Week one of the NFL preseason is behind us, and it's time for real (but not really real) games. Rarely does week one of the pre-season ever show us any certainty towards the up coming regular season. There are not many takeaways from what we see during the first action of the season, to bet the family farm on for the rest of the season. That said, the Minnesota Vikings needs to show us more in game two versus the Arizona Cardinals if they really want build the frenzy of their fan base.
No question, people were pumped to see football back last weekend. Specifically, Vikings fans are chomping at the bit, trying to get hooked on promise (rather than hope) from the new look team. We, the fans, didn't really learn much from week one against the Oakland Raiders. Teddy Bridgewater is a rookie and played like one. So did Anthony Barr. The defense looked better, but it was against the Raiders...and it was the preseason. The offense had some nice plays, but again, let's see it during real games.
In regards to this week's game against the Cardinals, here are a few things we should watch in hopes of building promise versus hope:
Teddy's Tendencies - As stated earlier, Teddy looked like a rookie. It's not a bad thing, it's just typical. Remember how bad Daunte Culpepper looked against the New York Giants in the first game of the 1999 preseason? I don't think anyone wrote him off as a bust after that game ended.
It would be nice to see Bridgewater get some extended time with most (not all) of the first team offense. Even if he's with the second team, it will be encouraging to see him make good reads, hit his receivers in stride and control the offense. The Cardinals have a much better defense than the Raiders, and it will be a true test for the rookie QB.
Defensive Line - The defensive line has a new, younger, look than it has for years. They may have size, speed and youth...but the group didn't really leave anyone gasping for breathe in anticipation for the next game. Obviously, it takes time for a new unit to mesh together, however, the defensive line is imperative to a successful defensive scheme under first year head coach Mike Zimmer.
It would be great to see the defensive line bust through the typically weak Cardinals offensive line. A few sacks and some hits in the back field will no doubt fire up the team and the fans.
Linebackers - There are a lot of expectations for Zimmer to improve the poor linebacker play over the past few years. Chad Greenway appears to be getting some flexibility, rookie Anthony Barr has taken some big steps forward since mini-camp, but the hole at middle linebacker is going to be key.
Can someone emerge as the favorite between Audie Cole, Jasper Brinkley and Michael Mauti? Something to watch intently during the game this weekend.
Secondary - This isn't Earth shattering or innovative thinking, but the Raiders passing game isn't exactly textbook. The Cardinals, on the other hand, showed some real promise last year with veteran quarterback Carson Palmer running the show. With a Minnesota-grown trio of targets (Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Carlson), it will be interesting to see if the new look Vikings secondary will make Palmer look foolish, or if he'll look like a potential 2014 NFL MVP candidate (OK, maybe that is a bit much).
Between Captain Munnerlyn, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, it would be nice to see some tight coverage and potentially some forced turnovers. With Fitz and Floyd, the secondary will have it's work cut out for them.
Harrison Smith missed eight games in 2013 and hopes a strong 2014 season is in store
Weather - With potential rain in the forecast, the Vikings may be getting their first look at a Mother Nature being a factor for a home game. Sure, this is not a huge factor in determining whether this team is going to build on a disappointing five win season from 2013, but still something that is new to this team when playing at home.
Saturday will be a fun match-up regardless. Both teams have higher expectations than they did last year. The Cardinals, who play in arguably the most difficult division in the NFL, barely missed out on the playoffs last season. If they want to prove they belong, they'll need to take care of business against teams like the Vikings, who are in semi "growth" phase.
The game will be played Saturday, August 16th at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota at 7:30pm CST.