave away a playoff game play for the team he gave it away to.
Apparently, former teammates heckled the kicker during the game, making him show a gesture toward the sideline. In my opinion, it was a Punic victory for Walsh as his career has taken a hit since being cut by the Vikings last season. I wish the guy the best as he is extremely talented, but like former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning says about kickers, Walsh should stay quiet about bragging during the preseason.
Zach Stich is the managing editor and former sports editor of the Fergus Falls Daily Journal.