Considering that last night’s 20-12 win against the Raiders was suspended for more than an hour due to lighting, the quality of the product was poor due to the elements and the fact that the final two quarters took about three days to be played, you are forgiven if you didn’t watch the whole thing.
I, on the other hand, stuck it out from start to finish because that is what I’m paid to do. So here are my five Vikings takeaways from TCF, starting with the kicker who couldn’t buy a field goal last night.
1. The Vikings should be concerned about Blair Walsh. And it sounds like they are, though it’s not exactly DEFCON 1. Walsh missed three field goals last night and one of those new 33-yard extra points. Yeah, the winds were swirling all over the place at TCF Bank Stadium, so in a vacuum that last miss from 49 yards would totally be understandable. But the other three misses all came from within 40 yards in the kind of conditions that aren’t exactly uncommon in the NFC North. Walsh is now 2-for-6 on field-goal attempts in the preseason after a 2014 season in which he was the league’s least accurate kicker with a 74.3 percent success rate. So it’s fair to say the Vikings have a problem here. And considering that they just made Walsh one of the NFL’s highest-paid kickers a few weeks ago, their only option is allowing Walsh to work through his struggles.
2. Charles Johnson is the receiver Teddy Bridgewater trusts most. The young quarterback likes to spread the ball around, as we have seen in the preseason and in training camp practices as well. But last night’s game said everything we need to know about where Bridgewater will be looking when he absolutely needs a play. All four of Johnson’s receptions against the Raiders went for a first down or a touchdown. When the Vikings went for it on 4th and 6, Bridgewater fired one outside the numbers to Johnson, who was exactly where he needed to be. Contrast that with Cordarrelle Patterson, who finds himself buried on the depth chart because he too often isn’t in the right spot, as we saw yet again on Shaun Hill’s second-quarter interception. Johnson has an attention to detail that Patterson lacks.
3. The Vikings are still looking to get their running game going. Credit the starting offensive line for getting its act together in pass protection after Bridgewater was often on the run last season. But the Vikings haven’t been able to run the ball when their starters are in. Jerick McKinnon, who is keeping the backfield warm for Adrian Peterson, rushed for 25 yards on 12 carries against the Raiders and is averaging just 1.6 yards per carry through three preseason games. He has gotten popped in the backfield on a few occasions now. Coach Mike Zimmer pointed out that the Raiders used a lot of eight-man boxes last night, but he ultimately conceded that “we’ve got to do that better.” That’s true, but getting No. 28 in there will help.
4. It looks like cornerback Marcus Sherels is going to survive roster cuts yet again. When rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs impressed in camp and busted a big gain on a punt return in the preseason opener, some fans began to write Sherels’ roster epitaph. When are folks going to learn? Sherels continues to make plays on special teams. Sherels, who has averaged 14.3 yards per punt return in the preseason, made some noise on a kickoff return, taking one back 49 yards. He also was the one who downed Jeff Locke’s punt at the 2-yard line early in the first quarter. Plays like that make it pretty easy to see why special teams coordinator Mike Priefer and the Vikings always make sure they save a roster spot for Sherels.
5. It’s becoming clear that Captain Munnerlyn will start the season as a backup. The veteran cornerback again played sparingly last night, getting just eight defensive snaps against the Raiders. At the start of the preseason, it seems as if maybe the Vikings were just being cautious with him as he worked his way back from a foot injury, but Munnerlyn has been back in the mix for a month now. First-round pick Trae Waynes, who had another up-and-down night, continues to be the third corner in the nickel package, with veteran Terence Newman sliding inside to the slot to accommodate him. If that continues, the Vikings will be paying Munnerlyn $3.45 million to warm the bench. But getting rid of him would be a risk. You can never have enough competent corners in this league, especially when one starter will be 37 and your third guy is an unproven rookie.