The third game is generally the most attractive of the NFL preseason since the starters generally play longer than in any other preseason game. So Saturday night’s meeting between the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead Stadium could be the most interesting of this year’s exhibition schedule for both teams.
An added bonus is that Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassel was a four-year starter for the Chiefs before he was released after a dismal 2012 season in which he threw only six touchdown passes with 12 interceptions.
During his final season, in a home loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Cassel was knocked to the ground for several minutes in the fourth quarter and Chiefs fans cheered. So it should be interesting to see how Cassel is received Saturday night at Arrowhead.
ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Vikings reporter Ben Goessling discuss Cassel's return and the game.
Teicher: Matt Cassel will start at quarterback for the Vikings on Saturday night. How has he played through training camp and the preseason and what kind of fit has he been in coordinator Norv Turner’s offensive system?
Goessling: He’s played well so far, probably well enough that he’ll keep the starting job over Teddy Bridgewater. Cassel has had most of the first-team snaps, and so far in the preseason he’s been accurate and decisive. The ability to get the ball out on three- and five-step drops is a key characteristic of a successful quarterback in Turner’s system, and Cassel has done that well so far. He’s connected with tight end Kyle Rudolph -- whom the Vikings think is going to have a breakout year in Turner’s offense -- and I think Cassel will be competent, considering the pieces he has around him (Adrian Peterson, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Rudolph, etc.). We’ll see how long he can hold the job, but he’s earned the right to be the top guy at this point.
When Cassel is on the field Saturday night, what kind of a test will he get from the Chiefs’ defense? How has the defense looked so far, and how much do you think the Chiefs will show on Saturday night?
Teicher: The Chiefs generally are a pressure-based defense, but it’s difficult to predict what they will do in a preseason game. They’ve done well in pressuring the quarterback when they’ve blitzed so far in the preseason, but their rush hasn’t generated much when they send only four. The Chiefs are in some disarray at cornerback. They’ve already made a change in the starting lineup, replacing Ron Parker with Sean Smith, but then Smith had a difficult game against Carolina last week. The Chiefs are also missing their best safety, Eric Berry. He hasn’t been practicing or playing because of a sore heel, and they miss him. His place is being taken by undrafted rookie Daniel Sorensen. So there should be some opportunities for big plays for Cassel and his receivers.
If things don’t go well for Cassel and the Vikings early in the season, how patient will coach Mike Zimmer be with him? In that event, would he hesitate to switch to rookie Teddy Bridgewater?
Goessling: That remains to be seen, but I don’t think the Vikings would put Bridgewater on the field before they feel he’s ready. They’re probably not at a point where a quarterback change is going to make the difference between being a contender and missing the playoffs, so if it means sticking with Cassel (or even going to Christian Ponder) to give Bridgewater more time to learn, I could see the Vikings doing that. The most important task facing Zimmer and his staff is developing Bridgewater correctly, and that will have a bigger say in their job security than a few games this season. I think they’ve been impressed with Bridgewater so far, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him at some point this season. I just don’t think they’ll be rushing to pull the plug on Cassel for the sole purpose of putting Bridgewater on the field as soon as possible, or to try to jump-start a season in which they’re not likely to contend anyway.
What’s the feeling down there in Kansas City after a surprising 2013 season and a number of defections in free agency? Are the Chiefs in position to challenge the Broncos, or are they primed for a fall after making the playoffs last year?
Teicher: You could say the fall began last season. The Chiefs started 9-0 but lost six of their last eight games, counting the playoff defeat against Indianapolis. They were stung by wasting a 28-point third-quarter lead against the Colts, and I can’t tell you for certain that they’re over that. That issue aside, the Chiefs appear to have some issues that will hold them back. They allowed a lot of big pass plays last season and have shown nothing so far in the preseason to indicate that will change. They’re young and inexperienced on the offensive line, and this showed in last week’s loss to Carolina. And their schedule is far more difficult than it was last season. After opening against Tennessee at home, the Chiefs have four of the next five on the road, including games at Denver, San Francisco and San Diego. The home game in that stretch is against New England. So I’ve picked them to take a step backward this year and finish 8-8.