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Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


270204211

Three things to watch during Vikings-Cardinals

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated August 16th at 3:27pm 271519211

There was plenty to like from the Vikings’ top units in their 10-6 preseason win over the Oakland Raiders eight days ago. The Vikings scored on their first two drives and the defense produced a pair of three-and-outs on the Raiders’ first two drives. Not too shabby.

There were some negatives, though, when it came to both the first-stringers and the backups who played more than three quarters of the game. And some important questions remain unanswered.

The hope is that the Vikings will provide a little more clarity tonight against the Arizona Cardinals, especially when it comes to the all-important quarterback position.

Here are three things I will be watching for at TCF Bank Stadium tonight:

1. HOW WILL CHRIS CROCKER DO IN HIS DEBUT? Head coach Mike Zimmer said the other day that he wants to get a good look at four safeties tonight: Chris Crocker, Kurt Coleman, Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo. The only one of those four who played against the Raiders was Coleman, and he picked off a pass and played pretty well. Sanford and Sendejo missed the game due to injuries but are expected to play tonight. And Crocker was new to the team, so he did not play. Since last Friday, though, Crocker has seen a lot of time with the first team next to Harrison Smith. I’m curious to see how the 34-year-old plays tonight. Will he make a claim for the position?

2. WILL THE OFFENSIVE LINE PROTECT BETTER? The starting offensive line fared well when it came to run blocking. They got good push at the goal-line on Matt Asiata’s 1-yard touchdown run and gave rookie Jerick McKinnon some room to run before exiting the game. The top group did, however, allow a pair of sacks to the Raiders. And the team as a whole allowed six sacks throughout the game. Afterwards, Zimmer said that two of his biggest critiques were the pass protection and the pass rush, and he feels the Cardinals will be a good test for his offensive line. That group must pass protect better this season to give whoever the Vikings’ quarterback is a fair chance.

3. CAN MATT CASSEL SEIZE THE STARTING SPOT? If the veteran quarterback doesn’t already have the starting gig locked up, it’s pretty darn close. Cassel led an efficient TD drive against the Raiders and followed it up with a mostly mistake-free week of practice. Meanwhile, his competitor, rookie Teddy Bridgewater, had an up-and-down performance in that preseason opener then threw five picks in a span of two practices in Mankato. There is nothing to worry about what it comes to Bridgewater. We’re seeing a young quarterback learn what he can and can’t do at the NFL level. But another sharp performance by Cassel and Teddy seems likely start the season on the bench.

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