The dress rehearsal. The closest game to regular-season action. The Minnesota Vikings went to Kansas City to face the Chiefs, a 2013 playoff team, on Saturday for the ever-important third preseason game.
Minnesota will return home and prepare for a short week before the final preseason game at Tennessee on Thursday after a 30-12 victory at Kansas City, which made the Vikings 3-0 this preseason under new coach Mike Zimmer.
There are still a lot of jobs to be won and lost over the final week for Minnesota, and Saturday’s win might not have separated many players from the pack.
Here are five things learned as the Vikings’ stayed perfect in the preseason:
1. An opportunistic defense
Zimmer brings a new scheme to the team, but there’s a lot of the same personnel. One change in the secondary was the addition of veteran cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. Cornerback Shaun Prater was a midseason addition last year, who played more at the end of the season. Munnerlyn and Prater both had interceptions on Saturday, and linebacker Chad Greenway added a third interception. It was a welcome sight for Minnesota.
For the past several years takeaways, particularly interceptions, have been hard to come by for the Vikings. Minnesota had 12 interceptions all of last season, which was tied for the eight-fewest in the NFL. The Vikings have 30 interceptions over the past three seasons, including a league-tying low of eight in 2011.
Munnerlyn and Greenway, two starters, really came through by ending long Kansas City drives. Munnerlyn intercepted a pass in the end zone and Greenway’s came in the red zone.
Prater might have helped his cause in trying to make the final roster from a crowded group of cornerbacks with his interception while playing with the second-team defense. Prater had one interception in eight games for Minnesota last year and played under Zimmer previously in Cincinnati.
2. Another deep threat
One thing known about new offensive coordinator Norv Turner is he likes to throw the ball down the field. Turner wants to hit deep passes. Meanwhile, perhaps the team’s top deep threat, receiver Jerome Simpson, could be looking at a suspension to start the season. Turner was asked who might also be able to stretch the field.
Well, second-year Cordarrelle Patterson showed another aspect of his game on Saturday by hauling in a 53-yard pass for a touchdown. Patterson wasn’t used as a straight, downfield type receiver much as a rookie, but he’s got the speed and height to fill the role.
On the first drive of the game, quarterback Matt Cassel placed a pass perfectly beyond the defensive backs’ reach and Patterson made an adjustment to catch the pass and pull away for the touchdown. If Patterson, who has shown his talents as a runner with the ball in his hands on shorter routes, can add a downfield element to his game he could become one of the league’s top receivers.
3. Perfect Walsh
A good feeling from Saturday might be kicker Blair Walsh making each of his three field-goal attempts. And he did so playing outside in windy conditions. The wind in Kansas City was recorded at 18 miles per hour at the start of the game on an extremely warm night.
Walsh and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer both said this week there was no concern after Walsh missed three kicks over the first two weeks at TCF Bank Stadium. Seeing Walsh connect three times on Saturday at least brings a bit of relief to those who might have wondered after the misses. Walsh hit from 41, 32 and 28 yards on Saturday. He also made all three of his extra-point attempts as the attempts were moved back to the normal shorter distance in the third preseason game.
If there’s been a connection in the preseason to watch, it’s been rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and tight end Allen Reisner, who is trying to win a job as the third tight end. Minnesota is set with starter Kyle Rudolph at tight end and Rhett Ellison is secure with a role as a blocking tight end. The Vikings could be looking for one more tight end to make the final roster.
No one had stepped forward through training camp to put a hold on the job. Chase Ford was the most likely third tight end during the offseason, but he still hasn’t practiced with the team as he recovers from a broken foot suffered before training camp. Mike Higgins was signed before camp and has gotten some more looks with the second-team offense, but is no lock for the roster. Minnesota signed veteran Kory Sperry, but he’s played sparingly since signing two weeks ago.
Enter Reisner, who was with the Vikings in 2011-12 before being released and signing with Jacksonville. Reisner has four catches over the past two games, all from Bridgewater, and three have been touchdowns. Bridgewater and Reisner were the beneficiaries of being put in the red zone by Prater’s interception and a big Adam Thielen punt return on Saturday, but Bridgewater and Reisner connected on well-executed touchdown passes.
5. Bringing the pressure
Like Turner is known for deep passing, Zimmer’s defenses have been known for putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Zimmer’s schemes don’t always mean a defensive end screaming off the edge on a speed rush, but sound, disciplined play combined with blitzing and coverage on the back end has usually led to Zimmer’s defenses getting to the quarterback.
Minnesota had five sacks on Saturday, and could have had more. A few times — like in the second half when ends Scott Crichton and Justin Trattou converged on a quarterback but Trattou missed bringing him down — the Vikings missed a chance to bring down the quarterback. There was plenty of heat on Kansas City’s quarterbacks, though.
Brian Robison, rushing from the tackle position, and Tom Johnson combined for a sack. Everson Griffen and Jasper Brinkley shared a sack. Johnson later combined with Trattou on another sack. Backup defensive end Corey Wootton had a sack and Prater even finished off a sack late in the game.