Vikings-Texans: Five Things We Learned

M. EccherCorrespondent ISeptember 1, 2009

HOUSTON - AUGUST 31:  Wide receiver  Percy Harvin #12 of the Minnesota Vikings is tackled by linebacker DeMeco Ryans #59 of the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on August 31, 2009 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

A preseason football game can be tedious. Instant replay during a preseason football game is downright mind-numbing.

Watching an official climb under the hood to agonize over a call that doesn’t matter in a game that doesn’t count is one of the least enlightening experiences the gridiron has to offer.

Nobody ever claimed that watching three hours of football makes you smarter, but after Brad Childress stopped play twice in Houston on Monday night via red flag, I’m convinced that sitting through a five-minute replay boondoggle during an exhibition game can in fact make you a little bit dumber.

Monumentally pointless challenges aside, however, the Vikings’ third preseason tilt (presumably the one that comes closest to the genuine article) did offer a few bits of wisdom. Here’s what we learned from Minnesota’s not-for-real win:

1. When the Vikings Control the Ground, It’s a Beautiful Thing To Watch

On Minnesota’s first offensive play of the game, Adrian Peterson broke a 75-yard run for a touchdown.

On the team’s first defensive snap, Antoine Winfield blew up Houston’s Steve Slaton at the line of scrimmage, jarring the ball loose in what looked an awful lot like a fumble.

That’s what I call an opening statement.

It’s a pipe dream to imagine the Vikings starting all of their games in a similar fashion, and depending on "home run" plays to score is a risky way to run an offense.

But if you’re an opponent, it has to be demoralizing to watch Peterson disappear in a cloud of dust on one side of the ball, then watch your own back disappear under a mound of purple jerseys on the other.

If you’re a Vikings fan, meanwhile, watching Minnesota seize control of the running game right out of the gate had to be encouraging.


2. Percy Harvin Is a Work in Progress

Eleven minutes into the first quarter, the mythical, magical “Wildcat” formation made an appearance. Percy Harvin lined up under center, took the snap, stepped back...and handed off to Peterson for a five-yard gain.

Breathtaking stuff, to be sure. Almost as captivating as watching Harvin rush for two yards out of the ‘Cat in the third quarter, while Brett Favre lined up at wideout and threw a nasty (and illegal) crackback block at Eugene Wilson’s knees, setting Minnesota back 15 big ones.

Not sure the Vikes are going to keep too many defensive coordinators up at night with that one.

Gadget plays notwithstanding, Harvin looked like a promising playmaker who needs to polish the finer points of his game.

On a 3rd-and-6 play late in the first quarter, Harvin ran a quick curl that took him just past the first-down marker, but stepped into the catch to come up short after the tackle. The Vikings had to punt.

On 2nd-and-goal in the second quarter, he slowed down a step too early on a deep throw from Favre, letting six points fall just outside of his fingertips in the corner on the end zone. The team settled for a field goal.

Harvin’s performance on the night—three catches for 31 yards, two carries for six yards—was fine enough. But he was two plays and a few inches away from a much bigger impact. If he can master the little things, he has the chance to impact this offense in a big way.

3. Brett Favre Isn’t an Impact Player Yet

After 12 days in Minnesota, we probably shouldn’t expect him to be. And with downfield threat Bernard Berrian still sidelined with a hamstring injury, Favre still isn’t playing with a full deck.

But until we see Favre make strong, decisive throws more than once or twice a game, it’s going to be hard to get too excited about what he does for the Vikings offense.

His showing on Monday—13-of-18, 142 yards, one touchdown, no picks—was built largely on checkdowns and lobs to running backs. The ultra-safe stuff makes for a clean stat line, but won’t exactly turn Minnesota’s passing attack into a chain-moving machine.

Favre did offer a few glimpses of what he can really do. With five minutes left in the first, he stepped back and rifled a throw to Visanthe Shiancoe for 11 yards up the middle.

On 3rd-and-7 in the second, he hit Sidney Rice for the first down on a quick slant—and might have fallen into a rhythm of quick throws at that point, had Percy Harvin and Brian McKinnie not wiped out back-to-back completions to Chester Taylor with successive penalties.

Favre doesn’t need to go deep to be successful. But he does need to deliver the ball quickly and with authority. Until we see that on a regular basis, it’s hard to gauge how big of a difference he’ll make.


4. Jaymar Johnson is a Breath of Fresh Air on Punt Returns

Last week, the Vikings cut Glenn Holt, signed as kick-return specialist, in the same offseason they signed him.

On Monday, Jaymar Johnson showed us why.

The second-year man out of Jackson State ran back three punts for a total of 38 yards in Houston, displaying a nifty series of moves to elude pursuit, and generally giving the impression that he was a big play waiting to happen.

Johnson may not catch many passes this year, but if he can keep up the gaudy run-back numbers, he’ll be a valuable asset for a team that averaged 8.0 yards per punt return (No. 24 in the league) last season.

Harvin (two kick returns, 52 yards) didn’t look bad himself, either.

5. If You’re a Fantasy Wonk, Chester Taylor Has More  Value than You Think

Taylor is already getting a bit of love as a change-of-pace/goal-line back. He’s owned in 78 percent of CBS leagues, and tends to come off the board sometime in the late rounds of fantasy drafts.

But if throwing to the running back is anywhere near as big a part of Minnesota’s game plan as it was on Monday, Taylor might turn into something of a secret weapon. He caught three balls for 41 yards against Houston, including a touchdown, and clearly has an edge over Adrian Peterson as a passing threat.

It’s hard to get too high on Taylor when he’s on the wrong end of a timeshare with a workhorse like Peterson. But if you’re looking for a pass-catching back, Monday’s game suggested that he might be worth a closer look.


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