The Vikings offense went through a substantial restructuring over the past season. This was due to the departure of Adrian Peterson and the hasty trade for Sam Bradford to mitigate the offensive issues resulting from Teddy Bridgewater’s injury. However, their defense remains stalwart as one of the best in the NFL. Even in the preseason, the Vikings should be a respectable foe relying on their new running back corps, high football-IQ quarterback, and an excellent secondary. Below are the Vikings’ primary weapons.
Quarterback: Sam Bradford
Returning at the helm of Minnesota’s offense this season is veteran quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. The Vikings paid a considerable cost last season (a 2017 first and 2018 fourth round draft pick) to acquire Bradford from Philadelphia. This was necessary after Bridgewater sustained a season-ending knee injury. Additional pressure was placed on Bradford when Minnesota’s iconic 2012 MVP running back Adrian Peterson also sustained a season-ending injury early on.
Bradford did as well as he could have given the circumstances and lead the Vikings to an 8-8 season that started with a roaring, yet unsustainable, five straight wins. During his 2016 season with Minnesota, Bradford proved to be an effective quarterback. However, it was in a very different way from Miami’s “playmaker” quarterback, Jay Cutler.
Bradford embodies the “game manager” play style where the quarterback relies on short throws, consistent use of running backs, scrambling for extra yards when necessary, and ultimately conservative play. However, the game on Thursday is still a preseason matchup so it is entirely possible that Bradford will play a little less conservative and will take a few shots downfield.
Running Backs: Latavius Murray & Dalvin Cook
The Vikings added two key weapons at running back during the offseason to fill the gaping void that Peterson left after entering free agency. The additions were veteran Latavius Murray and the Jim Brown award-winning rookie from Florida State, Dalvin Cook.
Standing 6’3, 230lbs Murray is a giant of a running back who rushed for 12 touchdowns and just under 800 yards last season in Oakland. Although not as intimidating in size, the more explosive and elusive Cook has already made a name for himself in this preseason. Cook has looked powerful with the touches that he has had so far and seems to be carrying the momentum from his outstanding college career. These two should be the major ground threats to look for on Thursday.
Receiving Corps: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen & Kyle Rudolph
In the past season, Stefon Diggs has served as the Vikings star slot receiver. He hauled in many of the short, inside routes that Bradford generally goes for. However, in this preseason Adam Thielen has seen considerably more snaps at slot and subsequently more receptions. This is evidence to suggest that he might be the Vikings’ new go-to receiver.
Regardless, both are agile receivers capable of competent route running that play into Bradford’s conservative throwing habit. Minnesota also houses Kyle Rudolph, who is no afterthought at tight end. However, he should be out for the rest of the preseason due to an unspecified leg injury.
Secondary: Harrison Smith & Xavier Rhodes
The strongest unit of Minnesota’s defense comes from their outstanding secondary led by safety Harrison Smith and star cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Smith finished off the 2016 season in strong fashion, with 69 total tackles, 22 assists, 2 sacks. He has continued to be one of the most dangerous safeties in the league.
However the bigger concern to Jay Cutler should be Rhodes. His physical play style gives opposing receivers fits and he had 5 interceptions last season. For these reasons, Rhodes could be a serious problem for Cutler’s gunslinger play style. Cutler will have to think twice about throwing his way. Look for Miami to make adjustments to deal with a secondary that is considered to be in the upper tier of the league.