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Justin Jefferson and Kirk Cousins teamed up for a monster day, but the Vikings left Detroit disappointed after a 34-23 loss against the Lions, who have won five of six and played nearly perfect football Sunday.
Minnesota's defense struggled, and Detroit Head Coach Dan Campbell was awarded for his aggressive calls while Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell was kneecapped during a couple of chances the Vikings took.
Detroit (6-7) made sure Minnesota (10-3) did not clinch the NFC North in its den.
On to the questions (as a reminder, we'll update with more Monday).
First of all, Justin Jefferson for MVP! Second, I bleed purple and gold, but that defense was just hard to watch [Sunday]. The TV broadcast displayed a stat that the Vikings D has given up five straight games of more than 400 yards. They let the receivers run all over the place, and to cap it off, they allowed a 300-plus-pound lineman get the dagger first down at the end of the game. With this defense, how can we make a true playoff push? This leaky of a defense makes it hard to keep the faith. I know we are hurt and short some players, but so is every other team.
— John Muraski in Howard Lake, Minnesota
Jefferson keeps finding ways to amaze. The latest installment set a Vikings record for a regular-season game when Jefferson totaled 223 receiving yards, topping 210 by Sammy White.
In three games at Ford Field, Jefferson has now totaled 31 catches for 538 yards and a touchdown on 41 targets.
Perhaps even more mind numbing, Jefferson vaulted past Kyle Rudolph (4,488) for 10th on Minnesota's all-time receiving yardage leaders. Jefferson, who has 4,516 yards through 46 games, needs just 108 more through the air to pass Stefon Diggs for ninth.
Recognition should also go to Cousins, who bounced back from last week's rough day with 425 yards (the most by a Vikings QB in a game against the Lions) on 31-of-41 passing.
But that was undermined by a poor day of running the football and way too many yards and explosive plays allowed by Minnesota (more on that below).
The yardage has been stacking up in recent weeks, and on Sunday, Detroit combined explosive plays and drive extenders on the way to the victory.
As for the "dagger" first down, credit to the Lions for scheming up and executing a clever play and not being afraid to use it at a critical moment. Penei Sewell had to report as an eligible receiver and went in motion to the right. He then advanced into open space and caught an easy pass from Jared Goff for a first down that allowed Detroit to add a field goal and run another 1:43 of clock.
[This defense] can't cover anybody. Zone defense does not work, but then you see what this offense is not doing, and you wonder, why, with all this talent, aren't we more explosive. Third-and-15 against this defense is almost a given, but third-and-1 with this offense is a crap shoot!! OK, so, we let a tackle catch a pass for a first down?? 'Nuff Said! I don't know how much more incentive you need to win a game than to know that you clinch your division. I am sincerely worried going forward that this team doesn't have the MOJO it needs to make it!!
— Ray in Yankton, South Dakota
The Vikings have used multiple coverages this season, but a zone concept allowed a 41-yard touchdown, and a man-to-man assignment surrendered a 48-yard strike.
Since so many of the questions below revolve around the defense, I'll focus on the offense in this one.
The passing game was quite explosive, particularly on the connections between Cousins and Jefferson. T.J. Hockenson, who caught six passes for 77 yards in his return to Detroit.
Adam Thielen (23 yards) and K.J. Osborn (15) added touchdowns.
1. Why be cute early on with a (failed) 2-point conversion?
2. Why is Cook having such a down year (yards-wise)?
3. Are there other ways of establishing the run or keeping the defense honest besides first-down rushes that put Vikings in second-and-10-plus situations?
— Pat Muller in Hills, Iowa
Let me preface this and other responses to questions below with a disclaimer: I personally don't consider myself an elite football mind, but I have been doing this for a while and my personal philosophy is to take points.
Question 1: I was talking with a colleague in the press box before Cousins found Thielen for the 23-yard touchdown on fourth-and-4 at the Detroit 23-yard line and said I thought we should kick a field goal to make it 21-10. Naturally, when the score did I happen, I quickly made fun of myself, 'Just like I said, go for it and throw a touchdown.' But then, I pivoted again to desire an extra point instead of a 2-point conversion. A counter argument for analytics saying it could be good timing because a touchdown and extra point would then be enough for the lead.
But, and a big one, is that's under the assumption that you're going to limit the other team from scoring again, which seemed highly unlikely. Not getting it, then would have created a have-to-have-it 2-point conversion just to tie.
To close this point, I truly believe that O'Connell and the coaching staff believe in informed decisions, and they also believe the team is going to execute. They have an abundance of information and knowledge when they build the game plan and when they make decisions in games, so I might not always know the reason in real time. That's where the postgame media opportunities can help further relay info.
Questions 2-3. That last bit brings me to question two. The negative or no gain runs have really been stacking up, which puts the offense in bad down-and-distance situations.
It seemed like the Vikings wanted to use runs to shorten the game in the first half. Minnesota rushed 14 times for 18 net yards in the first 30 minutes and held the ball for more than nine minutes in the first and the second quarters. The problem was the defense allowed touchdown drives of two plays and one play for a 14-7 Lions lead and the Vikings fumbled at the Detroit 3-yard line when they had an excellent opportunity to tie the game late in the first half.
Minnesota ran three times for four yards in the second half.
As for the "down year," the run game still seems to be a work in progress, but all it takes is one missed assignment or a lack of execution on one block to turn what could be a good gain into a loss.
Cook has seemed to be at his best over the years when running outside the tackles and on wide-zone plays.
After watching the game with the Lions, I can't help but think back to the first-round trade we made this year in the draft. I feel [General Manager] Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] values relationships, and those values have contributed significantly to building a positive culture within the franchise. It appears his managerial approach and skills have resulted in building the framework for success at many levels within the franchise. I also feel in a lot of ways this is still the team [Rick] Spielman assembled. My worry is Kwesi's values may also impact him having the killer mentality to take advantage of other teams when he finds himself in a position of power. The margin of success and failure in this league is narrow, and we need to capitalize on every opportunity. Do you feel like this is a fair criticism or have any examples that demonstrate Kwesi showing his killer mentality?
— Tyler in Laporte, Minnesota
Tyler's question was likely primed when Detroit found Jameson Williams running through a coverage so busted that the ball was terribly underthrown and still was an easy touchdown.
The Vikings traded the No. 12 pick to the Lions who then used it on the receiver who made his NFL debut in Week 13 against Jacksonville after rehabbing a knee injury suffered in his final college game.
Since then (and Minnesota's subsequent trade with Green Bay that resulted in the Packers drafting receiver Christian Watson), fans have been counting down the days until one of those picks does damage against the Vikings.
It's interesting to think about "killer instinct," but I think Adofo-Mensah prioritizes informed, value-based choices and removing emotions from decisions.
Minnesota's first draft class under him has just happened to have some bad injury luck with first-rounder Lewis Cine and cornerbacks Andrew Booth, Jr., and Akayleb Evans and running back Ty Chandler each spending part of this season on Injured Reserve.
I have been emailing all season that the defense is atrocious and that Donatell has been pathetic at scheming and adjusting at the half. Every week, you tow the company line and make excuses for him and the defense, injuries, they are only giving up field goals, etc. I haven't looked at the numbers lately, but it seems like opposing offenses are scoring on 70% of possession.
Enough is enough.
I have been a fan for more than 40 years. I don't think the defense was this bad even when Les Steckel was the coach.
— Frank V. in Babylon, New York
Against the Patriots and Jets, Minnesota limited those two opponents to a combined 1-for-9 on trips to the red zone. That was winning football in those two games. Sunday, Minnesota allowed Detroit to go 2-for-2 inside the 20 and also coughed up the two touchdowns of 40-plus yards, which is not supposed to happen.
Even with those allowed, the Lions scored on two of their six possessions in the first half. Detroit scored on all four possessions of the second half, which is losing football.
I also have pointed out that this defense is in a transition year and remind folks that Minnesota ranked 24th in points against and 30th in yards allowed last season. The Steckel season (1984) was 28th in both categories at a time when that was the number of teams in the NFL.
Note: The overwhelming majority of questions/comments sent centered on the defense, so I'm lumping several other comments and responding collectively for efficiency's sake.
I am a born-and-raised Minnesotan and a diehard fan who bleeds purple. I enjoy reading the Mailbag each and every week. This is my first submission as I'm really frustrated with our defense this season. Week after week, our defense gives up way too many yards. It seems every play they show the same scheme and don't blitz the QB. [Jared] Goff had way too much time, and the DBs are allowing way to much cushion at the top of the play. [Vikings Defensive Coordinator Ed] Donatell had previously stated it is OK to give up the yards as long as we get the win. It is clear that is catching up with us, and we cannot continue with this pattern. Has there been any discussion about needing to change the outlook of the defense? Something has got to give.
— Rod B.
I'm very concerned about the defense and Donatell's game plan. I understand that injuries from key defensive players don't help, but I'd like to see the defense play much more aggressively rather than passively like they have been lately. I'd like to see the defense play with the grit and mental toughness that they have shown in the past.
— Matt J. from Waseca, Minnesota
We registered 0 sacks and only 3 QB hits. This has to change. It will be very hard to win a championship when you do not make their QB uncomfortable. I feel like a broken record.
— Gerald Goblirsch
After a fan for almost 50 years I've seen it all.. But c'mon man…. Can we blitz more and stop already with the bend but don't break mentality???? The wins are great but that defensive mentality won't work in the playoffs/ or the big one! The stress is killing me…
— Derek in Stanley, North Dakota
I gladly was working during this week's debacle. I have paid attention throughout the season at comments in the Mailbag and interviews I have heard excuses and reasons, which apparently there are facts, too. I wear my Cautiously Optimistic Minnesota Vikings shirt with pride having been a fan since 1970. This week finally prompted me to respond. The worst 10-2 team, disrespected underdogs in Detroit, would in my opinion have been a prime set up for a complete game we've been told was coming. You can flash all the positive stats you want, but right now the 3-4 defense is not working at all. This dink-dunk-cannot cover defense is a joke in the league. We make teams look good, and when something offensively works, keep doing it and scoring until they stop it. We lack killing instincts and it hurts to watch. Is there a way to fix this before a possible playoff appearance and loss. Blueprint to beat us has been shown each week. Where is the coaches and the solutions?
— Sullied Shawn
I will never not be fan even if we are 0-17 for seasons (I have to FaceTime my father and have him set up his phone just to get the games. I can't afford the only insane option of the DirecTV package) but when you get to 10 wins in a season, then then you need to capitalize! Right now, our defense is a huge liability. I read the article every week, and each time fans highlight concerns about the defense, you guys love to highlight situational defense. It finally reared its ugly head. In a key situation, we let a tackle get a first down in a must-stop situation. Absolutely uncalled for. I love the wins and I will absolutely keep taking them, but this defense is a problem, wreck, and Coach Donatell should be searching for a new job. What a terrible game plan/coaching scheme, and I can't wait to see how you defend this!
— Slam in Florida (Long-time Vikings fan)
I wasn't able to watch the game, but I did follow the play-by-plays. Each and every week, it seems like the defense magically lets the other team back into the game, and lets them march right down the field, doing whatever they could possibly want. This week, another splendid example of just how bad our defense is.
1) First quarter: two plays (one was a 41-yard pass); Result: Lions TD
2) Second quarter: one play, 48-yard pass for a Lions TD
3) Third quarter, fourth-and-8, and Lions get 42 yards?
Corners? LB's? Safeties?? Where you at!
The defense makes teams look like Super Bowl contenders. 3-4 or 4-3 defense I don't think is the problem. Play calling and playing so freaking soft and making what appears to be zero adjustments. 31st-ranked defense isn't going to do us any favors. Ed needs to go, this is embarrassing to see every week
— Kelly Correll (Colorado Vikings Fan)
This has to be the most frustrating season I've ever been a part of (fan since '07, 23 years old). I've never been so frustrated with a team, especially one that has accumulated 10 wins in the first 12 games. Six consecutive weeks of 400+ yards of offense allowed is beyond unacceptable for a defense that has AT LEAST 5 Pro Bowlers.
Kirk and J.J. had career games — triple emphasis on J.J. — and it still wasn't enough to win, or even keep it to one score.
If we don't find a way to keep teams under 400 yards a game, we will be bounced in January, and it will be an end to yet another disappointing season.
— Ben Z. in Saint Peter, Minnesota
It seems like whenever the opposing team needs a first down or a significant gain, they throw between the hashes. It doesn't matter if it's a 10-yard throw or a 30-yard throw, it ALWAYS seems to be completed. Why haven't the Vikings done anything differently to prevent this? It has been a problem literally all season. I know the Vikings often play a zone defense, but there have to be adjustments that can prevent what is almost a guaranteed completion at the most critical times. If I'm noticing this trend on my couch, the opposing offensive coordinators are surely seeing the same soft coverage. It's an extreme source of frustration. Thoughts?
— Mike Dugo
IF [defense] wins championships, we will not be winning any of those this year. A Pop Warner team could drive the field on these guys.
— David in Manitoba
Well, we're no longer the worst 10-2 team. We're now the worst 10-3 team! Worst defensive showing this year. Definitely missed the Hitman (Harrison Smith). I said it last week, if we don't start playing defense, we won't go far in the playoffs. After [Sunday], if we don't play defense better than that, we may not win another game this year. New scheme or not, we clearly don't have the talent. No pass rush and no secondary. Out-coached as well. This one's on K.O. and I'm sure he knows it. Got outplayed in all 3 phases. If we can't run the ball and can't play defense, we're in trouble the rest of the way. I hope we look better next week against the Colts.
— J.B. in Keller, Texas
Apparently, this is the beginning of the end. We're not even willing to change our defensive scheme let alone can the defensive coordinator. Or figure out why Cookie is for the most part ineffective. I guess we're willing to give up a winning season because we're unwilling to make a change. The division title is in our grasp along with the 2nd seed. Oh well, Vikings and disappointment go hand in hand.
— Brian in South Dakota
I've been a Vikings fan since early 70s. This is the most dismal defense I can recall.
— Kevin Porter
So much of a Vikings fan's identity has been built on enjoying dominant defenses.
I get it. The Purple People Eaters legacy is undisputed, and Minnesota's dominance has had multiple iterations since.
I've made the case for weeks that this is not a dominant defense but has been one to make key plays at critical moments. That's not spin. It's just my view of how a team has found a way to win 10 of 13 games so far.
The ideal throwing conditions inside domed stadiums aren't helping Minnesota's defense, especially when the Vikings have struggled to consistently pressure the passer.
Goff has only been sacked 19 times this season, so he's been getting the ball out, and they've been protecting him well.
O'Connell lamented after the game that the Vikings have room for improvement on defense.
"I think it's a combination of some things. But I think we need to take a look at what we can do to potentially help our guys be in a position to make more plays, be a little bit more aggressive possibly, but ultimately I think we need to generate more rush however we do it," O'Connell said. "And then just try to limit explosives. And what that looks like, it's a variety of things, but I think if we're doing our jobs effectively, we've got to take a look at it to try to improve our football team."
I'm not expecting the Vikings to vault into a top 10 defense in the final few games of the season, but I do expect the Vikings to emphasize generating more pressure.
Apologies for the delay in getting back to more fan comments and questions. We moved a few things around this week and again have back-to-back home games that required some time on the Playbook game program for the Colts (we've also started the program for the Giants game).
I'd like to offer my condolences to the family of Mississippi State Head Coach Mike Leach, who passed away Monday at age 61. As many readers know, I'm a Bulldog. Even though I didn't personally know Coach Leach, I do still know a few people in Starkville. I appreciated his color, candor and creativity before he donned the STATE sweatshirt.
We can't recreate one-of-a-kind types, but we can remember their contributions and pass them along to future generations.
Please consult with your OC and the rest of the offensive coaches each time you come to a fourth-and-1; and second- or third-and-goal to make the best decision. One of those coaches at least.
— Gill Sorg
It was rare to see some of the buttons that O'Connell has successfully pushed throughout his first season not yield results he was expecting. There is absolutely no way that he'd call the play that he did on fourth-and-1 without thinking that it was incredibly likely to succeed. Same goes for the ill-fated jump pass that Cook didn't have time to deliver. The Vikings likely used a lot of information based on what they had seen from the Lions this season in putting both plays on their highly specialized menu.
The execution must be there, too, though. If on point, the coach (and staff) are geniuses (not in the way Sid Hartman often used that word), but if not, there are things to lament.
I do think there's quite a bit of communication and exchange of ideas long before any NFL team gets to moments like those because there can be so much riding on each snap.
What is it about this team that they show amazing promise, but when the holidays get near, they quit on the season?
— Mike Goode
While the showing Sunday was disappointing for multiple reasons led by the defensive miscues that enabled both Detroit scores in the first half and not being able to get the needed stop in the second half, the Lions have been playing well. Detroit has won five of six and is a tough team to face, which I expected back in late January/early February when their staff was participating in the Reese's Senior Bowl.
I listened to Dan Campbell's media sessions, and he had me ready to run through a convention center wall. I refrained, by the way.
There has historically been a bit of December swooning in thinking back as recently to December 2019, but the Vikings are still well positioned to win the division. Although it's going to be incredibly tough to catch Philadelphia for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, Minnesota still has a narrow grip on the No. 2, which comes with much fewer spoils. I do think if most people were offered at any point in the offseason that the team could have a new head coach, offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators and be 10-3 with four games remaining, that most would sign the dotted line.
O'Connell and several assistants and members of the health and performance staff know firsthand about making a deep run in the playoffs, even after hitting a rough patch or having a bad regular-season game.
The Vikings defensive strategy doesn't work. Not because of all the reasons I've heard this year.
Think about the defensive strategy. Play zone, keep everything in front of you, allow yardage but don't give up the big play, stop them in the red zone, don't blitz.
What do all these objectives have in common? THE DEFENSE IS ON THE FIELD WAY TO MUCH! At least with Mike Zimmer's defense we focused on third-down defense. With this defense it's as if we allow the opponent to control the ball between the 20s then try to stop them.
Let me ask you this. Would you rather give up a one-play, 80-yard TD pass or a 12-play, 80-yard TD drive. It's easy for me: the one-play drive. The Vikings defense is designed to create typically 8-12 play drives for the opponent, leaving our defense on the field all day and tiring us out by the fourth quarter, for example the Jets game.
There's been less than five 80-yard pass plays this year in the NFL. Less than 30 50-yard passing TDs. So why do we continue to play defense to defending these 35 plays.
So what if we give up an 80-yard TD pass every game? Imagine if we blitzed 30% of the time, how many more turnovers would we create? I bet we'd make up for that once-a-game bomb we give up and OUR DEFENSE WOULD BE FRESHER IN THE FOURTH QUARTER.
The defensive philosophy doesn't do what they think it does.
Love to hear your thoughts.
— Kevin Flynn
I appreciate Kevin raising some interesting philosophical questions.
I think part of the predication is that other teams will make mistakes, whether it's a turnover, or a missed block or a penalty if the defense forces one more snap. We have seen that work at times this season like when Duke Shelley made a pass breakup on the snap before Patrick Peterson's clinching interception at Buffalo.
But Jared Goff is not making many mistakes this year, was a No. 1 pick for a reason and has shown why against other teams (including the 2018 Vikings back in Los Angeles).
Goff got away with a bad throw (behind a receiver) that bounced off Cameron Dantzler's hands on a fourth-and-4 Sunday. It looked like Dantzler would have had some room for a sizable return.
Coach Zimmer really did excel on third downs, and the Vikings couldn't find many stops even on downs with long distances. The fake punt on fourth-and-8 from the Detroit 26 enabled another 74 yards to be racked up by the Lions, who kept the ball for more than five minutes after that play on the way to the end zone.
I fully expect the Vikings to try to increase their pass rush, but they also have been one of the better teams at taking the ball away this season, with 20 takeaways, which is tied for eighth in the NFL. The Colts have suffered 26 giveaways, which is the most in the NFL.
Maybe the answer of one-play drive vs. 12 depends on circumstances.
If up 10 in the fourth quarter, the obvious goal is to make offenses take as much time as possible.
If up at a different point, then getting a stop and then controlling the ball/building on the lead with your own offense would be the best. The Vikings offense failed to sustain drives against the Jets, which then put the defense back on the field sooner, too.
If tied, it's probably doing whatever you think is best to try to keep the score that way until you get the ball back.
If trailing, especially late, there's likely a legitimate reason to take more chances.
Teams must build an identity on what they do best and try to shield weaknesses, but they also need to function well in multiple types of scenarios.
View the best photos of Justin Jefferson during his career-high game of 223 yards and 11 receptions vs. the Detroit Lions on Dec. 11, 2022.
J.J. had a catch late in the game where they ruled him out of bounds, but he appeared to think he was in bounds and carried the ball into the end zone just in case. They showed a replay (from overhead and behind him) that seemed to show he came close to the white but didn't actually touch out of bounds. No further replay was shown and no red flag. Maybe it was automatically reviewed and confirmed? Maybe they have to stick with the whistle? I looked all over but could not find anything about that play. Do you have any more information?
I'd just add a note to the many concerned fans, I know it's been rough, but it's also been a lot of fun! Let's just get out there and go for broke! Anything can happen with this team, and I think the fireworks are far from over!
— Rick Roder in Remsen, Iowa
Jefferson made an incredible adjustment on the football, broke four total tackles from three Lions defenders, kept his balance and stayed in bounds.
Unfortunately, the side judge, who was 3 yards away from where Jefferson's foot came closest to stepping out of bounds blew his whistle (and the call). The whistle ended the play, even though Lions defenders had already missed three of the tackle attempts. Once the whistle is blown, the play stops and whether he did or did not step out of bounds is not reviewable or challengeable.
Jefferson did precisely what he's coached to do by taking the ball to the end zone, and my understanding is that officials are supposed to let plays like that finish. The touchdown would have been reviewed (and most likely confirmed).
I guess the Lions were overdue some close-call karma.
The Vikings finished the drive with a touchdown, but the whistle robbed Jefferson of 32 yards and a touchdown and the Vikings of 25 seconds that could have factored into O'Connell's decision on whether to onside or kick the ball deep.
I'm not saying the Lions didn't do enough to deserve the victory. The call doesn't take away from them playing better in multiple aspects than the Vikings on Sunday.
Lastly, I appreciate the zeal for future fireworks.
It amazes me to no end that the Vikings continue to ALWAYS (well, most always) call a running play on first down every time. The fans know it is coming and the opponent also knows — that is why they stack the box and Cook gets little or no gain. Our offensive line is not good enough to open a hole for running plays nor is it good enough to hold people away long enough to give Cousins time to find a receiver. It is high time the coach deviates with the play calling. Open first down with pass plays. It could lead to more scoring and maybe even a comfortable lead in the game for a change, therefore preventing having to scramble at the end of the game to secure a win.
AND as far as the defense goes: a complete overhaul is necessary for the team to be successful. They must be more aggressive and forget the new coverage scheme – it is NOT working. Players have even said they prefer to rush the QB and create havoc. Anytime you give up over 400 yards in five games in a row should be a red flag that something needs to change — maybe even a new defensive coach? Our secondary is not experienced enough (or coached well enough) to adequately get the job done.
I have been a fan for over 55 years, and it is frustrating to have the same inept performance week after week. Time to revamp first-down play calling and time to return to being an aggressive defense.
— Jerry Haremza in Le Sueur, Minnesota
Jerry's email sent me back to the play-by-play. Believe it or not, the Vikings called nine runs and nine passes (including a play negated by pass interference and the intended pass by Cook that became a run) on first downs in the first half Sunday. In the second half, the Vikings ran twice on first down and threw the ball nine times.
I think the biggest problem with runs on first down is that they were ineffectively blocked on a day when Minnesota's longest gain was 5.
I don't know if the Lions previous game experience this season against Minnesota provided some tips that they keyed on, but they did seem to fire in the right spots at the right times. We'll find out if the Packers or Bears have similar successes when rematching against the Vikings in Weeks 17-18.
Minnesota was missing starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw and center Garrett Bradbury, which likely didn't help the effort, even if Blake Brandel (at left tackle) and Austin Schlottmann (center) filled in fairly well. Best wishes for Brandel in his recovery from the MCL injury he suffered Sunday.
Here's what O'Connell said Monday afternoon:
"Missing 40 percent of your original starters on the offensive line, there's going to be some communication and maybe some details for how we're getting to the second level, potentially trying to be out in front of some of those linebacker run-throughs, coming off combinations in a timely manner to where we can get some of those runs started," O'Connell said. "I think there were some fundamental and technique things that contributed to those, whether overreaching something on the edge or potentially having all the information at our disposal to maybe sniff out a pressure and having a player in position to handle that and just not getting the block executed in that moment, whether it be the guys up front, tight ends, receivers, it felt like there was kind of a rotating thing there, and that's kind of what I was hitting on execution-wise after the game when we talked."
I think the Vikings coaches have a rapport to have some solutions-oriented discussions to identify the biggest problems and try to limit them going forward.
I'm tired of people rushing to extremes of "Fire Donatell."
1) It takes time to learn a new system.
2) Za'Darius Smith's knee has been bad.
3) We've been down three cornerbacks, and Dantzler came back a bit rusty.
Yes, we need improvement, but let's assume the folks at Vikingsville are talking about it and doing what they can, and let's have some rational analysis please instead of childish extremes. People, be self-aware enough to understand that your fear of being disappointed again is masking as anger.
— Rebecca from Circle Pines, Minnesota
I believe it was in the first half of Minnesota's 2021 season-opener at Cincinnati (after the Vikings offense committed multiple penalties leading to multiple punts) when people in the live chat started clamoring for a coaching change on offense.
It turned out the Bengals were pretty good last season, and the Vikings offense put together some nice performances in its one season under Klint Kubiak. Multiple staff changes were made at the end of the season.
I bring that up just to point out that firing someone seems to be everyone's immediate reaction these days, but I think it can be too heavily based on emotions and not seeing the full picture. I get that people in coaching are compensated well, but I also believe Rebecca has made some key points.
Za'Darius was NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October and has been navigating the knee to different depths this season. Injuries at corner have really stacked up since Dantzler first left the game at Washington. Vikings coaches had Akayleb Evans ready to contribute immediately that game and beyond, but multiple concussions led to his placement on Injured Reserve.
Making massive changes for when a team has won 10 of 13 games, is leading the division and one win away from clinching it doesn't seem like the most pragmatic way of trying to solve the Vikings current problem.
I understand the sentiments bemoaning the Viking defense right now. We're not used to being Purple People ... Nibblers.
So, the frustration is understandable, especially after this week's chance at a North title. But I am not ready to dismiss, out-of-hand, our present "situational football" and a "bend but don't break defense."
After all, we're 10 and freakin' 3. So, our beloved Vikings are doing something right, right? Right.
However, and in fairness to those most concerned, it seems that when you have key defensive unit injuries (i.e. Harrison Smith's neck and Dantzler apparently not fully ready, hence the blown coverage and early exit), game-time adjustments need to be more at the ready to ensure that the bending does not lead to breaking (not just personnel but pressure schemes, too). I realize this may sound easier to a fan to do than it actually is to achieve (and still win).
So, without panicking, I urge my fellow Viking fans to remain steadfast. And, with I think the proper, moderate level of concern, I challenge our strong coaching staff to consider what new, stronger game plan adjustments might be possible to ensure that "bend but don't break" remains just that for next Saturday, when the North can again be defended.
— Tim in Brooklyn, New York (fan since mid-1970s)
Tim's use of Nibblers added a bit of needed levity to the inbox. Thank you, Tim!
An underrated component of Smith's neck injury last week was that Josh Metellus was pulled from being a core special teamer. Metellus has been an ace all season and sniffed out a fake punt at Miami that was a key play. Perhaps he would have done the same — or Detroit might not have even tried it at that point in the game — had Metellus been on the punt return team.
I've really tried to make this space one where multiple opinions can exist, and it's likely there are multiple opinions within the coaching staff on the changes that need to be made. Everything I've observed makes me think that productive discussions can happen because O'Connell has made collaboration and communication foundational principles.
A Viking must [get] more pressure up front on defense. Obviously, we can't do it with the line, so some blitz packages would help. Certainly can't hurt.
Turnovers and sacks come from pressure. We are not the Bills who can pressure with the D line only. The Lions blitzed with success, and they even had constant pressure from their defensive line.
— Steve Smith
While I do think collectively there are more opportunities to seek pressure, the Lions also should get some credit. Their offensive line has three first round picks who have been selected since 2016, as well as a pair of guards who were taken at 75 and 121 in 2020. Goff has been playing fast and well.
The Colts have had some issues with allowing sacks (46 this season), and Matt Ryan has thrown 13 interceptions this season.
I waited to write to you until I felt the letter would be reasonably objective.
Sunday's game was a debacle from a special teams standpoint and, of course, defensively. The offense was good enough even with the rush attack being non-existent largely due to poor blocking, which is not a consistent problem and I believe will be fixed. I also feel like the special teams will get fixed. The fake punt play was the worst single play, however, the worst part for me was the poor punt coverage. It appeared the hang time was long enough for someone to get down to the punt returner. Once the player gets there, he must make the tackle.
The problem I am having is with the defense and Donatell's either inability or reluctance to change the defensive scheme. It simply does not work. The Vikings have been able to outgun opponents and win games, however what they are doing is not a recipe for success. They are giving up way too many points, yards and time of possession. They have a precarious path to success: score lots of points and rely on the defense to cut a couple of possessions short with turnovers. And the narrow lane that the defense must stay in to avoid losing the game for Minnesota is disrupted when needless penalties, like unnecessary roughness on a quarterback giving himself up, extends drives and leads to scores.
So, I hope that either Donatell makes significant changes to the defensive scheme and better uses the skill sets of the players there, or someone else takes over. I cannot see the Vikings beating teams like Dallas, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Buffalo (despite their win there) or San Francisco as they currently stand.
— Bruce in Palm Harbor, Florida
We'll close here — and I know I'm not able to get everyone's thoughts published but will try to circle back via email responses — because I think Bruce summed up what a lot of folks are thinking on the defense, and I wanted to include his thoughts on special teams.
Special teams have been so strong for the Vikings in most games this season, so it's surprising when the unit doesn't have a dominant day.
Minnesota wound up punting three times with rookie Ryan Wright averaging 53.0 but netting 37.0 on the day thanks to two returns by Kalif Raymond for 48 yards.
Not sure how many people remember but Raymond caught three passes for 118 yards against the Vikings while with the Titans in 2020.
Anyway, Raymond's biggest damage Sunday was a 35-yard return after a 64-yard punt by Wright. I think the rookie with the booming leg may have outkicked the coverage just a bit on that one. With the line of scrimmage at the Minnesota 19-yard line, Raymond started the play at the Detroit 30-yard line. He read the punt quickly, retreated to the 17 and fielded it.
It also looks like the Vikings made sure to provide extra protection on the punt, which may have delayed some players from getting down the field.
Gunner Kris Boyd makes it to about the Detroit 30 as Raymond is getting his feet going, despite the fact that Boyd's arm was grabbed and held for about 10 yards beginning at the Detroit 46. Once his arm was freed, he threw it into the air to ask for a penalty.
Didn't work, and to add insult and injury, officials let what could have been called a block in the back happen against Boyd, who was shaken up on the play.
The lack of either penalty being called gave Detroit the ball at the Minnesota 48, and the Lions threw a touchdown on the next snap. I don't think they take such a deep shot at that point in the game if the ball is inside their own 20.
The play before the punt was the one that O'Connell challenged the mark of what was ruled to be a 10-yard gain on a diving catch by Jefferson when Minnesota needed 11. Officials ruled Jefferson went past the line to gain before securing the catch.
So the Vikings went from nearly extending the drive to punting to encountering what should have been penalties on Detroit that would have wiped away the 35-yard return to a 48-yard touchdown and 14-7 lead for Detroit in the span of three snaps.