Minnesota Vikings Preseason: 5 Things to Watch Saturday Against Dallas

Mike Nelson@Mike_E_NelsonCorrespondent IAugust 23, 2011

Minnesota Vikings Preseason: 5 Things to Watch Saturday Against Dallas

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    Can you believe it? The Minnesota Vikings are halfway through their preseason schedule and that much closer to the beginning of the 2011 season.

    Does it feel like it? Well, that depends on who’s asked. But it doesn’t seem like it to this writer.

    Why? Because it seems very little has been determined through the first two games.

    Here are five things to watch for in Saturday’s third preseason game against Dallas.

Percy Harvin

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    It’s at the halfway point of the preseason and Minnesota Viking fans have hardly seen the team’s No. 1 wide receiver Percy Harvin.

    Harvin was held out of Saturday’s 20-7 win over the Seattle Seahawks with a rib injury but practiced Monday.

    Barring any further injury, Harvin expects to play Saturday which will be a great opportunity for him to connect with Minnesota’s starting quarterback Donovan McNabb.

    So far their chemistry has been limited to one pass for three yards in a 14-3 loss in the preseason opener to Tennessee and anything that has occurred in practice.

    Harvin needs to have a big year for Minnesota if the Vikings are to surprise many and make it to the postseason. The Vikings need him to play like a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. And to do that, he needs to get more game experience with his quarterback.

Kyle Rudolph

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    Many scratched their heads when Minnesota selected the tight end from Notre Dame in the second round (43rd overall) since it already had Visanthe Shiancoe—a proven pass-catching tight end in the NFL.

    But fans should be grateful that the organization did—especially with the departure of receiver Sidney Rice which left Minnesota with a weak core of wide receivers.

    Rudolph projected as a first round pick by many NFL draft experts. But a lingering hamstring injury dropped him out of the first round and into Minnesota’s lap. And what a great drop it appears to be.

    In two preseason games Rudolph has caught 4-of-5 passes thrown to him for 32 yards. And not every catch has been routine.

    Rudolph has shown superb hands and a knack for getting creating separation with his defender. Look for that to continue Saturday against Dallas and into the regular season. Rudolph can make a difference in Minnesota’s passing game in 2011, especially if McNabb and he continue to connect.

Pass Rush

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    Where was the rush in 2010?

    Minnesota was tied for 20th in sacks in 2010 with 31 and one year removed from leading the NFL with 48 sacks—which is why the Vikings’ defense was one of the best in the business that year.

    The 2010 squad struggled to rush the quarterback. And Minnesota still finished in the top-10 for passing defense in 2010. Imagine what could happen if the pass rush of 2009, or just something better than 2010, returned…

    Against Seattle Saturday the Vikings had only one sack, but had 10 quarterback hits and numerous other opportunities where they disrupted the flow of Seattle's quarterbacks.

    Part of the extra-large rush may have had to do with the extra adrenaline obtained from having former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson playing quarterback for Seattle. Part of it may be that Seattle’s offensive line wasn’t 100 percent healthy.

    Either way, keep an eye on the pass rush Saturday against Dallas. Defensive coordinator Fred Pagac wants to bring more blitzes in 2011 which should help improve the rush, but the struggles of 2010 mean the rush should be on watch in 2011.  It has to improve.

Charlie Johnson

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    The offensive line of the Minnesota Vikings gave up one sack against Seattle on Saturday. The man responsible for that sack?

    Left tackle Charlie Johnson.

    Johnson chose to block down rather than block out on a player while left guard Steve Hutchinson appeared to have the interior protected while Johnson needed to protect the outside.

    Johnson’s error allowed Seattle defensive end Raheem Brock to reach 34-year-old quarterback Donovan McNabb unencumbered for the sack.

    Johnson’s in a tough position regardless of the fact that he’s been a Minnesota Viking for less than a month and has to replace a very talented left tackle in Bryant McKinnie. But Minnesota cannot afford to have mistakes like that with a 34-year old under center or McNabb, who hasn't played a full 16 games since 2008, may be in for a shorter stint in Minnesota.

    Johnson struggled in training camp. Let’s see how he does against Dallas on Saturday.

Donovan McNabb

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    The success of Minnesota’s offense in 2011 will hinge on which Donovan McNabb shows up (running back Adrian Peterson is a given, McNabb is a wild card).

    Will he play like the old, has-been quarterback that played in Washington last season? Or will he play like the savvy veteran who has led his team to the NFC Championship game five times in his 13-year career?

    Minnesota hopes for the latter, but through two preseason games it’s impossible to know.

    McNabb struggled week one of the preseason in a 14-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans going 6-for-11 with 40 yards.

    But against the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday, McNabb orchestrated a 13-play, 81-yard drive that lasted seven minutes, 19 seconds. It only ended in a field goal, but McNabb looked like an Eagle, not a Redskin. He finished the game 6-of-8 for 81 yards and a 106.8 passer rating.

    McNabb will get even more playing time on Saturday against Dallas and No. 1 receiver Percy Harvin should play so everyone should get a better idea of what McNabb can do in Minnesota this year.