Bills vs. Vikings: Minnesota's Biggest Winners & Losers from Preseason Week 2
The fluidity of the offense, something fans have been looking for as Christian Ponder matures into his second year, was fantastic. While generally stalling in the red zones, the Vikings were comfortable moving the ball across the field.
On the other side, the first team defense—infused with the reappearance of Winfield, Allen and Williams—did an excellent job, only allowing 27 yards on the ground in the first half.
While there is no game without error (particularly a preseason game), Vikings fans will be content with this performance as they head into next week.
What follows are the winners and losers from the Vikings' second preseason game.
Winner: Christian Ponder
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Christian Ponder is clearly on a trajectory of improvement. He completed 10-of-13 passes for 136 yards with one touchdown. Beyond that, Ponder looked comfortable in the pocket, and exhibited good decision making overall.
In particular, Ponder displayed excellent awareness when scrambling on 3rd-and-2 in his first drive near the goal line, picking up the first down and setting up his touchdown pass to Jerome Felton. It was the first touchdown of the preseason and it looked good.
While the pocket was stable, the young quarterback made quick reads and had excellent ball placement, an issue that consistently appeared in his rookie season.
He has developed more torque on the ball through his motion, and steps up into the pocket much more confidently.
What is perhaps most encouraging is that Ponder was able to pass the ball around to eight different receivers, which indicates an improved ability to read defenses and greater familiarity with the playbook.
Ponder clearly still has quite a bit to improve, however. He was too sensitive to pressure and ran out of the pocket too quickly. While Kalil did not have a career day against the powerful Buffalo Bills defensive line, the quarterback was still too eager to escape the pocket instead of making the correct throw.
Nevertheless, sacks given up by Kalil and Sullivan did not slow Ponder down, who led the offense to two scoring drives (three, had Walsh made the 49-yard attempt).
Loser: Lex Hilliard
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Lex Hilliard had another poor day for the Vikings, running three times for six yards.
Hillard was not a victim of poor run-blocking, either. The biggest problem he has is poor burst. He can't gun through holes with speed and power, making him a liability on first down. Given that Matt Asiata and Derrick Coleman performed better with similar blocking performance in front of them, Hilliard hasn't done much to secure the third running back spot.
His vision has been OK, but he can't get to the line of scrimmage quickly enough to enable his blocking.
Without a stellar performance in pass-blocking, Hilliard will need an excellent game against the Chargers in order to stay on the roster. Even so, it looks increasingly unlikely.
Only Jordan Todman's ankle injury can keep Hilliard on the roster, and the Vikings are confident that Todman is OK.
Winner: Brandon Fusco
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The winner by default of the Vikings' battle for right guard, Brandon Fusco has now established himself as an excellent guard. The sixth-round pick from Slippery Rock has been a credit to his school as well as the Vikings' recent draft history.
He had already established himself as a strong lineman, but had questions regarding technique and discipline going into this offseason. While Fusco has not resolved all of these issues (including one holding penalty at the end of the first quarter), he has been reliable in pass protection and dominant as a run-blocker.
Opposite defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, Fusco had the ability to move the line forward and was a real asset in the run game.
Playing nearly mistake-free, Fusco gave up no pressures and enabled excellent second-line blocking for Gerhart and Hilliard.
The question at right guard has been settled, and Fusco is the answer.
Loser: Eric Frampton
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Eric Frampton has been a backup safety for the Minnesota Vikings since 2007, but has largely performed as a special-teamer, where he's been excellent.
Unfortunately, his spot on special teams is by no means guaranteed, and other safeties have been showing up as well. Andrew Sendejo, in particular, stood out as an excellent special-team tackler and was a much better safety in his limited snaps than Frampton.
Unlike Frampton, Sendejo was able to shed blocks on the kickoff unit and used smart patience to make plays.
In the course of regular play, Frampton embarrassed himself by allowing a 64-yard bomb from Vince Young to rookie receiver T.J. Graham, and was beat once again on the same drive on a short 2-yard route to receiver Dorin Dickerson.
It was Sendejo who prevented that play from turning into a touchdown.
Frampton regularly looked out of place, and was making mistakes that veterans should be embarrassed to make.
It's beginning to look like only five safeties will make the roster, and Frampton likely won't be one of them.
Winner: Audie Cole
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Audie Cole revitalized a near-empty stadium with two consecutive interceptions against former Vikings quarterback Tyler Thigpen.
Both interceptions were returned for a touchdown.
As exciting as consecutive pick-sixes are, Audie Cole had a good day overall. Despite having no tackles, he shed blocks and directed the third-team defense well.
The first interception was a heads-up play with good reaction time from Cole, who took advantage of defensive tackle Tydreke Powell's hit on Thigpen. The flight path on the ball had been interrupted by the hit and Cole did well to place himself under the ball, give himself the time to catch it and move effectively into the end zone.
The second interception was even more impressive, and he jumped on Naaman Roosevelt's out route with perfect timing, gathered the ball well and ran unimpeded to the endzone.
Because Tyrone McKenzie is comfortable at both middle linebacker and outside linebacker, expect the second team depth chart to drop Marvin Mitchell and add Cole some time in the near future.
Loser: Undrafted Offensive Linemen
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For the second game in a row, Joe Webb scrambled for his life. While he was able to turn his two runs into 64 yards of offense, he also took a sack.
When tight ends we in line for blocking, Webb had time to throw some pretty good passes. Unfortunately, the offensive line could rarely provide adequate blocking on its own.
The biggest culprit was left tackle Kevin Murphy, although sophomore right tackle Patrick Brown had a poor day as well. For the most part, swingman Joe Berger held up well in both pass-blocking and in the run game as the center, but the rest of the interior looked like it had problems.
While an initial look at the game didn't reveal specific issues with Chris DeGeare or Austin Pasztor, one more look at the game tape will likely reveal big problems for either of the backup guards. Pasztor was a huge liability in pass coverage against San Francisco and DeGeare's game was merely adequate at best.
Neither Brown nor Murphy were completely in control of the run game, either, with runs up the center doing a better job than runs outside either tackle.
Vikings fans shouldn't be too discouraged by their offensive line depth, however. Joe Berger is excellent in the interior and Schwartz is more than serviceable playing either guard or tackle. DeGeare is a swingman as well, and has experience at every position along the line.
Still, Murphy and Pasztor will not likely stay on the team very long.
Winner: Harrison Smith and Mistral Raymond
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Harrison Smith finally got his first team reps and worked alongside Mistral Raymond in the secondary. Both performed well.
While Raymond came off a poor performance against San Francisco (highlighted by a bad angle against Brandon Jacobs), he showed his chops tackling ball-carriers with three takedowns of Fred Jackson in four plays.
Harrison Smith was also skilled as a run defender, and tackled Jackson once on his own. They both took excellent angles, and placed themselves well on the field. Both young defensive backs also displayed talent at reading the flow of the play.
The starting safeties also had an aptitude in the passing game, with Smith making a play on a pass deflection off of a blitz, and Raymond providing excellent coverage against three and four receiver sets.
The Vikings played an unusual amount of Cover 1 looks, with a free safety up top to prevent deep gains, and both safeties kept the play in front of them.
More notable were Raymond's opportunities in man-to-man coverage, where he tightened passing windows and created difficult angles for the quarterback. Many of the coverage principles were intuitive for Raymond, and he did well to use the sideline as another defender.
Sanford, who also did well, will need to do much more to break back into the first team.
Loser: Devin Aromashodu
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Devin Aromashodu was listed as the target on six passing plays in this game and four plays in the game against San Francisco, but still has zero catches during this preseason.
Despite improvements in route running, Aromashodu hasn't been able to distinguish himself in offseason play, which could end his time with the Vikings.
While a number of his listed targets are more accurately throwaways, Aromashodu has had enough legitimate opportunities to prove he deserves a spot on the roster, but hasn't done so yet.
It's true that the Auburn product had a number of difficult assignments, including two or three difficult sideline throws, but he hasn't displayed an ability to get open across the field enough to generate trust from his quarterbacks.
On many of his throws, ball placement has little to do with his poor catching skills, and Webb has done well to make sure Aromashodu is the only player with access to the ball.
Many of his adjustments to the ball flash skill, but if he cannot control his body before and after the catch at this point in his career, he doesn't have much else to offer.
It is unlikely after those two performances that a good performance against the Chargers or Texans will secure a spot on the roster for him.
Many of his targets were difficult catches, but the Vikings have no use for a deep threat with inconsistent route running if he cannot catch the hard passes.