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Monday Morning Mailbag: Waynes' Play, Possible 2nd Round Opponents

Posted Jan 1, 2018

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Trae Waynes played his best game of his of his career. He is taking his game to another level right before the playoffs. If he keeps it up, we will have two shutdown corners right when we need them. Skol!
-- John McGuire
Lone Pine, CA

I don’t know if there is a more improved player on the Vikings – or in the NFL – than Waynes. The work Mike Zimmer, George Edwards, Jerry Gray and Jonathan Gannon have done with Waynes is to be commended, and Waynes himself is of course to be commended for trusting his training and going out there and getting better every day. According to Pro Football Focus’ game review, Waynes was targeted eight times against the Bears, allowing only three catches for 52 yards while adding two pass breakups. Waynes finished with more run stops than any other cornerback in the NFL this season and his future in Zimmer’s defense looks bright.

Sunday’s game left me unimpressed and worried. I’m worried that the Vikings offensive line isn’t playing consistent football like we were earlier in the year, mostly because it’s injured. The other thing that’s got me worried is Case Keenum’s play. It’s like they get off to a good start offensively, then they go into a shell and rely on the defense to win the game. That works against teams like the Bengals and Bears, but that won’t get it done against the Saints and Patriots.
-- Gary Gross
St. Cloud, MN

It’s okay to be unimpressed with Sunday’s win. That just means you have high standards, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Plus, there isn’t one Vikings player or coach who would tell you that what we saw on Sunday was a perfect game. There are things in all three phases to clean up and that will be what Zimmer and his coaching staff focus on as soon as today with the team beginning preparations for the divisional round in two weeks. Before we get too hard on the offense, though, let’s remember they scored two touchdowns in their first three possessions on Sunday and added another touchdown in the second half. Again, it wasn’t a perfect performance, but that was a tough Bears defense the Vikings faced and the offense was also likely focusing on taking care of the ball and being a complement to a dominant defensive effort that was unfolding as the game progressed.

Great regular season! Would you agree that David Morgan has been a bigger surprise this season than Laquon Treadwell or Michael Floyd?  Who would have guessed it at the beginning of the year?
-- Tim
Daejeon, South Korea

Rhett Ellison’s departure via free agency last offseason left a significant vacancy on the Vikings offense. But not for long. Morgan stepped in and picked up where Ellison left off. Morgan has been solid for the Vikings all season but he’s come on strong the past two weeks. Last week in Green Bay, he was thrust into the role of long snapper while also contributing on offense. This week against Chicago, Morgan did not have to long snap but he was called upon to run block and catch passes. Pro Football Focus was bullish on Morgan’s performance as a run blocker and the second-year tight end, who played 42 snaps, also caught all three of the passes thrown his way for 35 yards.

How does the health of our offensive line look heading into the playoffs?
-- Gerald Goblirsch

We’ll have a better idea of that following Zimmer’s press conference on Monday, but this is an important question considering the Vikings were down two starters against Chicago and had to ask two starters to change positions, with Joe Berger going from right guard to center and Mike Remmers going from right tackle to right guard. Injuries are never good news, but the silver lining is key backups such as Aviante Collins, Rashod Hill and Jeremiah Sirles have gotten plenty of reps this season and were performed capably when thrust into action. Left guard Nick Eason was placed on the Reserve/Injured list last week, so he won’t be back for the playoffs. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the other four starters were all available for the divisional round in two weeks.

Which game do the Vikings need to be watching next week? We play the winner of what game?
-- Cris Wallace
@CriswallaceWG

The Vikings are the No. 2 seed, so they will play the highest seed to come out of the wild card round. This means the Vikings will host the No. 3 seed Los Angeles Rams if they defeat the No. 6 seed Atlanta Falcons next weekend. If the Falcons pull off an upset, then the Vikings will host the winner of No. 5 seed Carolina at No. 4 seed New Orleans. The Vikings divisional round game will be played at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, January 14 with kickoff set for 3:40 p.m. CT on FOX.

What NFC team playing on wild card weekend do you think causes the most concern in a rematch with the Vikings on divisional weekend?
-- Kris
Utah

That’s a matter of perspective and opinion. I’ll let you all decide which potential divisional round opponent (Atlanta cannot be a divisional round opponent for the Vikings) is the bigger threat, but first I will arm you with some information on each one.

- The Saints are a different team now than they were when the Vikings beat them in Week 1. The running back tandem of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara is about as good as you’ll find in the NFL and that defense is playing markedly better than it was back in September.

- Carolina had struggled against Zimmer’s defense in games against the Vikings in 2014 and 2016, but the 2017 Panthers found a formula that worked in a 31-24 victory over the Vikings in Week 14.

- Los Angeles scored on their first series of the game against the Vikings, but couldn’t muster any points after that in a 24-7 loss at U.S. Bank Stadium. Head coach Sean McVay is as bright a young offensive mind as there is in the NFL and would likely cherish another crack at Zimmer’s defense, while the Rams have a defense of their own that is physical and finished No. 8 in scoring defense.

The Vikings and Eagles have the same record. Why are the Eagles the No. 1 seed with home-field advantage and the Vikings are the No. 2 seed?
-- Steve Peterson

It came down to record versus common opponents for the Vikings and Eagles. They did not play one another this season, so the head-to-head tie breaker did not apply. Both teams finished 10-2 in the NFC, so conference record didn’t break the tie. The next step in the process is record against common opponents. The Vikings and Eagles played five contests against common opponents, and the Eagles finished with a 5-0 record against those teams while the Vikings finished 4-1 in those games; they Vikings loss was to Carolina, whom the Eagles defeated 28-23 back in Week 6.