The Vikings' 34-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers wasn't for lack of trying from the coaching staff to get something positive out of the first-team offense and defense, even if it meant leaving the starters in against the 49ers' backups.
The starting offensive line played 44 snaps – actually, Matt Kalil played 43 after being benched following his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty – while the 49ers' first-team defense (minus injured MLB Patrick Willis) generally played about 22 snaps.
The story was similar on the other side of the ball. The Vikings' starting defensive players generally played between 35 and 44 snaps while the 49ers' offensive starters were all over the board. On the low end was RB Frank Gore, who played only six snaps, while four of the starting offensive linemen each played 34 snaps.
In a review of the game, there was no one overriding theme for what went wrong like there was with the second preseason game when the Buffalo Bills' blitzes surprised the Vikings, who didn't devise a game plan for the Bills. Last week, the Vikings went into game-planning mode for the third preseason game, the one that features the starters most prominently, but several performances fell flat. Here are three good performances that stood out, along with three players that struggled.
LB Chad Greenway – At this point it should be no surprise, but Greenway continues to fly to ball instinctually and quickly. He finished with five tackles, including one for a loss, and a pass defensed. He also had the team's lone interception when he appeared to trick 49ers QB Colt McCoy into thinking he was blitzing and then dropped into coverage. It also looked like Greenway may have had a shot at another interception on the 49ers' first drive as he was stepping into the throwing lane, but Kevin Williams deflected that Colin Kaepernick pass at the line of scrimmage. Greenway also blitzed five times.
LB Desmond Bishop – Bishop's second performance for the Vikings was a bit up and down, but he should put to rest the speculation that his roster spot is in jeopardy. He led the team with nine tackles, including two for a loss, while in a timeshare with starter Marvin Mitchell. Despite not playing in a regular-season game since 2011, Bishop appears to be more aggressive and physical than Mitchell, and showed good pursuit. Neither is particularly strong in coverage, but no matter who wins the starting job, he will be coming off the field in nickel situations as Erin Henderson and Greenway handle those duties.
DE Brian Robison – His stat line – only one pass defensed – didn't do his effort justice Sunday night. He was consistently getting the quarterback off his mark and making him alter his throwing lanes. On McCoy's first series, Robison sent the backup quarterback scurrying into Kevin Williams for a sack, and later in the second quarter Robison just missed his own sack of McCoy. If the Vikings were looking for disruptive behavior, Robison provided that.
CB Josh Robinson – On Kaepernick's touchdown drive, Robinson was the defensive victim repeatedly. He gave up three receptions, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to rookie Quinton Patton and missed a tackle on another one of those receptions he allowed. In the second quarter, he allowed two more receptions his way. He had one of those stopped short of a first down – a 5-yard gain to Patton on third-and-7 – but grabbed the receiver's facemask to extend a drive that ended with a 50-yard field goal shortly before halftime. In the third quarter, he allowed two more completions in his coverage area and missed another tackle.
WR Stephen Burton – Just like Bishop's night wasn't all good, Burton's wasn't all bad. He tied for being targeted the most and tied for the team lead in receptions – three for 31 yards. But it was what he didn't do that did no favors to his quest to make the 53-man roster once again. He didn't continue a second-quarter slant route, a decision that led to Christian Ponder's only interception of the game after his pass was batted into the air and then hauled in by C.J. Spillman. Later, it appeared that Burton's lack of attention led to a delay-of-game penalty when Ponder called for his receiver to go in motion and Burton didn't see the first signal.
LT Matt Kalil – What's going on with the Pro Bowl left tackle? First he was beaten inside on the first play of the Buffalo game, giving up a sack that wasn't part of a blitz package, then he had more uncharacteristic mistakes Sunday night. On the third drive, he missed a block on Justin Smith, who went inside as guard Charlie Johnson pulled, allowing Smith to haul down Toby Gerhart for a 4-yard loss on third-and-1. On the ensuing drive, Kalil picked up two unnecessary roughness penalties, one with a shove from behind on a defender that wasn't in position to even make a play on a Ponder scramble.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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