Vikings vs. Chargers: Minnesota's Biggest Winners and Losers
What may stick out to most observers is the terrible officiating by the clearly inexperienced crew, but more important to players, coaches and dedicated fans is the effect that this game has for players on the bubble competing for limited roster spots.
In what is generally regarded as a "dress rehearsal" for first team players, the offense stalled several times outside of the scoring position and gave the ball away at crucial times.
Once again deficient in generating turnovers, the offensive production and legwork for field positions relied entirely on an anemic offense—one that only got going against the Chargers' third defense and was too late to secure the win.
Still, some players were able to make a case for themselves and potentially avoid cuts when the Vikings whittle down to 75 players on Monday, Aug. 27.
Others did not.
What follows is a rundown on which players made names for themselves and which players created more questions than answers.
Winner: Josh Robinson
Josh Robinson had another strong showing this week against the Chargers and once more displayed the skills that encouraged many Vikings fans this preseason.
For the majority of the game, Robinson only made one mistake: allowing a 22-yard completion to Micheal Spurlock in the middle of the second quarter.
From there, he played excellent coverage. He manned up well and played his zones securely—he had an excellent read on third down to force a receiver short of the mark.
He has been displaying elite speed and can get even faster—his hamstring hasn't fully healed.
There are a number of plays he made that don't show up on the highlight reels, but that helped the team win games.
More than once, Robinson forced Chargers quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to look away from his man. Robinson is already exhibiting the awareness in coverage that makes Winfield so effective—he's been cutting off passing angles and doing a good job closing windows.
In addition to his coverage, Robinson also recorded two tackles, both of which occurred on third down.
Before long, the young third-round draft pick will overtake Chris Carr on the depth chart as the third cornerback on the roster.
Loser: Chris Carr
Incidentally, Chris Carr had a terrible game.
Even if Robinson had not been pushing himself up the depth chart so aggressively, Carr would be in danger of losing his spot as the third cornerback.
In the last three preseason games, Carr has been thoroughly unimpressive as a cover corner and hasn't been able to make up for it in other aspects of play.
The receiver, who had the good fortune to be covered by the veteran cornerback, often found himself open and generally made the play.
Carr trailed quite often and only once seemed to be playing doing it intentionally (as an effort to bracket). He seemed to have lost a step, and Charlie Whitehurst had no problem picking on him.
The former Ravens defensive back found himself to be a general liability in man coverage, and in particular, press coverage. His poor play functionally took press coverage away from the Vikings as an option.
He's also tackled badly by taking poor angles and missing his assignments. He missed tackles at least twice against the Chargers and didn't redeem himself.
He's been excellent when teaching rookies the system that Alan Williams has been installing, but he cannot execute it himself. With the preseason winding down, Carr will need to either produce on the field or get into coaching.
Winner: Matt Asiata
Matt Asiata had a great game for the Vikings and may prove to be more than just a camp body at fullback when the preseason is all said and done.
He averaged 5.3 yards a carry to continue his performance from last week (6.1 YPC) and also caught a pass for a touchdown. Despite having a fumble in the red zone, Asiata proved to be an asset in every aspect of the game and had a total of 54 yards in nine touches.
Beyond that, he was also good in protection, picked up blitzes well and prevented at least two sacks.
Asiata carved through the Chargers defense, with his longest gain going for 18 yards. He was the Vikings' lead rusher and had 48 yards on the ground.
His success rate (40 percent of needed yardage on first down, 60 percent on second down, 100 percent on third down) was 78 percent. This measure of reliability is one of the most important measures for a running back, as it better determines whether or not a running back can be consistently effective.
In fact, it's the rushing statistic best correlated with with winning.
Asiata was impactful and explosive, even if he wasn't the flashiest back out there. That's all the Vikings need from a third back or fullback
Not only that, Asiata's relative success at camp may serve him well as he tries to find a way to stay on the roster. In the modern NFL, it's rare to find fullbacks who can effectively perform as a rusher, pass-catcher, lead blocker and pass protector.
His only problem was the aforementioned fumble: something that may not end up impacting his roster spot after all, given that his competition—Derrick Coleman and Lex Hilliard—also fumbled deep into opponent territory.
Still, Asiata had a game that will give him all the chances that he needs to stay on the roster in the 2012 season.
Loser: Brandon Fusco
Brandon Fusco, who had two good games in the preseason, found himself struggling against a generally poor Vaughn Martin, both in pass protection and as a run blocker.
This is particularly frustrating, as he was beginning to secure the right guard spot for the near future. The Vikings haven't committed to Fusco as a season-long option yet, and games like this may be why.
Not only did he give up pressure to more powerful defensive ends, but he also found himself as a liability in the running game, allowing the interior defensive line to either reroute running backs or even make the tackle themselves.
In the very second play, Martin blew by Fusco to tackle Gerhart, preventing a long gain. In addition to that, he gave up several pressures to Martin and nearly gave up a sack to Melvin Ingram, who didn't make the play by virtue of Larry English's sack.
Later, in the second quarter, he and Sullivan allowed Martin into the backfield, who instead of making a tackle for loss, was able to recover the fumble Eric Weddle caused.
When asked to pull twice in the game, he missed his assignment both times, and Larry English took advantage of this to make plays or reroute backs.
The sixth-round pick out of Slippery Rock is better known for his power than his technique, but the Chargers called both into question in this game.
Fusco found himself on his heels or blown by blocking assignments. Beyond that, his holding call (one of the few correct calls all game) took back an eleven yard gain for Hilliard.
While Geoff Schwartz won't likely be back by Week 1, he could challenge for the starting right guard spot well into September. If Fusco plays like this instead of how he did against the Bills, Schwartz won't have to do much to earn the job.
In all likelihood, however, Fusco's performance was an anomaly rather than something that fans should expect to recur. Nevertheless, he should stay on his toes.
Winner: Reggie Jones
After a busy and exciting training camp, Reggie Jones has been quiet in the preseason—missing one tackle in the 49ers game and making two good tackles in the Bills game.
He broke out again in the Chargers game.
Jones had a picture-perfect pass deflection bafflingly called as pass interference against Micheal Spurlock—it was the coverage highlight of the game, and his hustle will be rewarded in the film room.
Beyond the deflection of Jarrett Lee's pass deep downfield, Jones had effective coverage that narrowed Lee's options and frustrated several receivers.
Reggie also demonstrated good tackling form and contained a Micheal Spurlock reception that could have gone to the house otherwise.
The former Portland State product found himself around the ball often, performed exactly like a Tampa-2 cornerback and made sure to limit big gains while also shutting down deep passes.
Also to his credit were his good moves as a punt gunner. While he didn't record any tackles, he shut down any chance that returners had to run up his side of the field, and he made himself a threat.
Jones, who is fighting for scarce roster space as a cornerback amidst a deep and talented roster, will need all the good film that he can get in order to survive roster cuts.
This performance easily prevented a cut on Monday, and he'll need to show up against the Texans to survive the last round of cuts.
Loser: Christian Ponder
Christian Ponder had a poor game, and that's worrisome for a "dress rehearsal" game—the first game that the Vikings installed a game plan in.
While this doesn't mean that Ponder is a bad quarterback, it shows that there is significant work that needs to be done.
The statistics (9-for-16, 115 yards, one interception, 52.9 rating) don't do him justice, because his performance wasn't simply bad but was maddeningly inconsistent.
With two perfectly thrown balls deep to Percy Harvin—not known for his post route—Ponder could have resolved concerns about poor ball placement and performance under pressure.
Instead, Ponder peppered his game with poor decision-making, obvious tells and irregular pocket presence.
While not all of his five sacks (netting 36 yards of loss) were on him, he found himself holding onto the ball too long on more than one occasion. On different plays, he was too sensitive to pressure that wasn't always there, and he reacted too quickly.
His interception to Chargers cornerback De'Andre Presley was perhaps his worst throw in the preseason, both in terms of the flight of the ball and the decision-making behind it. He stared down his receiver, threw the ball into tight double coverage and didn't put enough zip on the ball to thread the needle—if that was even a possibility.
He couldn't develop proper timing with his receivers and looked out of his game.
The young Florida State product still showed improvement over last year in some ways; he still has more power on the ball than before and reads coverages better in general. In the preseason, he had an overall good showing, but he will need to have a short memory and wipe this game away as he heads into the regular season.
Winner: Jasper Brinkley
Jasper Brinkley had a fantastic game, much more than his merely 'good' showing against the Bills.
Not only did Brinkley record two tackles for loss, but he also had four solo tackles overall, two sacks and three quarterback hits.
He found his home in the downhill play-calling that Alan Williams gave him—not always dropping into coverage but finding places to be effective.
Not only did he avoid or shed blocks well, but he also was a defender that seemed completely unaccounted for.
He created pressure with his blitzes so often that it seemed as if Jarrett Lee and Charlie Whitehurst needed to look for him.
In the past two weeks, Brinkley has frequently had to reiterate that his poor play was due to having not yet "shaken off the rust" after such a long absence; reassurances that he would come back to the level of play that he flashed as a rookie rang hollow with fans until he could put worries to rest.
While he still hasn't been tested in coverage as much as coaches or fans might like to see, his placement and footwork seems to have returned at least in some way.
While some have been calling for Marvin Mitchell or even Audie Cole to replace him, Brinkley was able to address at least some of his detractors with his performance against the Chargers.
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