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Monday Morning Mailbag: What to Make of the Vikings with 4 Games Left?

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

Click here to submit a comment or question to the Mailbag, which is presented by FedEx. Remember to include your name and town on the email. The questions below have been edited for clarity.

You can also send Eric a Mailbag question via Twitter.

Greetings from Italy! I will be short: how can it be that a team so talented is 6-7? How can it be that we lost against Lions? Wins like this [against Pittsburgh] are making me more and more disappointed about this season. I will stop trying to find a logic in this Vikings franchise, simply there is not. SKOL!

— Davide Pizzetti

This is the third game this year that we won, but it feels like we lost, because we threw away a big lead. Why can't this team seem to get its act together? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad we got the W and we had a good first half, but why does it seem that whenever one side of the ball pulls itself together, the other side of the ball seems to be falling apart?!

— Jordan from Fort Lauderdale

For fun on Sunday evening, I decided to watch back the final drive of Thursday night's game. Wait, is fun the right word here?

Anyways, I watched with bated breath as the Vikings came through with a win to get to 6-7, even if they nearly gave up a historic lead. Yet at the end of the drive, after he had exchanged pleasantries with Mike Tomlin, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer headed to the locker room.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.

As he did so, he removed his hat and rubbed his head in disbelief, seemingly wondering, 'What did I just watch?'

Zimmer is all of us. And not just on Thursday night, but for pretty much this entire season.

Minnesota has played 13 games, with 12 of them being decided by one possession. And in seven of those contests, the game's outcome could have been decided on the final play.

Zimmer joked a few months ago that each season makes him reach for the antacids. I imagine he's gone through quite a few bottles of them with so many thrilling — or harrowing — finishes so far this season.

Davide and Jordan both make excellent points in their emails, and both basically ask the same question: What can we make of the 2021 Minnesota Vikings with four games left?

Are they the team that raced out to a 29-0 lead against Pittsburgh and also went toe-to-toe with top NFC teams like the Packers and Cardinals?

Or are they the team that nearly coughed up that 29-point advantage, and managed to lose to the otherwise winless Lions and also no-show for various parts of different games this season?

The answer … much like Minnesota's record …is somewhere in the middle. The Vikings certainly have the caliber of talent to beat any team on any given day. But they also have so much inconsistency that they are liable to lose each week, too, if those miscues pop up enough times throughout a game.

Zimmer said it best shortly after Thursday night's win:

"That team that played in the first half for us was pretty darn good, and I think could probably beat anybody. That team that played in the second half, um, probably could get beat by anybody."

This might be the most spot-on statement Zimmer has said all season.

My advice to Davide (all the way in Italy), Jordan and everyone else in the final four games? Enjoy the ride, because you know it's going to be a wild one.

Hello, Eric. Enjoy your articles and a Big Vikings fan! I have to say not enough has been said about the let down in the second half by the defense! I saw a replay of the last drive, and we couldn't get any pressure against Ben Roethlisberger despite four-plus rushers! If the secondary doesn't stop the numerous big plays it gives up each game, we will not make the playoffs. Thank you and Skol!

— Joshua

Joshua is like me in the sense that he watched back the final drive. And Joshua is like Zimmer in that he came away unimpressed with Minnesota's secondary in the final 30 minutes of the game.

I'd mostly lump the cornerbacks into the spotlight, as Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods were fine, and especially impactful on the final play of Thursday's game.

In terms of playing time, Patrick Peterson played all 74 defensive snaps. Mackensie Alexander played 64 snaps as the slot cornerback, while Bashaud Breeland (50 snaps), Kris Boyd (12 snaps) and Cameron Dantzler (11 snaps) each also contributed.

But the cornerback group drew Zimmer's ire on Friday morning when he spoke to the Twin Cities media via videoconference. Even after 13 games, Zimmer said that group struggled at times against the Steelers.

Here's his quote:

The thing I'm disappointed with the corners is, you know, a guy got a cut [tight] split and they line up head up on the guy and give him a chance to get there. The guy is supposed to be on top of the receiver, [but] they're running hip to hip with him," Zimmer said. "Those kinds of things are really disappointing. Allowing 50-50 balls … that's disappointing to me. We've got guys in wide splits, and we're lined up head up on them instead of being inside.

"We didn't tackle a couple of times on the perimeter. The ball got outside the corners a couple times on the perimeter in the run game," Zimmer added. "I thought Boyd competed really well. He had the one poor penalty. He did a nice job on things like tackling, but if he's on top of that receiver, that ball is not thrown or has to be a back-shoulder fade, which is much, much tougher. And I don't think Dantzler played very good in the red zone."

That, uh, about covers it.

Zimmer has always been one to call it like he sees it, and that hasn't changed after nearly eight years.

Yet it will need to be a team effort from the Vikings if that group wants to play a positive role in the final month. Yes, the entire group will need to pick up its game and play better.

But Zimmer, a noted defensive backs guru, will also need to try and work his magic to try and find more success with those players than what we've seen for most of the season.

The Vikings still have to play Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers, so some consistency from the Minnesota secondary could mean the difference between an extra win or not.

The Vikings, whether it's at cornerback or overall, don't have a lot of margin for error right now.

The way the Vikings were running the ball well, why pass in the second half? Upcoming games are Bears (twice), Rams and Packers, so it is not looking good for the Vikings.

— Richard Plumley in Amherstview, Ontario, Canada

Richard with a two-part inquiry here. And a shoutout to him for the support from the northeast shore of Lake Ontario.

Let's start the Vikings running game, and the second-half approach that Richard asks about.

For starters, that was (obviously) the Vikings best performance on the ground all season. Dalvin Cook, even with a shoulder harness, looked as healthy as he has since suffering an ankle injury in Week 2.

And a reshuffled offensive line — along with the fullback, tight ends and others — opened up holes through which any of us could have gained yards.

I mean, look at this screenshot…

Cook was masterful Thursday night, and nearly had a career-high in rushing yards. When he's playing like that, it opens up so much for the offense and allows the Vikings to be balanced and keep opposing defenses guessing.

As for Richard's comment about the second half, it likely stems from the fact that Minnesota's first 15 offensive plays in the second half gained just 31 yards. Yes, the Vikings got a pair of field goals out of them, but those were gifted by solid starting field position in Steelers territory.

Of those 15 plays, eight were runs and seven were passes. The eight runs gained 30 yards and the seven pass attempts gained just a single yard.

At some point, you knew Pittsburgh was going to load up the box and solely focus on stopping Cook. The Steelers did an OK job at that.

But the reason where the offensive frustrations stemmed from — and allowed the Steelers to mount a comeback — is that the Vikings passing attack did nothing.

On those seven attempts to start the second half, Kirk Cousins completed just one pass (for one yard) and was intercepted once. Now, that stat line isn't 100 percent on the quarterback, as the interception was off a tipped ball, but it wasn't as if Cousins was at his best to start the second half.

View game action photos between the Vikings and Steelers during the Thursday Night Football matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Even if he had completed two of three of more of those passes for a handful of yards, it likely would have helped the offense stay on the field … or at least bleed more of the clock to not allow Pittsburgh time to rally.

And yes, Cousins did redeem himself a bit by hitting K.J. Osborn for a 62-yard score that put some energy back into the team (and U.S. Bank Stadium). But those 62 yards accounted for a good portion of his 92 second-half passing yards.

If the Vikings want to get hot and make some noise down the stretch, Cousins will be a key figure to watch.

Which brings me to Richard's second point about the remaining schedule and playoff hopes.

I would actually disagree with his claim that that four-game stretch doesn't look good for Zimmer's team.

Anyone could make the argument that Minnesota could easily win all four of those games. And that same person could also convince me that the Vikings would find a way to lose each of them, too.

No, going on the road to Chicago and Green Bay (with both games in prime time) won't be easy. And neither will home games against the Rams and Bears, the latter of which could end up being a defining game for many in the organization.

The real question is … which Vikings team will show up down the stretch? Heck, which one will show up in the first quarter next Monday night at Soldier Field?

As of this morning, Minnesota is still on the outside looking in of the NFC playoff picture. (Washington has the same overall record but a better conference record, which is why it resides in the No. 7 spot).

But there are also five teams, including the Vikings, that are 6-7 with four games left. The final four weeks should be filled with plenty of drama that only the NFL can provide.