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Monday Morning Mailbag: Hidden Gem of a Catch; Questions on Defensive Pressure in Vikings Win Over Patriots

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Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

What a difference a week makes, huh?

The inbox was hot enough to infrared cook a turkey last week.

View Vikings in Big Head Mode during the huge win over the Patriots on Thanksgiving at U.S. Bank Stadium.

This week there's a little less fire but still some questions about the status of the Vikings, who improved to 9-2 when hosting a Thanksgiving game for the first time and answered the call in a nationally televised game against the Patriots.

Before we get to the questions, there are a couple of more days left in November for you to cast a vote for assistant special teams coach Ben Kotwica. The Army graduate who served for eight years flying Apache helicopters is Minnesota's nominee for the 2022 Salute to Service Award. Voting runs through the end of the month.

On to the questions (as a reminder, we'll update with more Monday).

Seen lots of video of J.J., Adam, and T.J. catches. One AWESOME grab from K.J. where he tore the pass from the DB, securing the ball and getting a first down! Now that's a highlight.

— Rick Oldenburg in Stillwater, Oklahoma

Every week, there are hidden gems that are incredibly important to winning games. They don't always generate headlines like scoring catches or the latest out-of-this-world feat by Jefferson, but Rick is spot-on with how important the play by Osborn was.

Minnesota followed the touchdown by Thielen by forcing a three-and-out to get the ball back with 8:07 remaining in the game.

Cousins' pass was behind Osborn, who was running an out pattern after going in motion before the snap. The misfire gave Jonathan Jones an inside track, but Osborn took it away. Two plays later, he rushed for 5 on third-and-1. Those two plays helped Minnesota run nearly four minutes of clock before punting to New England to help protect the 33-26 lead and allow the defense to be refreshed when it went back on the field.

The pass is one that bothered Cousins, no doubt, and it's a bit lucky, some would say, but there's also an element by Osborn of making the team's luck by being strong at the point of the catch.

First, thankful for the win and my many blessings.

Offense: QB deserves his doubters. He's certainly earned them year after year. Rookie mistakes at this point in his career make one's eyes roll and plant palm to forehead. He holds the ball too long and then tosses up an interception when he should've eaten it. There were at least 2-3 others he got LUCKY weren't picked. Just stop Kirk, stop! The O-line needs to take pride in their task and have an attitude of dealing punishment for 60-plus minutes — not just a couple quarters. Get it done, all game!

Defense: Ugh, anybody hear of stopping the run? When you get your chance make the tackle, fundamentals matter. There's no shame in being the grunt vs the "hero." The Hall of Fame is filled with guys who weren't flashy but steady, results-oriented type guys. The DBs are in tough shape, but again, they've got to stick to the plan, and long passes, poor tackling and long runs aren't it. The D has to have the same attitude as the O-line: punishment and "get it done" ALL game not just the fourth quarter. Exhibit A: see how Dallas whupped us!

Special teams: details, details, details. Joseph misses yet another extra point, eyes roll. Each of those in the past three games could mean the difference between win, OT, and a loss. Stop trying to boot the ball out of the stadium on extra points — sheesh! It's not a 55-yard attempt. Just swing your foot and let your leg follow through. Coverage team: stay in your lane! Yet again, be the grunt who gets it done instead of being the "hero" (or zero) who gives up the big play. The coverage team is all about stops nothing flashy, just put the guy with the ball on the ground, period.

For the entire team: Ws matter, but drawing out every game to the last minute takes its toll. Especially IF you make the postseason. The close games drain a little (or a lot) out of the tank each time, and when playoffs start, you're going to need every bit of energy you can muster. Just making the playoffs or the Super Bowl isn't good enough. Been there, done that, for decades…it's Championship or chumps. Make it a Championship, starting now.

— J.D. Tonn from Alaska, The Last Frontier

We'll get to the defense and Greg Joseph a little later in the Mailbag as those have generated the most comments from fans.

To me, it looked like the interception thrown by Cousins was prompted by the pressure generated by the Patriots using only a four-player rush. There was traffic at Cousins' feet, and it didn't look like he could step into the ball the way he'd normally like to do. The result was a ball that sailed over Osborn directly to Jonathan Jones, who was able to drift into a centerfield role and then return the ball 55 yards to the Minnesota 17-yard line. By the way, we need to credit the defense for holding New England to 1 yard and three points on that possession.

View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings 33-26 Thanksgiving victory over the Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium.

While Cousins is far from a rookie and has been critical of his own game, he is in the first year of this iteration of offense. There is so much he's doing before every snap, checking into plays to try to find "premier looks" in Head Coach Kevin O'Connell's system. I think O'Connell and teammates understand what's on Cousins' plate because they have the benefit of meetings and installs. On a short week, O'Connell and Cousins were able to get to the look they wanted for the winning score to Adam Thielen, and Cousins put the ball on the money.

It seems like Cousins has been empowered to move past mistakes and become a key part to Minnesota closing out games. The offense put up 26 points and got the benefit of Kene Nwangwu's 97-yard kickoff return touchdown.

The kickoff coverage team got popped for a 46-yarder by Marcus Jones on the only one of seven kickoffs by the Vikings, but the punt coverage team limited him to 11 yards on two returns a week after he walked off the Jets with an 84-yarder.

A key part of O'Connell's philosophy he adopted from Bill Belichick is that so many NFL games are lost before a team has a chance to win. So, he'll do everything he can to make sure it goes to the fourth quarter, and so far, it's worked, even if there have been some dicey moments. Minnesota is now 8-0 in one-score games.

I can appreciate J.D.'s point about the attrition toll that going down to the wire can take as those contests accumulate, but pro football is supposed to be close and often is, except for, what the Vikings hope was a complete aberration against the Cowboys. Everyone was asking, "What was that?" and "How will the team respond?" a week ago. The Vikings provided the answer in another incredible atmosphere at U.S. Bank Stadium. It will be up to the team to continue to prove itself every week.

First of all, it was great to see the offense bounce back. I believe there's one huge issue facing this team in the playoffs. THE DEFENSIVE GAME PLAN!!!

Can anyone help me understand the mindset with our defense. I watched our defense essentially allow the worst offense in the league walk all over them for the first 50 minutes. No blitzes, DBs playing 10 yards off allowing the Patriots move the ball with ease. Case in point, the last minute of the first half we score a go-ahead touchdown 16-13. The defense plays way off and allows them to go down the field in a minute nearly giving up a touchdown. Not until 5:00 left in the game do the coaches call a blitz, and what happens? They get a sack.

Why is our game plan always to play, soft, soft D until our backs are against the wall.

If this defense blitzed early and often, we wouldn't have to wait until late in the game to see if we can pull it out. Playing prevent defense won't work in the playoffs.

I'd like to see what this team looks like if they attack like the Cowboys, 49ers D rather than retreat and keep teams in the game a lot longer than they should be.

I'd like your opinion and fans opinions on their take on the Vikings defense. I think they're much better if they were in a position to attack vs playing soft.

— Kevin

A couple of the long completions by Mac Jones to tight end Hunter Henry made me think of Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski. This is not a slight on Jones or Henry, but they've got a way to go before they'd be considered first-ballot Hall of Famers like Brady and Gronk. Yet, they found ways to attack.

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As you can tell from fan comments/questions below, you are not the only one who wants to see more blitzing.

I do think on several of the plays I've looked at that New England's offensive line played well despite missing two starters.

Henry recorded a 22-yard reception on the second play of New England's drive before halftime. It looks like Kendricks either thought he had help to the outside or Jones was able to look him toward the middle of the field. Kendricks managed to tackle Henry and keep him in bounds.

On the following play, the Vikings did rush five players, but Danielle Hunter was chipped and then double-teamed by the right tackle and running back, allowing Jones to connect with DeVante Parker for 16 yards. Minnesota rushed four on the next play, and Jones found Parker on an out route against Duke Shelley, the fourth player the Vikings have started this season at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson because of injuries.

The Vikings were successful rushing four on the next play, forcing Jones to give himself up for a sack of zero yards and use New England's final timeout with 24 seconds remaining.

Another four-man rush didn't get home, but the Vikings were able to keep things in front of them. At this point, it's about preventing a touchdown. New England spiked the ball with 10 seconds remaining.

View game photos from the Week 12 Vikings Thanksgiving matchup vs. the Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Jones had enough time to take one shot to the end zone. The Vikings switched Peterson and Shelley, and instead trying Peterson, Jones tried Shelley, who effectively broke up the pass intended for Kendrick Bourne.

The sack near the end of the game was only a four-man rush as well, but the Patriots failed to block Za'Darius Smith at the line, and he collapsed the pocket, enabling Ross Blacklock's first career sack. Peterson made sure to tackle Bourne in bounds on the following play, leaving time for one more snap.

The Cowboys and the 49ers are deeper into their defensive schemes than the Vikings. Dan Quinn and DeMeco Ryans are in their second seasons as defensive coordinators with Dallas and San Francisco, and I was able to see the havoc the 49ers can create during the two joint practices with the Vikings in training camp. It would be advised to avoid playing any game against either of those defenses on their terms.

SKOL to the Vikings nation for a prime-time, first-time hosting of a Thanksgiving game win! Great back-and-forth game. My question is defense. Seems like our D scheme completely changed for most of the fourth quarter and the Pats couldn't hardly move the ball. Why can't we play this type defense the whole game and maybe avoid the come from behind wins??

— Brian in South Dakota

Why does [Defensive Coordinator Ed] Donatell continue to run a horrendous defensive scheme of only rushing four at a time? So infuriating to watch. No pressure being applied and making below average QBs look like they're Pro Bowl caliber. Tired of giving up 400-plus yards a game to bad offenses.

— Ben Z. in Saint Peter, Minnesota

Three things to fix. 9-2 is not one of them. I want to see more sacks and hits on the QB. I want to see 10-plus plays on our drives. Especially in the fourth quarter when we are leading. More arms up on the D-line when their QB is releasing the ball. What do you want to see?

— Gerald Goblirsch

Another down to the wire game against the Patriots. What is your opinion on the defense? For three quarters on Thanksgiving night they were as useful as a wet tissue when you blow you nose. Then, they did just enough to win the game in the fourth quarter. I know they have injuries. Do they need to blitz more? Seemed effective in the fourth quarter. Trying to stay positive. Fan for over 52 years.

— Kevin from Tucson, Arizona

As a Viking fan for the last 50 years, I am very concerned about our bend-then-break defense. We have too much talent on defense to be this vulnerable.

— Gene Purdy

When do we realize our defensive scheme is not working? And try something new or get a new defensive play caller.

— Eddie White

Going to consolidate these questions since they revolve around defense. Gerald also sent me an email during the game noting the Vikings had one sack (and one QB hit) with 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Minnesota finished with three in each category thanks to two in the final 2:15. The Vikings have had the ability to close games. Minnesota has scored 93 points in fourth quarters and allowed 43. It's a major reversal of third quarters in which opponents have scored 80 and limited the Vikings to 34.

I'd rather have players who know how to close than those throwing batting practice at the end of games.

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I realize so much of Vikings fandom for decades has been built on enjoying dominant defenses. I also think those expectations in the first year of a system with kind of a modified overhaul may not be the most realistic.

There's so much prep work that goes into the game plan each week, but then teams have to make adjustments when foes figure something out or present something unexpected.

Dalvin Tomlinson was playing at a Pro Bowl-level when he suffered his calf injury against Arizona. Minnesota misses him but also is determined to not bring him back before he's ready.

Za'Darius Smith is grinding through a knee injury. He's played tough but not quite as dominant as he was when he garnered NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors in October.

I already mentioned Shelley filling in for Andrew Booth, Jr, who was filling in for Akayleb Evans, who was filling in for Cameron Dantzler, Sr.

The past two quarterbacks to play at U.S. Bank Stadium — Dak Prescott and Mac Jones — are a combined 50-of-64 passing (78.1 percent) with 658 yards, four touchdowns and a combined passer rating of 130.3.

Prescott already is a two-time Pro Bowler, and Jones was the 15th overall pick in 2021, but it needs to be tougher for opposing quarterbacks, so even if sacks might not be there, maybe there's a way to pressure passers or the catch points a little better.

Prime time. Against hoodie. Banged up in very key spots. 33 points for. 26 points against. This game answered a lot of questions. On a short week after an absolute beatdown, the Vikings came back, played with heart, intensity, discipline and skill. Kevin O'Connell was not outcoached by one of the great defensive minds ever to coach.

Tons to be encouraged here. And while I hate the injuries, how great is it to have depth chart guys step up in a big game and get that big-game experience and confidence?

Finally, all three phases outplayed the opposition. That's tremendous.

— Jeff in Sacramento, California

Appreciate points made by Jeff here. All had a hand in Minnesota snapping a five-game losing streak to New England.

Can you explain why Greg Joseph still has a job? It's not excusable anymore. It's not cute, and there should be no chances left. He routinely misses extra points and puts the team in bad position. Why is he still employed?

— Matt Boffa

Once again, I will say we need to sign another kicker! Another missed PAT against the Patriots cost us the halftime lead. Sooner or later, it will hurt us BIG TIME!

— David Winger

Kicker is the only position where we (unfairly) expect perfection every time the player is on the field. I understand the animosity, given how some of the best seasons in franchise history have ended. Joseph is 24-of-29 on extra points, which are no longer freebies but are critical to keeping momentum after touchdowns. He also is 16-for-21 on field goals with all five misses being from 50-plus yards.

I traveled from Texas to Buffalo to watch a game that I thought my Vikes would surely lose. Instead, I witness the Buffalo Miracle, and I thought for sure this has got to be the year; a team of destiny, WRONG. At the hands of my hated rivals the Cowboys, my Vikes were totally exposed as pretenders who have eeked out games they should have lost. We are a very long way from the Promised Land.

— Andy

The loss is not the issue. I paid money to see the Vikings play on Sunday [against the Cowboys]. They were on the field, but I didn't see them playing. I think I deserve a refund.

— Jill Aadland

Highs and lows can be a week away. If we knew the outcomes before kickoffs, we wouldn't have some place to pour hearts and souls for three or more hours on game days, right?

The key thing is there were people who believed Minnesota could win at Buffalo. There also are plenty of people who never would have imagined the disappointing game that followed.

We've seen the Vikings respond to a pair of double-digit losses this season by winning seven in a row, beginning with an impressive comeback against Detroit, and in Thursday's win over New England, the sixth fourth-quarter comeback recorded by Minnesota this season.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 14, 2023.

Do you believe that the Vikings loss to the Cowboys could be beneficial for our team? I see potential benefits in the Cowboys being overconfident and not knowing our playbook come time for a potential playoff rematch. I also think it could be a humbling loss that puts us back in a win focused mindset. I immediately think of the 2005-06 Bears who started the season 7-0 and then had a big embarrassing loss to the 1-6 Miami Dolphins, after that loss they refocused and made the Super Bowl that year.

— Ryan McFadden in Saint George, Utah

It could have been a reality check. I don't think the Vikings underestimated the Cowboys by any means. They put that loss behind them to be effective on a short week and can keep in mind how hollow it was to leave the field after a 37-point loss at home.

I just wanted to point out my observation that it never really feels like the Vikings have that much of a home-field advantage at U.S. Bank Stadium, and was wondering if there was ever any consideration of building an outdoor stadium instead of what they went with. Particularly given that teams with outdoor stadiums tend to do better on the road in the playoffs than teams with indoor stadiums — particularly where indoor stadium teams have to travel to outdoor stadiums in January and February.

Coming from up here in Duluth, I feel like the team could have bought the Central High School property up on the hill, overlooking Lake Superior, and built a great outdoor stadium with all the home-field advantage perks that come with the cold, the wind, and the snow. Parking could have been handled with off-site parking and the reintroduction of trams, which Duluth used to have in decades past, or even with building an underground parking ramp on-site which is something I've seen done in Chengdu, China, at one of the world's largest shopping malls.

Duluth has an international airport, and a move like that could have boosted growth and development in the city by more than enough to facilitate expansions to the airport necessary to accommodate the increased traffic. But I'm getting into other topics, with that. The point being that teams can fly into Duluth, fans can fly in or bus in from Minneapolis, and getting people here for games wouldn't have been difficult.

Thanks,

— Corey Ford (from Duluth, MN)

I pointed out those combined passing stats from Prescott and Jones in the optimal throwing conditions.

Cousins' numbers were pretty strong Thursday, too, with him completing 30 of 37 passes for 299 yards with three touchdowns and an interception (passer rating of 116.1).

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Since U.S. Bank Stadium opened in 2016, the Vikings have won 36 of the 54 games played there (.667 win percentage that is tied for sixth with Tennessee and Dallas).

While all five teams with higher win percentages in home games (Kansas City, Green Bay, New England, Pittsburgh and Baltimore) all play outdoors, the Vikings are better built to play inside.

Also, lastly a shoutout to the crowd that hit 119.6 on the decibel meter at the end of Thursday's game.

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