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Monday Morning Mailbag: Fan Frustrations with Vikings Offense and Defense

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I can honestly say, I have never this offense so unable to make a play when they need it. Can't get a yard when you need it (how many times this season)? Dropped balls, penalties to stop drives … the lack of pass protection is also very concerning. Kirk Cousins is a very good QB. He needs at least a respectable amount of time to throw the ball, but gets harassed as soon as he gets back to throw. Too much talent to be this bad.

— Ray in Yankton, South Dakota

Appreciate the email, Ray. There is quite a bit of talent on the offensive side of the ball, particularly at the skills positions.

This offense features a pair of star wide receivers in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, plus perhaps the league's best running back-fullback combo in Dalvin Cook and C.J. Ham. Kirk Cousins is an established veteran quarterback and the trio of Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith, Jr. and Tyler Conklin make up a veteran trio at tight end.

There are also some key pieces on the offensive line, even if that unit has had its ups and downs … and has now allowed 13 sacks in the past three games. Brian O'Neill, Garrett Bradbury and Ezra Cleveland are all viewed as long-term pieces in Minnesota, Riley Reiff is playing well in Year 9 and Dakota Dozier is a serviceable veteran.

It seems as if teams have figured out what schemes and plays work well against the Vikings offensive line, and then seemingly copied each other of late. The Bucs and Bears have strong defenses, but perhaps they gleaned something from the Jaguars that worked and went back to that.

View game action photos as the Vikings take on the Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium for Week 15.

Overall, it's been a frustrating year for the Vikings offense. Take late in the third quarter Sunday, for example. Minnesota starts at its own 25-yard line and, boom, is at the Chicago 6 after just three plays. But the end result is a field goal, and a sense of maddening frustration for all involved.

The fourth-and-short plays Ray mentioned, to me, sum a lack of execution at times in 2020. On paper, it seems as if the Vikings should be among the league's top offenses. But for whatever reason, there have been miscues that haven't made that the case.

There is plenty of offensive talent on this roster to compete with the best teams in the league. And assuming this group primarily stays together in 2021, perhaps the focus needs to be on being one of the league's most consistent units, too, or one that makes more clutch plays.

The entire defensive play for most all the game [was poor]. Can't get off the field. Can't get pressure on Mitchell Trubisky. Soft on the run, letting David Montgomery rack up well over 100 yards before the end of the 3rd quarter. No effective defensive adjustments the entire game that stopped the Bears offense. They couldn't even make the Bears punt other than the opening possession of the game? Wow. You would think Trubisky was a superstar Pro Bowler? He is not, but he is good enough to dominate the Vikings though.

— Jeff Ludwig

Let's turn our attention to the other side of the ball, which wasn't great Sunday. As Jeff mentioned, Bears punter Pat O'Donnell was used on the opening possession, then didn't punt again all afternoon.

Some fun stats to delve through: Minnesota gave up 20 total plays where Chicago's offense gained at least 8 yards. And 14 of those plays went for at least 10 yards.

Chicago rushed for a season-best 169 yards against Houston a week ago, but still ranked 28th in the league at 93.2 yards per game entering Week 15. The Bears rushed for 199 total yards Sunday.

Trubisky has had his struggles in his career, but he seems to thrive against the Vikings, especially at U.S. Bank Stadium. He's won his past three starts in Minnesota and five starts overall against the Vikings since 2018.

The lack of pass rush is not a surprise. It's been an issue with the defense all season. So, too, have the troubles against the run.

The Vikings have now allowed 100-plus rushing yards 11 times this season. In 14 games, they have allowed at least 95 yards all but once and have now given up 150 or more yards four different times.

Only having Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce and Anthony Barr for six combined quarters this season hasn't been ideal. And the loss of Eric Kendricks has been glaring the past three games. Perhaps the expected return of those players will play a pivotal role in 2021.

But even if those players come back and play at an elite level, the Vikings will also need to hope for continued growth from the young cornerbacks and improved overall play from the defensive line.

Surely, it's been weird not to see the Vikings not have one of the league's best defenses for the first time in five or six seasons. But let's hope the struggles in multiple areas are just a one-year blip, and that the unit raises its standard next season and beyond.

This game again showed the problem with Kirk Cousins. Just like the Dallas game, with the game on the line, he couldn't even pick up a first down. Given a second chance, the Bears played soft until Cousins had to make a play. Once again, he failed. Cousins is fine — sometimes — until crunch time. It's time to move on in 2021.

— Greg Robertson in Las Vegas

I'm not sure if we can compare the end of the Dallas game to the end of Sunday's game against Chicago. Against the Cowboys, yes, the offense did not pick up a first down.

And on the drive around the 2-minute warning of the fourth quarter, yes, the offense did not move the chains. But the Vikings ran it twice there, gaining just three yards … and the fourth-down play was doomed from the start.

Given another chance — although needing a touchdown to win now and not a field goal to tie — Cousins drove the Vikings down to the Bears 33 and had one last chance. The Hail Mary didn't work (personally, I was hoping for defensive pass interference), but overall, I thought Cousins played fine.

It wasn't his best game and wasn't his worst, but as Cousins knows well, he's always going to take heat if the Vikings are on the losing end of the final score.

We haven't touched on Cousins in 2021 of late — those conversations from September and October have quieted, but with a playoff appearance unlikely in 2020, it will be up to everyone — the front office, coaches and players (including Cousins) — to collectively be better and find a way to get into the postseason next season.

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