Minnesota vs. Arizona: Report Card Grades for Each Vikings Unit

Bill HubbellContributor IAugust 17, 2014

Minnesota vs. Arizona: Report Card Grades for Each Vikings Unit

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings moved to 2-0 under head coach Mike Zimmer with an exciting 30-28 preseason win over the Arizona Cardinals at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday night in Minneapolis.

    Yes, we used "exciting" and "preseason" in the same sentence. You probably had to be watching to get it.

    Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater led Minnesota on an eight-play, 73-yard drive in just 53 seconds, capping it off with a three-yard touchdown to Rodney Smith for the go-ahead score.

    The Cardinals had gone ahead on a baffling play that looked like it was straight out of a Buffalo Wild Wings commercial. A botched snap on fourth down led to a scrum with a loose ball that ended up in the hands of running back Zach Bauman, who took it in to the end zone to give the Cardinals a late lead.

    The officials reviewed the play, probably decided that they couldn't make heads or tails of it and kept it as it was called on the field. But Bridgewater's theatrics made the play moot in the end.

    While it looked like Matt Cassel had all but sewed up the starting job with a great performance in the first half, Bridgewater played too well to call this battle just yet. The rookie went 7-of-8 on the last series and showed poise and confidence beyond his years in leading the winning drive.

    Neither team will walk away from Saturday's game disappointed. The Cardinals' first-team units had a slight advantage over Minnesota's, and then the Vikings backups edged the Cardinals.

    Overall, the Vikings outgained the Cardinals 439 yard to 326 yards, but Minnesota played its first unit for almost a quarter longer.

    It was a very solid outing for the Vikings that ended with smiles all over the field. Yes, it was only a preseason game, but for a team that needs to learn how to win, it's a huge step in the right direction.

Quarterback

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Matt Cassel played a great football game.

    Then Teddy Bridgewater came in and stole the show.

    Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner was most likely smiling when his head hit the pillow Saturday night, as both of his quarterbacks played phenomenal games against the Cardinals.

    Cassel played the entire first half and was sharp from the get-go. He finished 12-of-16 for 153 yards and a touchdown and a quarterback rating of 125.3. 

    The feeling in Minnesota was that a solid performance from Cassel would cement his status as the starting quarterback. He was much better than solid, but absolutely nothing is in cement after Saturday night.

    Bridgewater was absolutely spectacular in the second half, going 16-of-20 for 177 yards and two touchdowns and a 136.9 rating. He also had a brilliant 23-yard pass to Adam Thielen that should have been a touchdown, but Thielen couldn't hold on.

    Bridgewater showed poise in the pocket and threw the ball with power, velocity and plenty of touch. If Cassel hadn't played so well, the team would have a full-blown quarterback controversy on its hands.

    Add it all up and the Vikings quarterbacks were 28-of-36 for 322 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. 

    While Bridgewater did everything you could've asked of him, Cassel is probably a step closer to winning the starting job after playing nearly flawlessly against the Cardinals first-team defense. Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune wrote as much following the game.

    Grade: A+

Running Back

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Adrian Peterson didn't play again, so any grade given to the Vikings running backs has to be taken with a grain of salt. Having said that, the guys who carried the rock for Minnesota were decent. Joe Banyard was the back of the night, gaining 64 yards on just six carries, but 56 of those came on one run.

    Matt Asiata made one nice run in his 10 carries, making a guy miss on a six-yard gain. He finished with just 19 yards in 10 carries. 

    Rookie Jerick McKinnon had only one carry for minus yards, but he threw a grade-A downfield block during Kyle Rudolph's 51-yard touchdown catch in the first half.

    The Vikings' 5.1 yards-per-carry average on the night is misleading, as most of their 117 rushing yards were picked up on huge gains by Banyard and Matt Cassel.

    The best part of the night for Vikings running backs? Peterson didn't get hurt.

    Grade: C

Wide Receiver and Tight End

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Thirteen different Vikings caught passes Saturday night. Thirteen.

    That's exceptional.

    The only negative on the evening for this group is that two balls were dropped in the end zone, one by Kyle Rudolph and one by Adam Thielen. The good news is that both players had excellent games even with the drops.

    Rudolph was the receiving star of the first half, catching four passes for 89 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown.

    Thielen took over in the third quarter, grabbing four balls for 54 yards before giving way to Rodney Smith, who starred in the fourth quarter, catching all four balls thrown his way for 55 yards. Smith had a crucial 37-yard reception on the last drive to the Arizona 18-yard line that made you think the Vikings could actually pull the game out.

    Smith then reeled in the game-winning pass on a fade route, using his 6'5" height to his advantage.

    Smith and Thielen are almost assured roster spots at this point, and the Vikings will have to made a tough decision after Jerome Simpson's suspension is announced.

    Simpson, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end Allen Reisner all had contributions as well. The Vikings quarterbacks spread the ball around all night, and the receivers did a fantastic job providing them with targets.

    Grade: A

Offensive Line

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    The Vikings offense racked up 439 yards in just 60 plays, gaining an average of 7.3 yards per play.

    With those numbers, you know the offensive line is doing its job. Minnesota had only one false start penalty and one holding penalty, which is very good considering it ran 60 plays and 36 of those were passes.

    Center John Sullivan was congratulated by sideline reporter and former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber for his and Brandon Fusco's blitz pickup on the touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph.

    Both Cassel and Bridgewater had spectacular games, and when that happens, it's almost a given that the offensive line played well.

    The running game didn't really get going, but it did pop Joe Banyard for a 56-yard scamper. Minnesota ran only 20 running plays, so that can be tough for the line to get into a groove in its drive blocking.

    It certainly wasn't a perfect game for the offensive line, but it was a very good one. The Vikings gave up just one sack, and that was probably because Bridgewater held on to the ball for a bit too long.

    It seems the starting line is set, but the battles for the backup spots are heading for the home stretch. Antonio Richardson, Vlad DuCasse, David Yankey and Austin Wentworth all got significant time, and the coaches will study tape to see who stood out.

    Overall, it was a very good performance from the big boys up front.

    Grade: B+

Defensive Line

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    After a shaky start, the Vikings defensive line turned things around to put up a pretty good game Saturday night against the Arizona Cardinals, as reported by Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press.

    Everson Griffen was the best player up front for the Vikings, getting constant pressure on the Cardinals quarterbacks, including three QB hits. 

    Sharrif Floyd had his second straight impressive game, plugging up the middle of the line and taking on blockers at every turn. Rookie Shamar Stephen took another big step toward winning a roster spot, tying Tom Johnson with a team-high three tackles on the night.

    Corey Wootton and Brian Robison didn't have huge statistical games, but both made big hits in crucial situations.

    The Vikings are playing an entirely new defense under Mike Zimmer, one that's not designed to generate flashy stats for any one single player, but rather to spread the wealth around by disrupting the offenses lanes. While it would certainly be nice to see a little more pressure on the quarterback and more than one sack, the defensive line had a quietly effective performance.

    Grade: B

Linebacker

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    The Vikings linebacker corps had a pretty good game against the Cardinals considering the frenetic nature of the game. The group recorded 23 tackles on the game—not a crazy amount by any stretch, but it came up with enough big plays to help the team pull out a victory.

    Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley probably had the best game of the group, recording a unit-high six tackles on the night.

    Chad Greenway, Audie Cole, Brandon Watts and Gerald Hodges all had multiple tackles as well. Hodges got whipped early on and lost contain on the Cardinals' first rushing touchdown, but he recovered to make some plays later in the game.

    Rookie Anthony Barr had a pretty quiet game, save for one big play in which he got a strip sack on Drew Stanton that put an end to Arizona's late drive in the second quarter.

    A pretty solid performance all in all for the Vikings linebackers. Brinkley probably took a big step forward in earning the starting middle linebacker spot, but Cole certainly isn't out of the running.

    Grade: C+

Secondary

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Saturday night was a pretty mixed bag for the Vikings secondary. It recorded only two pass breakups and had no interceptions on the night. While the Cardinals didn't end up with good passing numbers, both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton threw the ball effectively in the first half.

    Xavier Rhodes blew a tackle that led to Cardinals receiver Jaron Brown turning a short reception into a 51-yard gain.

    Marcus Sherels was the Vikings' best defensive back on the night, recording a team-high nine tackles and getting one of the team's two passes defended. Sherels' improved play on defense makes him a lock to make the roster.

    Jamarca Sanford and rookie corner Jabari Price were the next two most effective players. Sanford made a couple of key stops that stalled Arizona drives, and he had four tackles on the evening, as did Price.

    None of the candidates to start at safety next to Harrison Smith had huge games, including Sanford, so that competition will carry on in the coming weeks.

    Holding the Cardinals to just 224 passing yards is a job well done, but things weren't perfect for the Vikings secondary.

    Grade: B-

Special Teams

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Marcus Sherels, Joe Banyard and Jerick McKinnon all had nice returns of over 30 yards for the Vikings.

    While it's a long shot that Banyard or McKinnon will return kickoffs in the regular season, it's nice to see that the team has options if it doesn't want to risk Patterson in that role.

    Sherels continues to get better and better as a punt returner. He weaved his way through a number of would-be tacklers during a very nice 32-yard return.

    As far as the kicking game went, Blair Walsh missed again from beyond 50 yards, his second miss of the preseason. He also missed on an extra point late in the game. He was 3-of-3 from short distances on his other field goal attempts.

    Punter Jeff Locke had a really solid night, with punts of 48 and 46 yards.

    The kick coverage teams were excellent, yielding no big returns.

    Grade: B

Coaching

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Head coach Mike Zimmer remains perfect, after winning his second straight preseason game Saturday night. He showed plenty of fire and passion on the sidelines, and it was certainly nice to see after three years of quiet consternation of the Vikings sidelines.

    Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator George Edwards spread the snaps around to plenty of different players in trying to see who would step up and take roster spots.

    Turner opened things up for Bridgewater in Week 2, and it paid off in spades, as Bridgewater looked phenomenal and should give the Vikings coaches peace of mind that they have two very capable quarterbacks heading into the regular season.

    The Vikings looked like a team that was ready to play, that didn't buckle under some strange circumstances and that did what it had to do to pull out a win. No, winning in the preseason isn't a big deal, but for a team that needs to learn how to win games that it should win, it was very nice to see.

    Grade: A

Final Grades

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Positional Unit     Overall Grade

    QB                            A+

    RB                            C

    WR/TE                      A

    OL                            B+

    DL                            B

    Linebackers             C+

    Secondary               B-

    Special Teams           B

    Coaching                  A

    Cumulative Grade     A-

     

    We're giving the Vikings the benefit of the doubt between an A- and a B+ cumulative grade because they pulled out an exciting win. Is it a win that means anything come September? Nope. But it was a step in the right direction for a team that's lost far too many games that it should have won over the last three seasons.

    It's nice to see Minnesota win a game that it looked like it was probably going to lose after a circus touchdown by the Cardinals late in the game. It was also nice to see Bridgewater take the stage with the game on the line and lead the team to a last-second victory.