Minnesota Vikings vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Vikings Week 3 Game Preview
The Minnesota Vikings will look to remain perfect during the 2014 preseason when they travel to Kansas City on Saturday to take on the Chiefs at 8 p.m. ET. The Vikings moved to 2-0 with an exciting 30-28 win over the Arizona Cardinals last Saturday night. This Saturday's game can be seen on KARE-TV in Minnesota.
The third preseason game is generally the last time most starters will see game action before the regular season begins in the first week of September.
Minnesota will have plenty to play for against the Chiefs, as there are at least two starting positions still up for grabs and plenty of players jockeying for roster spots. The the first day of cuts looms next Tuesday, August 26, when NFL teams have to reduce their rosters from 90 to 75 players.
Head coach Mike Zimmer wouldn't say how long he expected to play his starters on Saturday, but it's expected that they'll at least play into the third quarter. Here's what Zimmer had to say to reporters about the matchup with the Chiefs on Saturday:
I think where we are playing at in Kansas City, they’ve got a great crowd, it should be loud, it should be an energetic atmosphere. I think all of those things are good. I think the more situations we can put this team in before we go play St. Louis, the better it is. I just wait and see how guys react to certain situations. I didn’t really know what to expect in the first two preseason games. I’m kind of the same way here. The routine is going to be different, our routine today and yesterday was different. They’re all learning about the differences that our program is running now.
Kansas City stands at 1-1 in the preseason, having lost 28-16 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. For the Vikings, Saturday's game marks their first venture out on the road this summer. While a third straight win would be nice, it's more important for Minnesota that players step up and earn the staring spots at middle linebacker and strong safety.
Vikings Week 2 Recap
The Vikings had a hard enough time finding one quarterback to play well during the 2013 season, so it might have been a little peculiar for Minnesota fans to watch not one but two quarterbacks play nearly flawless football in a 30-28 win over the Arizona Cardinals last Saturday night.
Matt Cassel took a large step toward securing the starting job by playing brilliantly with the starters in the first half, completing 12 of 16 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown.
Rookie Teddy Bridgewater followed with a second half that was even more impressive, albeit against the Cardinals' second and third teams. Bridgewater completed 16 of 20 tosses for 177 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner with just 18 seconds left in the game.
The Vikings quarterbacks spread the ball around as well, with 13 different players catching passes, led by tight end Kyle Rudolph and receivers Rodney Smith and Adam Thielen, who each pulled in four balls.
If there's any nitpicking to be done about last weekend's win, it's that the first-team defense allowed too many big plays in surrendering a pair of first-half touchdowns to the Cardinals.
All in all, it was a very impressive performance for Minnesota, who won a game that it looked like it would lose, which is a nice 180-degree turn from far too many games over the last three seasons.
Players looking to improve their roster spots who probably did themselves the most good on Saturday night include Smith (who had two huge catches on the final drive, including the touchdown), linebacker Jasper Brinkley and cornerback Jabari Price.
Yes, it's still only August, but the more vibrant approach taken by Zimmer and his coaching staff seems to be rubbing off on the team. The competition only ramps up this week, as the starters will get plenty of action against the Chiefs before many of them sit out the preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans.
News and Notes
Cassel Will Start for the Third Straight Week
While Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have handled their quarterback situation beautifully so far, they've yet to officially name Matt Cassel as their starter for the regular season. That's probably nothing more than a formality at this point though, as Cassel will start his third straight game this week, according to a tweet from ESPN's Ben Goessling (h/t NBCSports.com).
Not only has Cassel been the best quarterback on the practice field, but he's been excellent in both preseason games, going 17-of-22 for 210 yards and a touchdown. Cassel, like everybody else, is still learning the complexities of Norv Turner's offense and will more than likely play at least the entire first half against the Chiefs.
Teddy Bridgewater will relieve Cassel and hopes to build on his spectacular performance against the Cardinals last week. The first-round pick hit 16-of-20 passes for two touchdowns, including a game-winner with under a minute to play.
Cassel has earned the right to be the Vikings' starting quarterback since the first day of training camp, but Minnesota should be thrilled at Bridgewater's progress and potential for the future.
Depending on how Saturday's game unfolds, third-stringer Christian Ponder may get some time in mop-up duty. Vikings coaches quelled any rumors about Ponder being waived this week. Zimmer told reporters on Tuesday, "I don't think there will be just two quarterbacks."
Vikings Defense Continues to Evolve
When Minnesota hired Mike Zimmer, they knew they were getting a defensive guru who would completely overhaul that side of the ball. After last season's defensive performance, that might have been reason No. 1 why Zimmer was hired.
And while the Vikings, like every other NFL team, try to keep most of their tricks up their sleeves until September, it's fairly obvious that Minnesota will be much more complex on defense than they've been.
As Ben Goessling of ESPN.com noted, Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and rookie Anthony Barr have all lined up at several different positions in just two preseason games.
Zimmer's defense clearly wants to keep the offense guessing, so he'll attack from a variety of formations and schemes. While there's been much talk and speculation about who'll start where once the regular season begins, it might not ultimately matter too much, as linebackers and secondary players might be on a constant shuffle during the season.
Obviously, that doesn't mean that the Vikings' coaches don't want to see a safety step up and grab the job next to Harrison Smith, or Jasper Brinkley or Audie Cole make some plays that separate themselves. In the end, however, starting Week 1 doesn't guarantee anybody that they'll be starting come Week 3.
Vikings All-Time Great Tingelhoff Nominated for Hall of Fame Class of 2015
We would be remiss if we didn't mention the fact that one of the Vikings' all-time greats was the only senior player nominated for the Hall of Fame class of 2015.
Center Mick Tingelhoff, whose exploits we wrote about here as the third-best Vikings offensive lineman in their history, will be a part of the vote on January 31, 2015 to select the class of 2015.
Tingelhoff, was quoted at ProFootballHOF.com as saying, “It feels great. I thought maybe history forgot me. But this is a great honor.” He started every one of his 240 games with the Vikings, never missing a game from 1962-1978.
Player Position Injury Status
Linval Joseph DT Out
Chase Ford TE Out
Gerald Hodges LB Out
Jabari Price CB Out
Four Vikings will miss Saturday's game against the Chiefs, according to R.J. White of CBSSports.com.
Though Joseph's injury isn't supposed to be serious, he'll sit out again this week after taking a stray bullet to his calf while at a downtown club two weekends ago. The Vikings haven't given a definitive return date for Joseph, but every indication is that he'll be ready to go for the opening week of the season.
Ford is still on the PUP list but is close to returning to practice after suffering a stress fracture in his foot earlier in the summer.
Hodges is dealing with a balky knee, and although it isn't a serious injury he'll take the week off to make sure it's completely healed.
Price's injury is undisclosed but isn't believed to be serious.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Everson Griffen/Anthony Barr vs. Eric Fisher
The Chiefs made Fisher the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, and he played right tackle during his up-and-down rookie season. His workload has gotten significantly tougher for his second season, as he's made the move to left tackle and is coming back from offseason shoulder surgery.
Fisher will have another big test on Saturday night when he's tasked with keeping Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen and linebacker Anthony Barr away from his quarterbacks.
Griffen had three quarterback hits on Saturday night against the Cardinals and was a constant presence in the Arizona backfield. Barr, the Vikings first-round pick out of UCLA, had a strip sack on Drew Stanton and has a sack-and-a-half in two games.
Both Griffen and Barr will attack Fisher with a combination of size, speed and power that will certainly give the second-year man an indication of how well his shoulder has mended. Both teams have indicated that their starters will play the entire first half and perhaps into the third quarter, so expect all three of these players to get plenty of reps squaring off on Saturday night.
Captain Munnerlyn vs. Frankie Hammond
Munnerlyn didn't have a great game last week against the Cardinals. He pitched in with two tackles, but unfortunately for defensive players, it's the tackles you don't make that usually stand out. On Arizona's third play from scrimmage, Carson Palmer found Jaron Brown with a quick-hitter that Brown took down the sidelines for a 51-yard gain.
Both Munnerlyn and Xavier Rhodes missed chances to bring down Brown for a short gain. Those are plays that can make a huge difference in the course of a football game. The Cardinals went from deep in their own territory to the Minnesota 22-yard line.
It was the kind of play that can make coaches pull their hair out, and surely both players heard from the Vikings coaches when they were watching the game back.
At any rate, that's what the preseason is for: to work out the kinks in a defense that needs to be dramatically better for Minnesota to improve in 2014.
Heading to Kansas City, Munnerlyn will look to have a bounce-back game. He'll be matched up plenty of times against Chiefs receiver Frankie Hammond, who'll be filling in for injured Dwayne Bowe this week, according to Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star.
Hammond, who joined the Chiefs last year as an undrafted free agent out of Florida, caught three passes for 57 yards last week against the Carolina Panthers and had another 51-yard reception called back for a holding penalty.
Via Covitz, Hammond has been impressing Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith for quite some time:
Frankie is like Mr. Reliable. All offseason, all training camp, every time he’s out there, he knows what he’s doing, he makes plays, and he showed it in camp and the last couple of games. When his number gets called, he’s ready and beyond that.
He’s playing aggressive and cutting it loose. He knows all the (receiving) positions. We move him all around. I know in the quarterbacks room, he demands a lot of respect because of the way he goes about his business.
It's a matchup that Munnerlyn has to win for the Vikings defense to be successful. While Rhodes will usually be matched up with team's No. 1 receivers, Munnerlyn will move around the field a lot and have to do a lot of defending against the "other guys."
Hammond seems to be a player on the rise in Kansas City, and a good performance from Munnerlyn will get the Vikings defense going in the right direction.
Cordarrelle Patterson vs. Sean Smith
Not that it matters a whit in the preseason, but Minnesota still hasn't seen a "wow" play from wideout Cordarrelle Patterson in the Vikings' first two games. Patterson has been pretty quiet, not returning kickoffs and only catching five passes for 47 yards so far.
With the starters getting extended playing time this week, look for Patterson to bust out a little bit and give us a glimpse of the huge season everyone is expecting him to have.
For Vikings fans, it would be especially nice to see Patterson targeted on a deep route, where he still has to prove that he can go up and get the ball away from a defender.
Almost all of Patterson's receiving yards last season were produced by his running ability. He'd take quick hitches and short routes and turn them in to huge gains by making people miss and outrunning them.
If Patterson is to become an elite receiver in the NFL, he'll have to expand his game and be able to get open and make catches on intermediate and deep routes as well. It's certainly understandable if the Vikings are keeping their plans on how to use Patterson under wraps until September, but it would be nice to see him catch some deeper balls on Saturday.
The Chiefs raised a lot of eyebrows when they released Brandon Flowers and his 17 career interceptions in June. Although Flowers was coming off his first Pro Bowl, the truth is, according to Adam Telcher of ESPN.com, that Flowers had become Kansas City's third cornerback behind Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper.
Smith, at 6'3", 218 pounds, is the huge corner NFL teams currently covet. He has seven career picks and 53 passes defended in his five seasons in the league. He and Cooper combined to defend 31 passes last season, and at with Cooper being 6'2", the Chiefs have ideal size on the corner.
That combination should give Patterson a great gauge to see where he's at with the regular season just around the corner.
According to ESPN.com's Ben Goessling, special teams coach Mike Priefer said on Thursday that Patterson would get a kick return or two against the Chiefs.
Vikings' X-Factor of the Week: Jerick McKinnon
With Adrian Peterson watching from the sidelines during the preseason, Vikings fans might have expected to see a little big more out of McKinnon, the third-round draft pick out of Georgia Southern.
Through the first two games, McKinnon has rushed just 12 times for 45 yards for an underwhelming 3.8 yards per carry. He's also returned five kickoffs but averaged just 22.4 yards per attempt.
While he threw a fantastic downfield block that helped spring Kyle Rudolph for his 51-yard touchdown last week, Minnesota fans would like to see a little more big-play ability out of McKinnon during the last two preseason games.
While Peterson's role in the passing game will be a work in progress, the Vikings need McKinnon to be a player who can make things happen when Peterson isn't on the field.
The Vikings will try to win their third straight preseason game for the first time since 2009 on Saturday night.
While preseason games will quickly be forgotten once the calendar turns to September, it's nice to see Minnesota winning games after three disappointing seasons in a row.
As per the usual practice of the preseason, the Vikings starters are expected to get a full half of playing time, with some players even getting reps into the third quarter. Starters Adrian Peterson and Linval Joseph won't play once again for the Vikings. Peterson is fully healthy, but they don't want to risk using him, while the Vikings coaches are making sure Joseph is fully recovered from his calf injury before returning to action.
Quarterback Matt Cassel will get his third straight start and hopes to continue his excellent play in the preseason. The Vikings haven't said how much Cassel will play exactly, but ESPN.com's Ben Goessling quoted him as saying he thought he'd play "a lot."
The Vikings offensive line continues to gel and barring an injury will start the same five players for the third consecutive season. The only training camp questions that remain up front are who will win the backup spots.
On defense there are still three crucial spots up for grabs, including the starting jobs at middle linebacker and strong safety and the third corner spot behind Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn. Safety Robert Blanton should get his first game action of the preseason. Blanton had been running with the first team before suffering a hamstring injury near the end of July.
Once again, while preseason games don't matter, it's the third week that gives the starters the best opportunity to see where they're at heading into the regular season. The fourth preseason game is crucial for the backups, as jobs will be won and lost, but most starters will sit that one out.
It will be interesting to see how the Vikings fare on the road for the first time this summer, and they'll certainly get a hostile environment in Kansas City, where the crowd is always a factor.
Look for the Vikings defense to play their best game yet and for Cordarrelle Patterson and Jerick McKinnon to pop on offense.
Vikings 24 Chiefs 20