Realistic Vikings undefeated but still unsure
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The Minnesota Vikings are confident, efficient and coming off the seventh undefeated preseason in franchise history.
They are also heading to St. Louis for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against a Rams team missing its franchise quarterback.
What could go wrong?
In 2001, the last time the Vikings went unbeaten in the preseason, they also were coming off a trip to the NFC Championship game the year before. And they were opening the season at home against a Carolina Panthers team that was starting a rookie fourth-round draft pick, St. Paul native Chris Weinke.
Final: Panthers 24, Vikings 13.
The Vikings went on to finish 5-11. The Panthers? They lost their next 15 in a row.
Now that we've established that preseasons aren't strong harbingers for regular seasons, let's look at what we can deduce from Mike Zimmer's first preseason as an NFL head coach.
Defensively, even without showing everything in his schematic arsenal, Zimmer had the Vikings blitzing more deceptively, challenging receivers with tighter coverages and just plain competing harder.
A year ago, the Vikings ranked last in scoring defense (30 points per game allowed). For what it's worth, they finished the preseason ranked No. 2 in scoring defense (12.3).
Offensively, Zimmer already has been rewarded for having the self-confidence to bring in Norv Turner, a big-name former head coach that could overshadow him. Turner, the offensive coordinator, has the same 11 starters that finished last season but no doubt will improve dramatically upon what former coordinator Bill Musgrave did last season. Musgrave was too conservative and lacked the creativity to get everyone involved, particularly then-rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
With Turner on board and a better and clearer plan in place at quarterback, the Vikings' offense was efficient and productive under veteran starting quarterback Matt Cassel and rookie backup Teddy Bridgewater.
The Vikings turned the ball over only one time in four preseason games, ranked 11th in scoring and third in rushing with their best player, running backAdrian Peterson, sitting out the entire preseason.
"More than the record in the preseason, I feel good about the way we've performed," Zimmer said. "We've taken care of the football. We've not made a lot of mistakes. We haven't been a big penalty team. We seem to be doing the right things."
Bridgewater got the start at Tennessee as the Vikings rested Cassel. Bridgewater directed a couple of scoring drives and left with a 10-0 lead after completing four of nine passes for 17 yards and a 3-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen. Bridgewater made it through the preseason without a turnover.
Quarterback Christian Ponder saw his first preseason action since the opener. The embattled former franchise quarterback hopeful looked great for the third guy on the depth chart. He threw the ball with decisiveness while completing 12 of 15 passes for 121 yards and no turnovers.
Also against the Titans, Audie Cole made a strong final case to win the starting middle linebacker competition with the more experienced Jasper Brinkley. Cole had a team-high five solo tackles and an impressive quarterback pressure on a fourth-down blitz that created an incomplete pass.
NOTES: RB Joe Banyard probably won't make the 53-man roster, but the second-year pro turned heads with an impressive performance in the preseason finale at Tennessee. He ran for 111 yards on just 18 carries. The Vikings don't have a spot for him, but would like to add him to their practice squad.