NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 3 ARI at MIN Observation Deck

Evaluating the running game was clearly the priority Saturday night for the Arizona Cardinals in a 30-28 preseason loss against the Minnesota Vikings.

Andre Ellington, who's locked in as the starter, had two carries for 5 yards and a reception for 16 yards. But Saturday wasn't about him.

It was about seeing how Jonathan Dwyer, Stepfan Taylor and Robert Hughes can fill in behind Ellington as a running back corps with defined roles rather than a defined ranking.

Here are some other thoughts on the Cardinals' second preseason game of the year:
  • Kicker Jay Feely knew what coach Bruce Arians wanted -- kickoffs that are deep and high. He kicked off five times and three of them -- including his first two -- were kicked into the end zone. His first two were 4 yards deep and returned for 26 and 31 yards. Feely's third kick was fielded at the goal line and returned 44 yards, while his fourth went to the 3 and was returned 15 yards. His fifth kickoff was his best, going about 8 yards deep, and was returned 25 yards.
  • The running game produced the majority of Arizona's points Saturday. Dwyer scored on a 1-yard run, bouncing outside as Hughes opened the edge with a block as fullback. Dwyer finished with 10 yards on five carries. Hughes added a touchdown on a 2-yard score in the third quarter on a dive up the middle.
  • A few Cardinals strengthened their hold on a roster spot. It'll be hard for Jaron Brown to lose the fourth receiver spot after catching two passes for 86 yards. While Darren Fells was the fourth tight end heading into the game, his 1-yard jump-ball touchdown was a flash of why the Cardinals took a risk on him last year. He used his size to out-jump Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway and his sure hands secured the pass.
  • Special teams had a rough day and it wasn't all Feely's fault. Poor coverage marred Feely's kicks, especially on the 44-yard return by Minnesota's Joe Banyard. After Banyard broke free, Feely ended up bringing him down. On one kickoff return, Brittan Golden received the kick a few yards deep in the end zone and began to return it, but at the last second he had second thoughts. It was too late, because he had already stepped out of the end zone, giving the Cards' position at their 5.
  • Saturday was Ryan Lindley's chance to make Arians consider him as the third quarterback, but the third-year signal caller didn't make a strong enough case. He was 7-for-13 for 53 yards and looked out of sync in the fourth quarter, missing a gimme touchdown pass to Fells then missing on his next two passes, to Golden and Dan Buckner.
  • The Cardinals' final touchdown came on as an odd of a play as there is. Lindley fumbled the snap and in the scrum to recover it, offensive lineman John Estes knocked the ball away. It was picked up by rookie running back Zach Bauman who scored. The play was reviewed and upheld as a backward pass that was recovered as a fumble.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Much of his work came against the Arizona Cardinals' second-team defense Saturday night, so it's wise to use some measure of restraint when talking about Matt Cassel's performance in the Minnesota Vikings' second preseason game. But it's getting harder and harder to see anyone but Cassel beginning the season as the team's starting quarterback.

Cassel connected on 12 of his 16 throws, throwing for 153 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings' 30-28 win over the Cardinals. Cassel also scrambled three times for 30 yards and threw a strike to Kyle Rudolph over the middle for 51 yards.

It was the kind of commanding, decisive performance Cassel had hoped to deliver in two quarters of work, and while Teddy Bridgewater had an impressive night of his own, it seems like a matter of time before coach Mike Zimmer declares Cassel the starter.

Here are some other thoughts on the Vikings' second preseason game of the year:
  • It seems unlikely Zimmer will be happy with the Vikings' performance on a couple of long Cardinals drives, particularly on Arizona's first of the game. The Vikings allowed the Cardinals to march 93 yards in nine plays to start the game, giving up a 51-yard pass when Xavier Rhodes missed a tackle on Jaron Brown, and conceded a touchdown on a 19-play, 80-yard drive to begin the second half. That march took 10:06 off the clock, and featured two third-down and two fourth-down conversions.
  • Bridgewater, who admitted he'd been overthinking things this week, has to be feeling much better after an impressive second half that included a last-minute touchdown drive. He went 16-of-20 for 177 yards and two touchdown, directing an 11-play scoring drive that put the Vikings ahead in the fourth quarter and throwing a perfect fade route to Rodney Smith for the game-winning touchdown. On that drive, Bridgewater evaded a sack and found Allen Reisner while rolling to his right. He also threw a corner route that Adam Thielen should have caught for a touchdown.
  • Zimmer wasn't happy with the pass rush after the team's first game, and while the Vikings only had one sack (from Anthony Barr on the final play of the first half), they got more consistent pressure than they did against the Oakland Raiders. Defensive end Everson Griffen was particularly active, lining up at both left and right end as the Vikings tried a new nickel rush package that put Barr at right end and moved Brian Robison inside.
  • After allowing six sacks last week, the Vikings' offensive line surrendered only one Saturday. Bridgewater, who fumbled last week after holding the ball too long, did a better job of getting the ball out and moving in the pocket this week, and Cassel also evaded pressure on several occasions, particularly when the Cardinals' first-team defense was in the game. But it was definitely a step in the right direction for the Vikings' offensive line.
  • Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who was hit in the left calf by a stray bullet at a Minneapolis nightclub last Saturday morning, was on the field before the game, wishing teammates good luck as he wore a sleeve on his calf. Joseph hadn't been seen with the Vikings in practice all week.
  • The Cardinals' long opening drive in the third quarter meant the Vikings had limited time to work on offense in the second half, and it also meant third-string quarterback Christian Ponder didn't see a snap. Though stranger things have certainly happened, Ponder -- who was the Vikings' unquestioned starting quarterback at this time last year -- might have seen his final action in a Vikings home game; he'd be the third-string quarterback if he's on the roster this season, and he'll be a free agent after the season.



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