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Bleacher Report – Vikings

The Morning After: Five Observations From Vikings Vs. Bills

By: Aj Mansour |

Minneapolis, MN – Heading into preseason game number two last night in Buffalo, the Minnesota Vikings were hoping to get their first glimpse at what their first team starters look like at this point in the season. Optimism was running high as Christian Ponder and the Vikings number one unit ran out onto the field for the game’s first possession showing all the swagger of a team that had been there and done it before.

That feeling and the shared optimism branching throughout upper Midwest Vikings fans didn’t last very long. In fact it was only about twelve seconds into the game before the lot of us were left to sift through the sludge that was put on the field in hopes of seeking out the rare silver linings and moral victories. A condition that has plagued all Minnesota sports teams for the last decade.

Now that we’ve had some time to sleep on it, here are five glaring observations that I walked away with from Friday night’s 20-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

(1) Still waiting. Ponder fails to silence doubters with poor performance…
Many had hoped that in preseason game number two, against a mediocre pass defense with Mario Williams sidelined, that Christian Ponder would have grabbed the bull by the horns and silenced all the doubters that have plagued him throughout his career. That was not the case on Friday night.

Ponder, who played through the first drive of the second quarter, finished the ball game 5-for-12 passing for only 53 yards. In fairness, Christian spent most of the night under pressure as the Bills defensive unit sent exotic blitzing schemes filled with stunts and decoys all night long and the Vikings admittedly had not schemed for the Bills whatsoever. Still, you’d like to see your starting quarterback adjust to the defensive pressure and at the very least hit his targets when the pressure wasn’t there. Ponder did neither. It was missed receivers, incomplete passes and time to run for your life all night long. On the upside, despite being sacked three times (well two officially, but I’m going to count the bad snap/fumble recovery play), Ponder protected the ball and did not throw into coverage (for you brave souls that want more on Ponder’s poor night CLICK HERE).

From the, it only gets worse department, that oh so good warm feeling that we all got from the second team offense and Matt Cassel last week against Houston was non-existent in Buffalo. Cassel was equally as inadequate last night throwing 4-for-9 in passes for only 29 yards. Rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson also had a quiet night after blowing up last week. Patterson hauled in two passes for 19 yards.

(2) First Team Defense may be the lone silver lining
If you’re looking to find a silver lining from what was all around an ugly game, the Vikings first team defense may be your only shot at redemption. With the full defensive line in tact and rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes on the field for the first time this preseason, the Vikings first team defensive unit hauled in one interception and held the Bills first team offense scoreless through their first five possessions. Let’s not go ahead and give the Bills offense all that much credit either as they were about as sloppy as the Vikings were, but it was encouraging to see Rhodes make some plays, Henderson find his way to the ball and Jared Allen put quarterback Kevin Kolb under a little bit of pressure.

(3) Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson have collectively raised my comfort level at CB from a 3 to a 5…
Earlier this week I mentioned that my comfort level with the depth and talent at cornerback was grading in at a three on the traditional ten-point scale. After seeing Robinson flash in the starting role and Rhodes getting out on the field for the first time this preseason, my comfort level has jumped up two spots to a five.

Rhodes got noticed early when he tipped a Kevin Kolb pass up in the air and it was intercepted by Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford and then kind of faded into the background the rest of the game. You may be asking yourself, why is it that after flashing early Rhodes slipped away and out of the limelight? It’s because he was blanketing his receivers from the line of scrimmage and Kolb got the opportunity to look his direction!

I know that Rhodes was touted as a bump-press cover corner coming out of college but holy smokes! Rhodes was blanketing receivers from the moment the ball was hiked, bumping them off their lines and pestering them step for step until the ball was delivered elsewhere and they stopped running their routes. Let’s not forget that the Bills’ wide receiving corps (sans Stevie Johnson) is not much to brag about, but still. He was going up against starting caliber wide receivers in the NFL and the QB was forced to look away from him!

After having what I thought to be a quiet Training Camp, Josh Robinson also showed up last night and made some plays in the secondary. A few batted balls and some nice tackles, that’s about all I can ask for out of a guy that will likely be the starting nickel corner on opening day.

(4) McLeod Bethel-Thompson may be putting the final nail in the “Joe Webb makes the team” coffin…
I’ll be the first in a group of Joe Webb fans to admit that I love Joe Webb. As a man, as a teammate, the guy simply cannot be beat. Unfortunately, in the sports nation’s most cut throat league, being a nice guy without a role usually means that you will finish last.

It’s nights like last night that showcase the benefit that keeping a guy like McLeod Bethel-Thompson could have on this team. MBT comes into the game to play a majority of the second-half. Kid goes out to showcase his cannon-arm and throws 10-for-17 for 107 yards, a 36-yard touchdown and gets his team right back into competition for this meaningless game. Nonetheless, he did what you want a quarterback to do on the field.

Meanwhile, Joe Webb got lost in the shuffle of a crowded wide receiving unit and finished with two catches for 19 yards.

I’ve said it before and I will continue to champion this cause, there is a place for Joe Webb in this league, but day-by-day I am continually convinced that it is not with the Minnesota Vikings.

(5) Rhett Ellison made himself noticed on the special teams tape…
Let’s start with bad news in this story, our special teams (mainly the punting unit) was on the field a TON in the first half of this game. Good news, it gave second-year player out of USC Rhett Ellison an opportunity to shine under the bright lights of Friday night preseason football!

The consistency of rookie punter Jeff Locke remains a question as Locke pretty regularly out kicked his coverage a little, but the gunners were also struggling to shake loose from their defenders. That’s when Rhett Ellison decided to take matters into his own hands. It’s a travesty that Ellison didn’t make it into the official scoring book with any tackles because I can vividly remember two punts in particular where Ellison darted through a slew of Bills blockers and stuck the ball carrier in addition to a few others where he combined for the tackle.

Special teams is often an overlooked part of the game, but when you develop into that special teams ace (a la Chris Walsh and Heath Farwell), you can make a name for yourself in this league.

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