Vikings Christian Ballard and Fred Evans celebrate Evan's sack in Friday's game.
Far too much will be made of the first NFL preseason game, including by me. The 17-6 loss doesn't mean much, as it is preseason, but there are things that stood out in the Minnesota Vikings' first game against the San Francisco 49ers.
There were some key players sitting out due to coaches' decisions, so we will have to wait until next week's game against the Buffalo Bills to see what they can bring this year; those players were Kevin Williams, Jared Allen, Antoine Winfield and Percy Harvin. Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson also sat out with a hamstring injury.
Before we start with the positional analysis, there were a few things that happened in this game that are worth pointing out:
- Starting defensive tackle Letroy Guion left the game with a right knee injury. He is expected to miss 1-2 weeks.
- The first offensive series displayed a great pass connection between Christian Ponder and Stephen Burton. Had Burton not tripped over his own feet while making the catch, he might have scored a touchdown.
- Offensively, the first two drives looked strong, but after that, the Vikings did very little to inspire confidence.
- On the defensive side, the team struggled to do anything against the run. Lack of physicality was an issue.
- 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick made the Vikings look foolish, with a 78-yard touchdown run right through the middle of the defense.
With that said, let's take a closer look at what we saw from each position in this matchup against Minnesota's regular-season Week 3 opponent.
Vikings RB Toby Gerhart and QB Christian Ponder.
Christian Ponder: Up
The starter looked calm and poised in the pocket, but three dropped passes hurt his numbers.
Joe Webb: Down
Webb looked uncomfortable and over-matched. He is as elusive as always, but a quarterback has to be able to throw the ball.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson: Even
Paul Allen's hype aside, Bethel-Thompson looked decent—against the third- and fourth-string defense. He had one bad throw that turned into an interception.
Toby Gerhart: Up
Gerhart showcased his strong running style yet again. With or without Peterson, his role should improve.
Lex Hilliard: Even
He looked about as average as you can—not much else can be expected out of the third-stringer.
Derrick Coleman: Down
A guy I liked heading into this game, Coleman looked the same as Hilliard, but fumbled and dropped a pass.
Ryan D'Imperio: Even
The fullback blocked well when he was on the field, but saw very little playing time.
Vikings wide receiver Stephen Burton
Stephen Burton: Even
Burton had his one big play, but disappeared after that. He dropped a short pass and did not impress in returning kicks.
Jerome Simpson: Down
His one drop was the only time he was targeted; otherwise, he did not see much playing time.
Jarius Wright: Even
Wright was used in motion a lot, but was only targeted once. He did not catch it.
Michael Jenkins: Down
Jenkins dropped a key third down pass in the red zone. Veteran players can't do that come regular season.
Devin Aromashodu: Even
He saw mostly garbage time and didn't end up with a reception.
Kerry Taylor: Up
Taylor got open a few times and caught a couple passes. With the struggles in front of him, he may be the biggest winner of the first game.
Kyle Rudolph: Up
Rudolph continued to showcase his hands and connection with Ponder.
Rhett Ellison: Up
Displaying far better hands than advertised, Ellison hauled in a couple of tough passes.
Allen Reisner: Even
Reisner made one catch and looked decent on special teams, but did little else to set himself apart from the talent in front of him.
Vikings defensive end D'Aundre Reed
Matt Kalil: Up
The first-round pick missed one block, but looked solid the rest of the time he was on the field. He handled Aldon Smith well.
They couldn't buy a block and did not display anything that would make the coaching staff comfortable with them playing in real games.
Rest of the Line: Even
They get an even grade because I couldn't pay attention to them, Kalil and the rest of the offense. They would have had to have played very poorly for me to notice, and I didn't, so that much is good.
D'Aundre Reed: Up
He actually played the run well and generated some pressure on Alex Smith.
Letroy Guion: Neutral
Guion left the game with an injury before playing much, so nothing could really be made of what he did.
Fred Evans: Up
Evans looked strong replacing Guion and got an early sack.
Jeff Charleston: Even
Charleston played well, but didn't generate enough pressure against the third-string offensive line he was up against.
Anthony Jacobs: Even
Undrafted out of Minnesota, Jacobs had an up-and-down performance with some great plays. Look to see if he can settle down next week.
Rest of the Line: Down
I only give them this grade because of the team's inability to stop the run. No other lineman did anything to really stand out.
Vikings rookie Audie Cole sacks Scott Tolzien.
Erin Henderson: Down
Henderson missed a few contain assignments early on, which helped the 49ers keep their first drive alive.
Jasper Brinkley: Even
Brinkley did nothing to discourage any fans who were watching. On the flip-side, he did nothing to encourage them, either.
Chad Greenway: Even
Greenway did not see much playing time, but we know what to expect out of him at this point.
Tyrone McKenzie: Up
McKenzie showed he's a hard hitter and solid tackler. He's only competing for a back-up role, but he looks like he should (at least) get a shot to start.
Marvin Mitchell: Up
Good play-calling benefited Mitchell more than anything, but his blitzes were the only situations where the Vikings looked good against the run.
Audie Cole: Up
I was excited when Cole was mic'd up, as I wanted to learn more about him. All I learned is he is a quiet rookie. He did make some plays, though, and showed that he can be an effective blitzer when called upon.
Everson Griffen: Even
Griffen looked good when rushing the quarterback, but I didn't see him in pass coverage enough to really analyze him there. His ability to get off of blocks is still impressive.
Solomon Elimimian: Up
The CFL's hardest hitter showed just that, stuffing any player who came near him. He added an interception after fourth-string quarterback Scott Tolzien was hit as he released the ball.
Vikings rookie safety Harrison Smith.
Chris Cook: Down
Cook misplayed the run a few times, most notably on Kaepernick's long touchdown. He didn't allow much in the passing game near him, but improvement is needed if he is going to be a starter.
Chris Carr: Down
The veteran looked like a rookie in the first game. He allowed a touchdown pass and couldn't get good position on anyone he covered.
Marcus Sherels: Up
Last season's punt return specialist showed some life in coverage, blanketing his target. He also demonstrated impressive tackling from the cornerback position.
Being on the roster bubble, Sherels certainly helped his case.
Zack Bowman: Up
Despite expecting big things from Carr, it was the other veteran who impressed come game time. Bowman's strong coverage and tackling should warrant increased playing time come next week.
Reggie Jones: Even
Jones certainly has improved physically since last season, but his play did nothing to demonstrate anything but mediocrity.
Brandon Burton: Even
Burton didn't make any mistakes, but San Fran's quarterbacks were targeting him when he was on the field.
Bobby Felder: Even
Felder is only even because the majority of his playing time was on special teams. We didn't get to see how good he is on the defensive side of the ball.
Corey Gatewood: Down
This undrafted defensive back from Stanford looked lost the entire time he was on the field. Not a good sign for a man on the roster bubble.
Mistral Raymond: Down
Being listed as the starter since Day 1, Raymond still needs to show he is worthy of that job.
He did not show that against the 49ers.
Raymond took some bad angles against the ball-carrier and didn't impress in coverage.
Jamarca Sanford: Even
Sanford looked to be the better of the two starters, if only because he took correct angles and hit much harder. Coverage-wise, he was the same as Raymond.
Harrison Smith: Up
While he is slated as the backup, don't expect it to stay that way. In limited time, Smith showed he was the same smart, savvy player he was at Notre Dame.
Eric Frampton: Down
Last season's best special team player did nothing to show he should be anything more than that. Frampton missed a few easy tackles and took some poor angles.
Andrew Sendejo: Even
Sendejo played up in the box a lot, so he didn't get much of a chance to show us how he is in coverage. He demonstrated good tackling skills, though.
New Vikings kicker Blair Walsh.
Blair Walsh: Up
Walsh's leg strength continues to impress on kickoffs, and he made both of his field goal attempts despite the high winds—his longest from 39 yards away.
Chris Kluwe: Down
The wind seemed to affect Kluwe, as his punts did not go very far. They also didn't end up where he wanted them to go.
Luckily there isn't much pressure without any other punters on the roster.
Kickoff Coverage: Up
The kickoff coverage unit was dismal last season, but this year, it looked to have its act together. Walsh's strong leg certainly helps.
Punt Coverage: Even
The unit struggled early, but eventually figured it out and caused mostly fair catches.
Kick Return: Down
The blocking was shoddy, and no return man showed much promise. Harvin most likely will be the starter come the regular season.
Punt Return: Even
Most of the 49ers' punts were allowed to bounce, and with the great Andy Lee punting, that rarely ended well for Minnesota.