Cordarrelle Patterson Is Looking Good For The Vikings
Preseason games are like letters in invisible ink: you have to read between the lines to figure out the meaning.
Key players on both sides of last Friday's tilt sat out -- Adrian Peterson, veteran defensive players, and the Texans’ Arian Foster.
In the case of the Vikings’ 27-13 loss to the Houston Texans, the biggest story centers on three rookies who strutted their stuff. Especially “Flash,” who showed his combustibility.
The Texans kicked off to start the game, and Cordarrelle Patterson took it five yards inside the end zone. Deftly following blocks and coming within a couple of whiskers of breaking it all the way, he reached the Vikes’ 45.
Wow. What a debut. He appears to be as advertised, explosive and skilled. As a receiver, he showed off good hands, fine speed and route-running ability. He caught four balls for 54 yards, plucked another while being pushed out of bounds but dropped one pass.
Another first-round pick, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (will Chris Berman refer to him Omar Sharrif Floyd or New Sharrif in town Floyd?) played well. He chalked up a tackle for loss and batted down a pass. He was definitely an impact player.
Floyd injured his knee, was prone a while and was taken out of the game. An MRI revealed no damage. That sound you heard was a collective sigh of relief from the Vikings’ brass.
The third first-round pick, corner Xavier Rhodes, was nicked up and didn’t play.
A third rookie strutting his stuff was undrafted SMU fullback Zach Line, who broke Eric Dickerson’s records at SMU. Line made a great play scoring on a screen pass in the second quarter. Line, making a beeline for paydirt, showed breakaway ability, skill shedding tacklers and speed -- three things that Toby Gerhart has not shown anytime lately. Vikings fans had to love that play. (He reminds me of Vikings icon Bill Brown, but I’m not sure Brown ever made a play like that.)
The Vikings lost the game, but that was due to sloppy, terrible play by reserves in the final quarter and a half. The defense couldn’t do anything right and the offensive line couldn’t protect either McLeod Bethel-Thompson or James Vandenberg. Players on the field during that time should hope they get another chance to redeem themselves. Yuck. Ugh.
One team wanted to win more than the other. Vikings network broadcaster Pete Bercich had a pithy comment about Houston’s desire for revenge: “They thought about it all offseason.”
The Vikings dealt stinging blows to two teams at the end of last season. In the next-to-last game, they beat the Texans in Houston, 23-6, making their playoff road tougher, and they did the same thing in the final game at home against Green Bay, making sure the Packers would not receive a bye.
The game helped to put in high relief the team’s strongest areas. The Vikings’ defensive line, minus studs Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Kevin Williams, played well during the first half. Floyd’s a keeper, and it’s a potent unit overall. Everson Griffen could be poised for a breakout year after closing well. Lawrence Jackson, who came over from the Lions, played pretty well. Christian Ballard had a sack, though it was due to great coverage.
Cuts will be brutal. General Manager Rick Spielman, who was up in the booth with Paul Allen and Bercich for almost all the second half, said, “I think this will be our toughest year making cuts,” adding that some players let go will be picked up by other teams. If true, that’s good news for the team’s depth.
It’s also clear that the Vikings’ receiving corps is much better than it was in 2012. The team lost Percy Harvin (now lost for the year in Seattle, let’s remember), but picked up Greg Jennings and drafted Patterson. Simpson will be available the whole season -- it’s tough to be effective when you were out of the loop for a while -- and Jarius Wright is back after closing strong and looking great in camp. There’s also Joe Webb, who played well in Friday’s game, and Stephen Burton, who had one great play and a few decent ones.
Spielman commented that four guys appear to have made the team: Jennings, Wright, Simpson and Patterson. Beyond that, who knows. It’s hard to believe that Greg Childs will be cut -- that would be like giving on the second-year man, who has been a rehab stud.
Also back to the team is tight end John Carlson, hurt last year. He had a couple of good catches and should help the offense.
The Vikings have more playmakers than they did last year, and this should allow Bill Musgrave to open up the offense. Spielman was effusive about his offensive coordinator during the telecast, saying Musgrave did a good job last year dialing it down when Ponder was having trouble and the opposite down the stretch when his rookie started to get it.
Another key area is linebacker, but it’s not clear what the game showed. Penn State rookies Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti played when the team was getting its butt kicked in the second half. In his post-game press conference, Coach Leslie Frazier said Mauti played well.
A key area of concern is defensive back, and the game didn’t tell anybody much about that. One rookie who was heavily involved in big plays was Nicholls’ State’s Bobby Felder, who made some good plays but mistimed his jump while Texans’ first-round draft pick DeAndre Hopkins scored at touchdown. (In fairness, his coverage was good until the end -- Hopkins made a terrific play.)
The Vikings led at halftime 13-10, and played decently that first half except for the two interceptions.
Matt Cassel, 12 for 19 for 219 yards and a TD, played well the the first half except for one horrible pass that was intercepted. He was mostly accurate, though he sometimes took too long getting rid of the ball. That’s to be expected for a guy who’s new to the team. You have to say that he appeared to be someone who could guide the team to victory should Ponder get hurt or fall short.
Christian Ponder and the first-team offense were in for a grand total of two plays. Ponder’s performance wasn’t reassuring: He had one fine pass and a poor one. The latter was fumbled by Jerome Simpson, and the result was an interception. You have to wonder why Frazier didn’t keep the first team out there at least one more series. Does he really think Ponder doesn’t need the reps? His grade is still incomplete. Vikings fans want to believe, but ...
The special teams, a strength in 2012, were solid against the Texans. Blair Walsh hit both field goals and recorded three touchbacks.
Jeff Locke’s punting was excellent -- he reminds you of a junkball pitcher. Returners have a tough time picking up the ball. Locke placed two punts inside the 20.
I love Chris Kluwe the man -- professional sports needs more smart, opinionated athletes -- but think he was at best a slightly better-than-average punter. Locke might be an improvement.
Finally, the punt and kickoff coverage was excellent.