ReFo: MIN @ BUF, Preseason Wk 2
No Adrian Peterson and no Stevie Johnson in this one but many, many jobs on the line. Both teams’ starting units played well into the second quarter and defense reigned for much of the first half. As with all preseason games, the final result is meaningless, but the individual performances will shape how each team’s depth chart looks come Week 1. Here’s who I was watching:
Vikings — Three Performances of Note
Vikings fans hoping this would be the year the light would turn on for quarterback Christian Ponder found no evidence for their faith on Friday night. After playing only two snaps last week, we got a longer look at the Vikings’ quarterback this week. Ponder took 26 snaps, dropped back to pass on 17 of those snaps and went 5-10 for 53 yards finishing with a grade of -0.4. The stats aren’t as telling as the fact that the Vikings were only able to produce three points in five offensive series with Ponder at the helm. It’s worrisome when a starting quarterback discloses that the opposing defense was “a little hard for us to identify” in a preseason game, but that is precisely what the Vikings’ starter stated after Friday’s defeat. It is only one game, but the results were disconcerting and we should be getting a good long look at Ponder next Sunday in San Francisco .
Impact First Rounders
The 2013 NFL Draft ended with the Vikings bringing in an absolute haul of rookies. Nine total players had their name called by Minnesota, but none more scrutinized than picks number 23, 25, and 29. Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, and Cordarrelle Patterson are all thought to be immediate impact players and so far this preseason they’ve all looked the part.
Floyd (+1.8) was utterly dominant in his first preseason game, but had to settle for just very good this week. The Florida product had the most impressive pressure of the night. He beat left guard Colin Brown within a second of the snap with a swim move that forced a quick throw.
Rhodes (+0.6) was the corner that caused Jamarca Sanford’s interception. The rookie from Florida State read Marquise Goodwin’s curl route all the way and was in a good position to make a pick himself before the ball bounced off his hands and into Sanford’s.
Patterson (+1.0) has been as advertised through two preseason games. The former Tennessee Volunteer caught both balls thrown his way against the Bills for 19 yards. He showed strong hands on a slant halfway through the third quarter for his first catch and created a lot of separation on a curl route later in the third quarter with both catches picking up first downs.
A Push to Make the Team
Rhodes isn’t the only rookie from Florida State on the Vikings as two other Seminole undrafted free agents jumped off the screen in the fourth quarter Friday night. The first was defensive tackle Anthony McCloud. Standing 6-foot-2, 313-pounds, McCloud showed amazing raw power on multiple occasions driving offensive lineman deep into the backfield and blowing up the run. The rookie also had a batted pass and compiled a total grade of +2.1 in 17 snaps. The other Florida State product is wide receiver Rodney Smith. Smith was never very productive in college yet possesses the physical tools of an elite wide receiver. He comes in at 6-foot-4, 225-pounds and ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at the NFL combine with a 34.5” vertical. Smith has only taken six snaps in the Vikings’ two games, but on the only pass route he ran Friday he blew past cornerback Jumal Rolle on a vertical route and made a beautiful adjustment to haul in a 35-yard touchdown pass. Out of everyone in Friday’s game, Smith is the guy I came away wanting to see more of solely because he has a unique blend of size and speed that you don’t see very often.
Bills — Three Performances of Note
New Pass Rush Specialist
It’s hard to believe that after only three seasons, the Indianapolis Colts were willing to part ways with a former first-round pick who had shown the ability to rush the passer when given the chance. Jerry Hughes played just 245 snaps his first two seasons in the NFL after being drafted 31st overall in 2010. After the Colts switch to a 3-4, Hughes was thrust into more snaps and delivered as a pass rusher, but lost favor after a rough three-week stretch in the middle of the season and was dealt to the Bills for Kelvin Sheppard this offseason. Hughes had the 11th-best Pass Rushing Productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers last season and put up big sack numbers in college at TCU. This preseason Hughes has continued to rush the passer at a high level. Against Minnesota, he collected three sacks and a forced fumble for a pass rush grade of +1.8. Talented pass rushers are hard to find and it looks like the Bills may have gotten a steal.
Bad News at QB
Just when it looked like E.J. Manuel (+1.2) would be getting the starting nod next week over Kevin Kolb (-1.0) the news comes out that Manuel will likely miss the rest of the preseason with a knee injury. Manuel appeared in much better control of the offense than Kolb against the Vikings and had earned a chance to run with the first team again. Through two games there really isn’t any comparison, Manuel has a PFF QB Rating of 108.84 while Kolb’s is 64.44. Granted, Friday was Kolb’s first outing and he was going up against the first-team defense, but one has to think Manuel is more of the dynamic threat with all the different option plays Doug Marrone has in the playbook.
Offensive Line Settling in
If you’re looking for reasons as to why Kolb struggled in this game, don’t look at the offensive line. Kolb faced two pressures on 22 dropbacks in what was an impressive outing from the front five. Left guard Colin Brown (-1.3) was the only starter to grade out negatively as every other starter graded positively in both run and pass blocking. Cordy Glenn, Eric Wood, and Erik Pears all maintained unblemished pass-blocking records on the day and the starting offensive line combined for a grade of +9.7. It was an encouraging performance especially considering how talented the Vikings defensive line is.
– Bills receivers didn’t drop a ball all night on 26 catchable passes.
– E.J. Manuel only targeted one pass over 10 yards and zero passes over 20 yards in 11 attempts.
– With still a few games left to be graded this week, Sharrif Floyd is the second-highest graded defensive tackle in the NFL this preseason.
PFF Game Ball
Cordy Glenn deserves this one. The second-year left tackle played about as clean a game as you can play. He didn’t give up a pressure in a tough matchup with Jared Allen and tallied four quality run blocks with no negatives. Very promising sign for the Bills.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner