The Minnesota Vikings ended the preseason Thursday with a 28-24 loss to the Houston Texans, unable to gain any momentum team-wise while finishing the preseason with a 1-3 record.
But this preseason hasn’t been about a record; it’s been about the development and evaluation of a very young roster.
A look at how the team graded out with its backups on the field in the final rehearsal for next Sunday’s season opener against Jacksonville:
Passing offense: B
Minnesota’s offense had a little bit of everything on Thursday, and the big plays will make the coaches smile. The passing game started clicking after starting quarterback Joe Webb gave way to Sage Rosenfels. Rosenfels hit receiver Devin Aromashodu for a 58-yard touchdown as part of a 7 for 11, 111-yard performance. Rookie receiver Jarius Wright bettered Aromashodu by one yard, catching a 59-yard touchdown from McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Receivers Stephen Burton and Emmanuel Arceneaux each had a 22-yard catch. In all, Minnesota had 317 passing yards, and its three quarterbacks combined to complete 26 of 47 passes. Only an interception by Bethel-Thompson and a few accuracy issues from Webb and Bethel-Thompson kept the passing offense from having a really big night. The game probably brought some clarity in the battle for the backup receiver spots as well as maybe added some intrigue to the quarterback position.
Rushing offense: A
Competition for the final running back spot has been fierce. Jordan Todman is finally back from his ankle injury and showed his speed on a 76-yard touchdown run in which he got to the outside of the defense and outraced players down the sideline for the score. He finished with 10 carries for 114 yards and is squarely in the mix to win a roster spot. Matt Asiata and Lex Hilliard, two power runners, were probably ahead of Todman in the competition coming into the game and had their own big runs. Asiata had seven carries for 43 yards. Hilliard had seven carries for 33 yards, including a 22-yarder. The Vikings ran for 245 total yards, averaging 8.2 yards per carry. The offense did its part. Two missed fourth-down attempts and the interception ended drives.
Passing defense: B-
Minnesota earns a positive grade for its pass defense, but one play was a real letdown: Houston quarterback John Beck hit DeVier Posey for an 80-yard touchdown. Several Vikings defenders, including linebacker Larry Dean, had chances to stop Posey for a modest gain, but Posey broke tackles and outran bad angles for the 80-yard score. No defensive unit can be pleased with the breakdowns that occurred on the one play. The Texans had only 184 total passing yards, 104 without Posey’s big play, and their quarterbacks were 11 for 20. Minnesota had two sacks, one each from Nick Reed and Chase Baker, two players fighting for roster spots. Houston didn’t need to pass much, though.
Rushing defense: D
For the second time in four weeks, the run defense was a sieve, especially early. The Texans averaged 5.8 yards per carry, and a lot of the breakdowns came from the defensive line and poor play by a couple of linebackers. The defensive backs and linebackers also must take better angles in pursuit. Houston’s top two backs and Minnesota’s first-team defense didn’t play. Third-string back Justin Forsett ran for 114 yards on 13 carries. His 52-yard touchdown on the opening drive set up the first touchdown. Later, the Vikings did hold on a goal-line stand, stuffing a run on fourth down. It wasn’t enough to hold down the Texans’ strong running game.
Special teams: D+
Another week, another missed field-goal attempt by rookie kicker Blair Walsh. This time the breakdown looked like it might have come from the snap or hold, and Walsh has now missed field goals in three straight games. On five punts, Chris Kluwe averaged 49 yards and Houston returner Trindon Holliday had his third return for a touchdown in the preseason. The coverage units, which struggled last year, missed Holliday early as Dean and Mickey Shuler overran the play and Holliday streaked up the middle of the field without much in his way on the way to the end zone.
The big plays are good to see, especially coming from players fighting for a roster spot. It’s hard to draw conclusions from Thursday’s game when it comes to the regular season, though, because none of the Vikings starters played as coaches gave players fighting for roster spots a chance to shine. Now the coaches and front office hurry to decide who will make the 53-man roster before the Friday’s 8 p.m. cutdown deadline.