It seemed just years ago that the Vikings and Chargers were Super Bowl contenders, and now both teams have fallen. San Diego looks to be in the playoff hunt this year, but Minnesota would appear to be far from it. If you’re not a fan of either team, you could typically look forward to the passing attack of Phillip Rivers against the ground game of Adrian Peterson, but unfortunately they both were out of this game as well as the majority of the Chargers offense.
While this may not have been the most exciting of preseason games as there were just as many punts as points scored in the first half, at least we’re getting football, and are inching closer to the real deal. Here is a look at a few of the changes each team made in the offseason and how things looked in this Week 3 preseason game.
Minnesota Vikings – Three Things of Note
1) All Eyes on Kalil
At one point of time the Vikings line was a strong point of the team with Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk on the left side. All three players have left in recent years as the Vikings work on rebuilding with a younger team. The biggest move they made was using their first round pick at Matt Kalil to be their left tackle of now and the future.
As expected, Kalil started the game and played with the first unit for the half. In the first 30 minutes, the Vikings had 19 pass plays, and there were only two plays that were cause for concern for Kalil. On one play he did too much to protect the inside which allowed the pass rusher to go more outside and Ponder decided to roll out after not finding an initial target, which led to a sack. In the last drive of the half, the Chargers pass rush dominated the entire line, which included Antwan Barnes getting the best of Kalil. Considering the quality of the San Diego pass rushers, and the lack of consistency of whom he blocked, I would say it was a fairly successful night.
The run game didn’t go well in general for the Vikings, and Kalil was part of it. On the second drive, the run was to the right, but Corey Liuget easily beat Kalil to the inside which resulted in a loss of yards. Basically this game was an extension of the last two for Kalil. He played pretty well in pass protection, but had some problems in run blocking.
2) The Revolving Door at Defensive Tackle
The Vikings were a unique 4-3 team in that they played their defensive ends as well as Kevin Williams on more snaps than the average 4-3 linemen, but at the second defensive tackle spot there was little consistency. Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Everson Griffen, Remi Ayodele and Chrstian Ballard all saw significant time at the position, with Guion slowly establishing himself at the position by the end of the 2011 season.
Guion was out for this pre-season game, and Ayodele wasn’t brought back, which left Evans, Griffen and Ballard to take the role in this game. The Vikings decided to use Evans almost exclusively with the first team base defense, with Griffin typically taking the snaps with the nickel defense. It wasn’t until the Vikings started taking Kevin Williams out of the game that Ballard saw anytime at defensive tackle. Late last year, Minnesota began using Ballard more at left defensive end than at tackle, so it isn’t all that surprising. We shouldn’t expect Ballard to have many snaps this year based on how often the starting defensive ends were on the field and how far down the defensive tackle depth chart he is.
You can’t draw too many conclusions based on the play of Evans and Griffin because it was against mostly a backup offensive line. There were a few plays where Evans simply overpowered the seventh round rookie center David Molk which resulted in a sack. Evans also closed up a running lane allowing a teammate to make the tackle for loss.
3) New Man in the Middle
The Vikings decided not to re-sign long time middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, and so far have decided to go with 2009 fifth-round draft pick Jasper Brinkley as the new starter. Throughout the first half when Minnesota was in the base defense Brinkley was on the field. When they went to the nickel defense it was Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway who were the sub package players while Brinkley went to the bench. There were a few plays in the base defense where Brinkley was a blitzer rather than a man in coverage.
For the most part Brinkley was an invisible man. Once, in the first drive, the announcers mentioned Brinkley missed a tackle, but really it was Greenway while Brinkley wasn’t actually on the field for the play. He was often the second or third guy to get to the offensive player, but early on didn’t come up with any sort of big play. He did allow a first down catch by Kory Sperry though.
It wasn’t until the fourth drive when Brinkley made an impact as he tallied an unblocked sack. On the following play he read a screen successfully, and later on had another unblocked pass rush where he hit Whitehurst as he threw. While those were all good plays, they came at a point where almost everyone on the field for San Diego was a backup even though the Vikings kept their starters in for the most part. Since he is just a two down player, Brinkley shouldn’t be that big of a liability for the Vikings, but it would’ve been nice for him to have made more of an impact in the run game.
San Diego Chargers – Three Things of Note
1) Loaded Outside Linebackers
The biggest strength for the Chargers’ defense in 2011 was at outside linebacker where Shaun Phillips was very well rounded, while Antwan Barnes showed he can be a great pass rusher with 45 total pressures on the season. Despite it being the best asset to the team, they added run stopping linebacker Jarret Johnson, drafted Melvin Ingram in the first round of the draft, and still have former first round pick Larry English.
While I hoped to find clarity in how San Diego planned on using their many assets, all I found was that I don’t think the Chargers know what they are going to do yet. Throughout the first few drives, the Chargers used various combinations of linebackers on the field. Most frequently Phillips and Johnson started a drive, with Barnes coming in for the passing downs, and then at some point on each drive English and Ingram would take over.
In the base defense, I saw both Phillips blitz while Johnson went into coverage, the other way around, and both blitz. The only thing I didn’t see was Antwan Barnes play in the base defense, and Jarret Johnson play when five or more defensive backs were on the field.
During all of that, no one really separated themselves. Everyone seemed to have one or two plays where they had a good pass rush including a pair of sacks by English. No one really made any sort of big play in the run game while the starters were in.
2) A Receiver Makeover
In free agency, the Chargers lost one of their best players in Vincent Jackson to the Bucs. To help improve the passing game, the Chargers brought in four different free agent receivers. While Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal both missed the game, I was curious to see if any of the other receivers would make a case for more playing time.
While the starters were in, Malcom Floyd and Robert Meachem were the main two guys, while Michael Spurlock came in to play in the slot for three receiver sets. When there was just one receiver it was Meachem.
While it was a little hard to judge without Philip Rivers throwing to them, and an offensive line allowing a lot of pressure, Meachem could have had a big catch but instead dropped the ball. Richard Goodman replaced him in the game, and played for the majority of the rest of the first half. Floyd would finish without a catch.
The most impressive of the group was Spurlock, who had a big play on 3rd-and-18 while Josh Robinson was covering him. He made another nice catch in the first half while the “starters” were still in, but both plays came while Spurlock was lined up out wide rather than in the slot where he probably has a better chance of getting playing time. It wasn’t until later in the half that Roscoe Parrish saw the field, and he is unlikely to see much time come the regular season with how far down the depth chart he is.
3) Rookie Reyes
The Chargers’ defensive ends in 2011 were underwhelming at best, so they used a second-round pick on Kendall Reyes after using a first rounder on Corey Liuget a year ago. While he didn’t get all that much time in the first two games with the starters, I was curious if San Diego would give him any more playing time in this one.
He was not in for the first two drives, but played in drives three, five, and six. They used him as both a left defensive end and right defensive end in the base defense, and then both on the left and right side as an interior pass rusher on the passing downs.
The best play he made involved a run that went to the opposite side of the field that he was on, but he made the play anyway. There was also a pass play where a teammate made the initial pressure, but Reyes was in a position to make sure Ponder was forced to make a short throw on third and long rather than giving him time to look for one of his deeper targets. While it was just two good plays, it could be enough to consider giving Reyes just a tad more playing time than originally planned.