KANSAS CITY -- The Minnesota Vikings got what was probably their final realistic look at their defensive overhaul on Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium, and while the performance from their first team in 2 1/2 quarters wasn't perfect, the Vikings did some things that have to make coach Mike Zimmer happy.
The pressure they put on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in a 30-12 victory was particularly impressive; the Vikings sacked Smith three times and had a couple more opportunities where he slipped out of a defender's grasp just before a sack. Everson Griffen was again active, Brian Robison chimed in with some solid pressure and each had a half-sack. Defensive tackle Tom Johnson got after the quarterback in the Vikings' nickel rush package, and Anthony Barr knocked down a pass when he and Captain Munnerlyn came through on a blitz. The Vikings also stiffened up in the red zone twice, with Munnerlyn and linebacker Chad Greenway making instinctive plays to pick off Smith.
There were still things to be concerned about -- the Vikings' linebackers struggled in pass coverage, and with no Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs didn't exactly present a formidable test. But the Vikings' third preseason game -- ostensibly their most realistic test before the regular season -- confirmed some signs of progress on defense.
Here are some other thoughts on the Vikings' third preseason game of the year:
By the time Teddy Bridgewater entered the game, the Vikings had played nearly three full quarters and their first-team offense was finished for the night. All that seems left of the Vikings' quarterback race is an official announcement. Matt Cassel wasn't perfect on Saturday -- he went 9-for-17 for 152 yards and a touchdown, but forced a first-down throw for Jerome Simpson into double coverage late in the first half. He was intercepted there, and should have had another pass picked off. Still, Cassel connected on a long throw to Cordarrelle Patterson for a touchdown and made perhaps his best throw of the night on a tough sideline pass to Greg Jennings, fitting the ball between two defenders (though Jennings didn't get his second foot down in time). While Cassel is far from perfect, his job status doesn't appear to be in question.
What Cassel will have to hope for, however, is better pass protection than he had Saturday. He was sacked three times, and left tackle Matt Kalil -- whose quickness is supposed to be his forte -- was beaten around the edge on a speed rush by Tamba Hali. Phil Loadholt also left with an injury in the first quarter, and before he came back, undrafted free agent Austin Wentworth was beaten by Jaye Howard, who forced a fumble that went out of the end zone for a safety. Loadholt returned to the game, but whether he's healthy or not, it wouldn't hurt the Vikings to look for a veteran swing tackle.
The line did do a nice job on Jerick McKinnon's 24-yard run in the third quarter, with Wentworth and Brandon Fusco blocking down and Charlie Johnson pulling around the right side to set the edge. We'll see more pulling guards than we saw in the Vikings' old scheme (and center John Sullivan will do it, too), and the technique was used to great effect there.
After a rare muffed punt return by Marcus Sherels, wide receiver Adam Thielen might have secured his roster spot with his biggest play of the preseason. Thielen showed good vision and patience on a 75-yard return, bouncing off a tackle and waiting for his blockers before he surged around the right side, getting tackled at the 5-yard line. The return set up Bridgewater's second touchdown pass of the night to Allen Reisner.
The Vikings started Chris Crocker at safety opposite Harrison Smith and used Robert Blanton with the first team as well. On the other side of the safety competition, Jamarca Sanford left again with an injury, this time to his quadriceps, and Andrew Sendejo dropped what would have been an interception in the fourth quarter.