Minnesota vs. Kansas City: Report Card Grades for Each Vikings Unit

Bill HubbellContributor IAugust 24, 2014

Minnesota vs. Kansas City: Report Card Grades for Each Vikings Unit

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    In the NFL, it's often said that if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any. The Minnesota Vikings may be the exception to that rule, as both Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater continue to excel for Minnesota.

    Mike Zimmer ran his head coaching record to 3-0 Saturday night as the Vikings whipped the Kansas City Chiefs 30-12 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Vikings used five sacks and three interceptions from their defense to overwhelm the Chiefs and continue their nice little run in the preseason.

    Obviously, the records go out the window by this time next week, but it can't be understated that the Vikings are learning how to win football games under Zimmer and his coaching staff.

    Adrian Peterson didn't play once again, but the running game finally got on track for Minnesota, with a bevy of backs combining for 148 yards on the ground to go with the quarterbacks' 175 yards through the air.

    Things weren't quite as easy for the Vikings as the final score might indicate, but timely turnovers and a couple of big plays turned the tide in their favor, and they broke the game open in the second half.

    The Vikings starters will more than likely sit out the preseason finale next Thursday night when team travels to Tennessee to take on the Titans. Jobs will be on the line for the bubble players, however, and it would be nice to finish off an unbeaten preseason.

    Winning is always better than losing, even if the ledger goes back to 0-0 after next week.

Quarterback

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The numbers certainly won't jump off the page for the Vikings quarterbacks after Saturday night's win over the Chiefs. However, both Cassel and Bridgewater continued to play very well.

    All that's left is the official announcement that Cassel is the starter after another good game from the veteran. He went 9-of-17 for 152 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown to Cordarrelle Patterson. 

    Cassel had a couple of balls dropped on him that should have been easy catches, as well as another long gain that was negated when Greg Jennings didn't get his foot down, making his final numbers look a little worse than they should have been. It wasn't a perfect game by any stretch, but it was efficient and effective.

    Meanwhile, Bridgewater was just 4-of-7 for 40 yards, but he threw two touchdowns to tight end Allen Reisner and showed great poise in the pocket. A bad snap led to a huge rush during his first series, but instead of doing anything stupid, Bridgewater calmly threw the ball away and lived for the next play.

    He threw a touchdown pass on that next play.

    Those are the little things that the Vikings just never saw from the last quarterback that they drafted in the first round, Christian Ponder.

    Grade: B

Running Back

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Quite honestly, the Vikings running backs hadn't done much of anything so far in the preseason. There was nothing too alarming about that considering Peterson was stuck on the sidelines watching, but you certainly wanted to see some signs of life from the other guys.

    Saturday night provided that, as Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon and Dominique Williams all had very good nights for the Purple.

    Asiata picked up 48 yards on 11 carries, including a very nice 12-yard gain. He also caught two balls out of the backfield, turning one of them into a 31-yard gain.

    McKinnon flashed for the first time this preseason, picking up 43 yards on just six carries, including a 24-yard scamper in which he showed a little wiggle and some speed.

    Williams came on in the fourth quarter and ripped off a couple of really good runs, finishing with 39 yards on just five carries, including a 22-yard run where he made a couple of guys miss.

    It's an extremely long shot for either Williams or Joe Banyard to make the final roster, but both backs have put several nice runs on tape that will circulate around the league. Unfortunately, Zach Line was injured Saturday night, which probably decreases his odds of making the team from slim to none.

     Grade: B

Wide Receiver and Tight End

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    So, where do you have Patterson ranked on your fantasy draft board for wide receivers?

    It's too low. Wherever it is, it's too low.

    Patterson was having a pretty quiet preseason heading into Saturday night, but you knew that couldn't last for very long.

    It didn't. 

    On the Vikings' fifth play from scrimmage, Cassel hung one high and deep, and Patterson, who had a step on his defender, made a supremely athletic adjustment to the ball in the air and pulled it in for a 53-yard touchdown. He ended the night with three catches for 71 yards but also had a drop on a play that he could have set sail on.

    Jennings didn't have a reception, which is a little concerning, but it can be shrugged off in the preseason. Cassel made a nice throw to him along the sidelines, but Jennings didn't get his second foot down. He should have.

    Meanwhile, Kyle Rudolph had two catches for 38 yards; the prediction that he could have a big season is looking better and better. Backup tight end Allen Reisner pulled in two short touchdown passes from Bridgewater, and they could go a long way to getting him the third spot ahead of Chase Ford, who has yet to play because of a foot injury.

    Grade: B-

Offensive Line

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Big holes for the running backs. Nice, clean pockets for the quarterbacks and plenty of time to look around and find open receivers. 

    That's how you'd describe the play of the offensive line for about 75 percent of Saturday night's game.

    It was a game that was good for the most part, but when it was bad, it wasn't pretty.

    There was some uneasiness when right tackle Phil Loadholt left the game early on, though he came back in to put everyone's mind at ease. It was while Loadholt was out that rookie Austin Wentworth flat-out missed Jay Howard, who slapped the ball away from Cassel and got the Chiefs two points.

    Wentworth recovered, though, and he combined to block down with Brandon Fusco while Charlie Johnson pulled from the left side and sprung rookie McKinnon to a very nice-looking 24-yard run. 

    Cassel was sacked three times and hurried on several other plays. The offensive line looks close, but it certainly didn't play a complete game. Tamba Hali makes a lot of left tackles look bad, and he certainly beat Matt Kalil a couple of times.

    The Vikings will be starting the same five players on their offensive line for the third straight season. Continuity is huge up front, and after a down year in 2013, the Vikings offensive line looks like it's shaping into form for the 2014 season.

    The only question remaining is which backups will make the club. Thursday night against the Titans will be huge in that respect.

    It was good game from the offensive line. Not a great one, but the unit is getting closer.

    Grade: B-

Defensive Line

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    You want your defensive line to be disruptive. You want it to stuff the run. You want it to hurry the quarterback.

    The Vikings' big guys up front checked all of those boxes Saturday night and were a big reason why the team stormed to an easy win over the Chiefs.

    Minnesota registered five sacks and had pretty steady pressure on the Chiefs quarterbacks all night long. it wasn't just pressuring the quarterback, either; it was collapsing the entire pocket, leaving no escape routes.

    Sharrif Floyd continues to get better and better and looks to be ready to have a big season in the middle. That he's played so well the last two games without Linval Joseph next to him is a great sign.

    Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Corey Wootton and Tom Johnson all had flashes as well Saturday. The Vikings may not have anybody throw up the sack numbers that Jared Allen did over the last few years, but constant pressure from several different spots is exactly what head coach Mike Zimmer is looking for.

    Nose tackle Shamar Stephen had another good game and may be playing his way on to the roster. Thursday night will be a big one for the guys on the bubble, like Johnson and Stephen.

    Grade: A-

Linebacker

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    We might not be any closer to having a starter in the middle, but if Chad Greenway and Anthony Barr continue to play this well, it might not matter as much.

    Greenway was his usual active self and made a nice play on the ball to get an interception. The fact that he was run down and out of bounds by a quarterback might cause him some grief in the film room, but he'll take it.

    Barr had a knocked-down pass and made some nice plays where he closed ground on ball-carriers quickly to make plays.

    Brinkley and Cole both made plays, and their battle for the starting job looks like it will come right down to the wire. The truth is that both players will probably get plenty of reps once the season starts to unfold.

    It was a very good night for the linebacking corps.

    Grade: A

Secondary

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Interceptions for both Captain Munnerlyn and Shaun Prater. A sack for Prater. Solid open-field tackling from Harrison Smith.

    The Vikings defense held the Chiefs to under 100 yards rushing and under 200 passing. That's good any day of the week, and the secondary was pretty solid all night long.

    Chris Crocker started opposite Smith at safety, and Robert Blanton also ran with the first-stringers in his first preseason action of the year.

    Injuries limited both Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond, and their spots on the roster might be in danger.

    Cornerback Josh Robinson didn't have a great game, but he impressed head coach Mike Zimmer by finally getting out on the field. Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune quoted Zimmer after the game as saying, "I was glad to see that he sucked it up and went out there and played."

    It was an excellent showing for Prater, who took advantage of rookie Jabari Price's absence to give the coaches something to think about. When everyone is playing pretty evenly, making big plays makes you stand out, and Prater made two of them.

    Grade: A-

Special Teams

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    One would have to think that Adam Thielen sewed up his roster spot Saturday night.

    If you're a fringe roster player, you better pop on special teams, and Thielen did just that, making a big splash with an excellent 75-yard punt return in which he showed good patience and vision, as Ben Goessling of ESPN.com noted.

    Kicker Blair Walsh had a nice bounce-back week, making all three of his field-goal attempts, including one from 41 yards that would have been good from 60.

    Jeff Locke averaged 48.5 yards on four punts and had one touchback that was inches from dying inside the 1-yard line.

    The coverage units were all excellent, getting downfield in a hurry to pen in De'Anthony Thomas, the Chiefs' electric return man.

    Grade: A

Coaching

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Thumbs up indeed for the Vikings and head coach Mike Zimmer.

    The defense looked especially good Saturday night, attacking the Chiefs from multiple sets and formations that had your head spinning if you were trying to keep track of where everyone was lining up.

    Five sacks and three interceptions are a very good sign for a defense that was nothing but a sieve in 2013.

    The offense wasn't spectacular, but it certainly did enough to win the game.

    Preseason wins and records are easily dismissed, but getting a winning culture permeating among the players is huge. Zimmer has taken over and quickly put his stamp on a team that squandered away far too many football games over the last few seasons.

    When the Chiefs pulled close near the end of the half, it began to feel like a lot of Vikings' losses have felt in recent years. They'd let a team hang around for too long and given them hope. But the Vikings came out in the second half and flat-out whipped the Chiefs in nearly every facet of the game.

    The team is in great hands as far as the coaching is concerned.

    Grade: A

Final Grades

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Positional Unit        Overall Grade

    QB                              B

    RB                              B

    WR/TE                         B-

     OL                              B-

    DL                               A-

    LB                               A

    Secondary                   A-

    Special Teams             A

     Coaching                    A

    Overall Grade:           B+

     

    You know what's a really good thing? Beating an NFL team convincingly and not grading out in the "A" range. That's good overall balance and great coaching, and that will carry you a long way in professional football.

    The Vikings move to 3-0 in the preseason after whipping the Chiefs 30-12 on the road. Neither team played particularly great football, but the Vikings made far more big plays and came away with a convincing win.

    Five sacks and three interceptions paved the way, and Bridgewater was presented with two very short fields, doing what he had to do and throwing two short touchdown passes that helped the team pull away.

    If that was the dress rehearsal, the Vikings are ready for the curtain to rise on the 2014 season.