Key matchup: Smith vs. Vikings secondary

The Vikings’ new-look defense will have a stiff test against Alex Smith, a supreme game manager that is efficient with his passes.

In the preseason, the third week of games is historically the one that draws the most fan interest. For the most part, all teams use this game as their dress rehearsal for the regular season. Starters will play at least to halftime, often playing into the third quarter in order to allow for halftime adjustments and a drive or two in the third quarter to see how the players respond. The Vikings plan to do that with at least some of their starters.

As the Vikings head on the road for the first time to meet the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday night, it will be the truest test of where the new-look Minnesota defense stands. One of the reasons Mike Zimmer was hired was to repair a defense that allowed more points than any other team in the NFL last year – bad news considering the skill level of the quarterbacks in the NFC North.

Seeing as most guaranteed starters on defense will likely see no action in the preseason finale next week, it’s going to be the best gauge to date as to what changes have been made defensively and there is no better quarterback to test out their new look than Kansas City’s Alex Smith, making Smith’s performance against the Vikings defense this week’s key matchup.

Some may scoff at the notion that Smith is an accurate barometer of what a defense should worry about in an opposing quarterback, but he is exactly what the Vikings need as a test of their scheme and where their weaknesses remain.

Most people think of Smith as the first overall pick by San Francisco who was brutal in his first three seasons. When he was eventually replaced by Colin Kaepernick, it was because of ineffectiveness. All Smith does is win football games. In his last 43 starts, he has a record of 31-11-1. There isn’t a quarterback outside of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady that wouldn’t take that record.

Smith isn’t an elite quarterback, but he is elite at what he does. Much like Rich Gannon had extraordinary success when he got into a system in Oakland (back when Oakland won games), Smith became a system quarterback who excelled at executing the scheme. When he was traded to Kansas City, the scheme changed, but the success followed.

The only way Smith will make it to the Hall of Fame is to go as a visitor, but he is adept at reading defenses, not taking unnecessary risks and moving the ball efficiently down the field. Of the 508 passes he threw last season, only seven of them were intercepted. He is a game manager of the highest order. He doesn’t own a cannon arm. He’s not going to throw for 400 yards. But he does so many things well that he is a source of frustration to defensive coordinators because he has an uncanny knack for making the right decisions.

The Vikings first-team defense has looked pretty impressive over the first two games in limited use. This will be their longest action of the preseason and, while it may not appear on face value, Smith is the ideal candidate to test them and poke holes in their weak spots, making his performance Saturday this week’s key matchup.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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