MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After finishing third-to-last in the league last season in rushing yards, the Minnesota Vikings are determined to re-establish a viable ground game.
Dalvin Cook ought to be up for the task. The way their passing attack fared on Saturday against Arizona, well, he better be.
Cook had an 85-yard touchdown run, the highlight of an otherwise rough first half by the first-team offense in a 20-9 victory by the Vikings over the Cardinals.
"That was a bright spot, certainly, a very special run. Great to see him pull away from everybody," said Kirk Cousins, who went just 3 for 13 for 35 yards while taking two sacks in six drives.
Cook scored early and Mike Boone crossed the goal line late, as the Vikings totaled 190 yards on 29 carries. Third-string quarterback Kyle Sloter kept up his preseason success, completing six of seven passes for 102 yards and a touchdown to fullback Khari Blasingame.
Coach Mike Zimmer was unsettled afterward, though, with the performance by his starters on both sides of the ball leaving a bad impression, particularly the offense.
"Especially after Dalvin's long touchdown, I felt like they relaxed, and they got slower, tempo-wise," Zimmer said. "We didn't get in and out of the huddle. We were slow at the line of scrimmage. We had dropped balls, penalties."
Cousins was under frequent pressure and had multiple passes knocked down at the line.
"If we play, or I should say I, if I play the way I did today, it's going to be a long year," Cousins said. "So we're going to have to be a lot better, and thankfully, I know we can be."
To top it off, recent acquisition Kaare Vedvik missed field goals from 43 and 54 yards.
"I'm not truly aware of how I'm perceived from the outside in, so I kind of keep my eyes on the practice field and on what I do," Vedvik said. "Everything else is just kind of outside noise that you're not supposed to read into."
Vedvik, who has been given an extended evaluation as both a kicker and a punter, made both of his extra-point attempts, at least, while incumbent Dan Bailey took the afternoon off. Matt Wile punted six times for an average of 47.3 yards, leaving no more clarity about the specialists than when the month began.
"Since we brought Vedvik in, Wile's been punting good, and Bailey's been kicking good, and then Vedvik goes out there and misses field goals," Zimmer said. "I don't know. I'm at a loss on that."
Cardinals rookie Kyler Murray, the first overall pick in the draft to whom new coach Kliff Kingsbury has turned to lead the reconstruction project, was relatively sharp while going 14 for 21 for 137 yards over the five possessions. Three drives ended with a successful field goal by Zane Gonzalez.
"I thought he made good decisions, whether it's to take off and move, or get out of the pocket and make quick decisions," Kingsbury said. "Had some things we'd like to have back, but it's all about progress. Each week we wanted to get better, and this is playing against a very good defense that showed multiple looks."
Another Cardinals draft pick, KeeSean Johnson, stood out on the other side of the ball with seven receptions for 85 yards on seven targets.
CLAP YOUR HANDS NOW
One of the most exasperating aspects of the performance for Kingsbury and his staff were the 14 penalties for 111 yards, including two false starts called on backup quarterback Brett Hundley in a three-play stretch late in the second quarter while clapping his hands during the pre-snap signaling process.
Murray also had that penalty problem in their first preseason game, and the Cardinals are concerned enough about the subjectivity of those calls that they're leaning toward relying on silent counts or leg lifts to avoid a flag.
"I think we're all trying to figure it out," Hundley said. "A couple of those, I have no idea."
THE LONG RUN
The Cardinals were last in the league last season in rushing defense, allowing an average of nearly 155 yards per game that was bumped up by the Vikings here last Oct. 14 in a 27-17 victory fueled by a career-high 155 rushing yards from Latavius Murray.
Cook made the Cardinals look bad again, when he took a handoff to the left and veered right behind key seal blocks by right guard Josh Kline and tight end Kyle Rudolph. The new zone-blocking scheme favored by offensive adviser Gary Kubiak ought to be a good fit for Cook with his keen cutback ability. The touchdown run was the longest in a preseason game in Vikings history, topping a 76-yarder by Jordan Todman in 2012.
Cardinals: New WR Michael Crabtree, the 11th-year veteran who signed with the team earlier this week, did not suit up. Neither did CB Patrick Peterson, the eight-time Pro Bowl pick facing a six-game suspension to start the regular season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancers.
"We wanted to see what we had in the other guys," Kingsbury said. "It's tough when you have one of the best cornerbacks in the game sitting over there watching, but we had a good plan going into training camp, and we stuck to it."
Vikings: DT Linval Joseph, who joined the team for practice this week for the first time since offseason shoulder surgery, was held out of the starting lineup, as was SS Harrison Smith. On offense, WR Adam Thielen rested, and RT Brian O'Neill stayed on the sideline again, after returning to the field this week following a three-week absence because of a right arm injury. Zimmer said Smith and Thielen were held out as a precaution with minor injuries.
Cardinals: Play at Denver on Thursday night in their final exhibition game. The regular-season opener is Sept. 8 against Detroit.
Vikings: Play at Tennessee on Thursday night in their final exhibition game. The regular-season opener is Sept. 8 against Atlanta.
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