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Send questions to Jared Allen for the Oct. 24 Mailbag
With the Vikings reaching their bye and the Vikings Ring of Honor Ceremony for Jared Allen around the corner, the Vikings Legend will "guest host" next week's Monday Morning Mailbag. Please send questions that you'd like him to answer.
Wins to the Left, Wins to the Right
Sorry I couldn't help the spin on the Jimmy Buffett lyric in "Fins," which was played during Sunday's game.
The Vikings improved to 5-1, extended their winning streak to four games and won in South Florida for the first time since 1976.
The composition of each victory has been a bit different, showing a team that has found multiple ways to add to the win column.
Also worth a mention, Minnesota committed just two penalties, compared to 10 infractions for Miami.
On to the questions.
Miami's first four drives of the second half were 14 plays for 15 yards. Great defense. The next four drives were 22 plays for 232 yards resulting in two touchdowns and, thank God, a fumble and an interception. What were we doing differently between the first four and last four drives?
— Gerald Goblirsch
Miami's net yards in the third quarter were 15 because 20 yards were marked off for penalties.
Statistically, the Dolphins went 0-for-4 on fourth downs during the quarter.
Credit a key stop by Eric Kendricks on a third-and-1 run by Raheem Mostert, a sack by Jones on third-and-8, an incompletion forced on third-and-10 and Danielle Hunter forcing an intentional grounding penalty on Teddy Bridgewater for a 20-yard loss.
Minnesota's offense also struggled through the third quarter but was able to build momentum on the possession that followed the intentional grounding penalty with a touchdown drive to make it 16-3 early in the fourth quarter.
The Dolphins faced just two third downs in the fourth quarter. Miami answered Minnesota's touchdown with one of its own.
Bridgewater was able to connect with Tyreek Hill for a 28-yard gain, and the QB later picked up 10 on a scramble before completing a 4-yard touchdown to Mike Gesicki.
The next drive, the Dolphins managed their way out of a third-and-19 by gaining 14 and then converting a fourth-and-5 with a 14-yard pass to Hill.
Three plays later, however, Harrison Smith forced a fumble that Camryn Bynum recovered.
Cook broke through two plays later for the score, which was awesome from the Vikings perspective but also meant the defense had to go right back out on the field.
The defense forced another turnover with Patrick Peterson picking off Bridgewater with 3:03 remaining.
Ideally, Minnesota would have been able to keep its offense on the field, but Miami forced a quick punt and drive 83 yards. The Dolphins faced just one third down during that drive and completed a 3-yard touchdown pass to convert it. Gesicki found an opening in a zone.
It's slightly cliché, but the Vikings made key plays in the third quarter, and the Dolphins made plays in the fourth.
Not the prettiest, but a hard-fought win ON THE ROAD! 5-1 going into the bye is sweet. Use the time to improve. How can we go three-and-out more times against a defense that's had the fewest three-and-outs all year? We have to figure out how to start hot on the road if we're going to keep winning. And the third quarter blues again. I'll take 5-1 all day, and the good news is we'll only get better! SKOL!!!
— J.B. in Keller, Texas
The Vikings have started 5-1 for the first time since 2016 when the squad opened 5-0 before its bye and then stumbled on the other side as injuries mounted, eventually finishing 8-8.
There's no guarantees that the Vikings will "only get better," but numerous players and coaches believe the team can and will.
While the Vikings navigated through playing on the road by punting each time after its 10 three-and-outs, Minnesota was able to flip the field position multiple times, allowing 2 net yards on three returns.
That is not to be discounted.
A three-and-out is much better than a turnover. The offense protected the ball, and Ryan Wright's 441 punting yards helped give the Dolphins a lot of ground to cover.
Head Coach Kevin O'Connell mentioned the importance of not turning the ball over and the contributions of special teams that allowed Minnesota's offense to find its way through a high-pressure defense.
Five of the Vikings 15 possessions started in Miami territory; zero of the Dolphins 14 possessions began on the Vikings side of the 50-yard line.
The Vikings were supposed to have an 'explosive' offense this year. Where? Where? Where? Irv Smith was supposed to 'be great' this year. Where? Where? Where? Dalvin Cook was supposed to get great yards running with a strong o-line — and lots of yards after contact. Where? Where? Where? And let's not talk about Kirk Cousins' inconsistency and the absolutely terrible defense. (Go back to the 4-3!). What is causing this lackluster performance this year??
— Tom in Maine (fan for 60-plus years)
Looking at the time stamp from Tom's email, it came through during the game. I haven't tried to cross-check the point in the game, but I'm pretty sure it was before Cousins found Justin Jefferson for a gain of 47 on the final play in the third quarter or Cook's long scoring scamper in the fourth quarter.
That's two of the three most-explosive plays in the game (Jaylen Waddle caught a 49-yard pass for Miami).
Irv didn't jump out during the game, except when he lost the fumble that was recovered by Jefferson, but I think his game against the Bears in Week 5 went uncredited. He had key blocks on two touchdown runs and made critical catches late in the game against Chicago. Again, he's working his way back from a full-year injury and is in a new system.
Again, Cousins protected the ball, even amidst some heavy pressures.
I'll respectfully disagree with "absolutely terrible" defense.
I think it's one that's still developing, but also one that brought more pressure in Sunday's game. Minnesota totaled six sacks, eight pass breakups and limited Miami to 73 rushing yards on 20 carries (3.7 yards per carry). That's back-to-back weeks of bottlenecking opposing running backs.
The three takeaways were incredibly important as well and the types of plays that lesser defenses make.
I haven't really heard anything about this in the media, so I am curious to get your take on it. How much of the Rams struggles on offense can be attributed to the loss of O'Connell and [Wes Phillips]? My guess would be a lot of it.
As a direct employee of an NFL team, It's not really my place to speculate on how personnel departures may be impacting another club, but I do think most would agree that O'Connell and Phillips have generally impressed in their first six games with the Vikings.
The kind of success that Rams Head Coach Sean McVay has had so early in his career — and those who have worked for/with him — could lead to frequent turnover of staff as his coaches receive other opportunities like the ones that O'Connell and Phillips took to come to Minnesota.
Based on what O'Connell, Phillips and others have brought from the team that won it all last year, there is at least a good bit for McVay and his staff to replenish, which I'm sure can be exhausting to start anew.
It might be tough to quantify/qualify, but the increased year-to-year turnover with staff and personnel illustrate some of the reasons why it's so rare for an NFL team to repeat.
View Vikings players in Big Head Mode during Sunday's victory over the Miami Dolphins.
As a long-time Viking football fan, I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I'm not well versed in what a walk-through is. Do the players "walk-through" the starting scripted offensive plays?
Dick from Indianapolis
I don't think there's anything to be embarrassed about in asking this question or almost any question for that matter, regardless of how long a fan has followed the team or sport in general.
The term takes on a couple of different meanings, depending on the day of the week.
In a "normal" Sunday-to-Sunday schedule, the Vikings hold walk-throughs and practices on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Teams often emphasis different things on different days. An example is focusing a considerable amount of Friday's time in the red zone.
The walk-throughs on those days are when that week's top plays are installed. Players can get familiar with a certain blocking technique, movement, route depth, etc., and then the play can be run at full speed during the practice that follows.
Some people call the Saturday session a walk-through but others refer to it as a "mock game." That time can allow a team to go through its script for early in the game.
O'Connell also added some jog-through periods during the offseason program and training camp to try to lighten some of the physical demands on players at that part in the year.
Other than broken bones and a few concussions, it seems like the Vikings have been able to stay relatively healthy this year. I feel like they have had very few soft tissue injuries thus far. In many cases, injuries are a case of bad luck. However, this regime's philosophy seems to have been noticeably different in the preseason, and I'm curious if it's paying off so far. Have the players noted a difference thus far?
Looking forward to having the team come down to South Florida! SKOL!
— Kurt in Doral, Florida
What a great showing by Vikings fans who could make it to Hard Rock Stadium Sunday. It was a visible and representative reminder of the strong support in multiple regions of America and the globe.
Injuries are inevitable in sports and can come down to some luck, but sports science has advanced so much over the years, enabling Minnesota's health and performance department and players to put in considerable effort toward injury prevention.
That umbrella can include training and player usage plans, which have been front-and-center with this coaching staff. That's not to say previous coaching staffs and others did not.
It's also helpful to have the veterans like Cousins and Peterson to name a couple of players who have started 126 and 173 games, respectively, over the course of their careers. They can share things that have worked for them.
O'Connell and Cousins credited the health and performance staff for the plan of dealing with the heat, which was initiated last Monday and included proper, repetitive hydration and trying to keep the sideline as cool as possible.
We are clearly still adjusting to the new 3-4 scheme and struggling mightily at times. I am wondering why we are not seeing more Brian Asamoah on the field on defense. Especially when we are playing against running quarterbacks. We were gashed by Hurts vs Philly and almost lost [to the Bears], in large part to [Justin] Fields' legs. Why can't we use him as a spy or "big nickel" like in previous schemes? He seems perfectly suited for this role with his ability to run. Especially with Kyler Murray looming [after the bye].
— Brian Glynn
We did see a bit of Asamoah on the field at the end of the Bears game, particularly once Fields started tucking and running from the pocket more. He played his first six NFL defensive snaps against Chicago and was in for a quick bit against Miami.
Asamoah definitely has sideline-to-sideline speed he showed in the preseason. It will be interesting to see what Minnesota plans to do with Murray. His elusive abilities really hurt Minnesota last year in Week 2.
I have noticed that almost every time Greg Joseph misses a kick, he misses to the right. Like a right-handed golfer who is consistently pushing shots to the right, it would seem that this would be fairly easy to correct. Yes or no?
— Mike Malmon in Highlands Ranch, Colorado
Mike's email came in last week, before Joseph pushed one extra point to the right Sunday.
I don't have the ability to call anything referring to kicking as easy. It's been a long time since I've swung some clubs, but I can relate to trying to fix errant gold shots.
As a reminder, all four of Joseph's field goal misses are from 50-plus, including two from 56 yards and another that was blocked by the Bears.
He's 12-for-14 on extra points and 9-for-13 on field goals.
Every kick probably has its own story, but Joseph and the special teams group make it a point to learn from every kick, analyzing the film. If there is a technical aspect in common, I'm sure they're going to identify it and work on it.
The following have been added in a Monday evening update for questions that came in after initially published.
The Vikings managed to have the tabs hanging on again with late-game heroics. The play was a bit better, but they are not convincing in both sides of the ball. Maybe the bye week will help them figure some of the issues with balancing both sides of the ball. They normally haven't fared well coming off the bye week. Let's see how this new-look team does.
— Mr. Bill 59 (still not totally convinced with this team but hopeful)
We asked O'Connell this week about his preparations for the bye and self-scout that most teams conduct, so I'll let his words do the talking on this one.
"I think our offense has garnered some different types of coverage structures, front structures, personnel matches, base defense, certain third-down coverages for Justin, and red zone coverages for our personnel, so I think we're going to be able to look at through these six games, and yes, I think we can do a lot of things better," O'Connell said.
"I think I can coach a lot of things better as we continue to get comfortable as the season goes on with how we're operating, but I do think we've had some real opportunities here with in-game and then postgame to really have some things we need to solve and will provide us with tools in our back pocket for how teams may want to replicate or duplicate the way teams have tried to defend us at times or maybe try to build on things they see," he continued. "Hopefully we can stay one step ahead and definitely look at how we've used our players, when we've used them, certain formations, certain personnel groupings, and then obviously, defensively we'll do the same thing and just try to continue to evolve and take something that's been successful enough to win five games in six opportunities but know that we can't rely on always being able to capitalize on some of those charming situations and go finish those games ourselves, with a little bit more consistency, a little bit better execution across the board and a little bit better execution by us."
View Week 6 action photos from the Vikings-Dolphins game at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 16.
The current defense allows too many holes in the middle of the field, and many times wide receivers are covered by linebackers, a definite mismatch. I can appreciate trying a new thing with the 3-4, but it has been allowing teams to come back on us too often at the end of games.
1. Is it time to stay in a 4-3 more often, the "natural" position for most of the defensive players, and
2. Is Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell trying too much to fit players into his scheme instead of coaching to the strength of the players' abilities?
I think the Vikings defense played its best game of the season so far in Week 6 (I'm ranking it higher than Week 1 because the Packers had injuries to their starting tackles and top receiving threat and the Vikings were at home). The rush and coverage efforts seemed to play off each other more than we had seen so far this season.
The Dolphins also had some issues up front with missing Terron Armstead, but more than 35 minutes is an incredibly long amount of time to spend on the field with playmakers that the Dolphins have.
The No. 1 goal with a 14-point lead on the road that late in the game is to not allow an immediate touchdown. I'm not sure the front of a 3-4 or 4-3 changes that. While an argument can be made for how fans have seen Danielle Hunter perform in a 4-3, they've also seen Za'Darius Smith thrive in a 3-4 for his entire career. Hunter has impressed particularly the past two weeks.
The past two weeks the Vikings have looked good against the run. Coach Donatell strikes me as one of the most growth-mindset coaches I've ever been around. He always emphasizes teaching and learning. That goes for him and others.
So I'm sure that group will take some time this week to evaluate how things have gone so far and if there are other ways to position players.
Watched every game "down under" so far this year and am so pumped by the different culture in the club. Love your responses each week as well. Thanks for that. A quick question around passing options moving forward.
With Kirk not being a reliable option as a runner like a lot of QBs, with our backs not receiving too many receptions so far this year and with our roster not containing a [Travis] Kelce or [Rob Gronkowski] (no offense to Irv Smith, Jr.), do you think we are very limited or predictable with our options on passing plays for the rest of the year? It is so obvious watching a Bills, Chiefs or even a Ravens game that their options allow them to move the chains easier.
Our defense is growing on me more and more each week, but I believe we will still need 30 points or more to beat an Eagles or Bills team down the track. Your thoughts?
— Johnny in New South Wales, Australia
Appreciate the support across the globe.
While Kirk scrambling likely isn't the best recipe for the Vikings, he can do that from time to time. We've also seen him navigate the pocket. The offense is continuing to develop. Players like Kelce and Gronk are incredibly rare finds, but so are Cook and Jefferson and Thielen, if you ask me.
The Vikings have been multiple through six games, sampling quite a bit and mixing personnel. I think this is a good sample size for coaches to evaluate during the bye.
O'Connell mentioned teams have done things they haven't previously shown on tape, and Phillips mentioned adjustments made by Chicago from what the Bears most prefer to do.
So far, the high point for any team has been 25, so even if the Vikings are yielding yards, they are coming up with stops.
The Vikings have found ways to flow the offense through Jefferson and have developed some counters for when teams commit to taking him away with double teams.
I'm interested to see where the run game goes from here and how that in turn could help the passing game even more.
I am encouraged that we are 5-1 and finding ways to win rather than to lose! Two problems to fix before they cost us! Opponent receivers seem to be wide open consistently in our secondary for receptions … and we keep missing extra points and field goals! What can be done to address these issues before we find ourselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard? The most positive improvement I see is that we have not been hurt as much with penalties and turnovers as in the recent past!
— Brent Lunke
There are some openings that opponents have found when Minnesota has been in zones. The thought is trying to keep everything in front.
Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle showed their speed and ability to escape, but neither reached the end zone Sunday.
While Joseph pushed one wide right, he's 12-for-14 on the season on extra points, and again all four field goals that have been missed out of 13 have been from 50-plus.
That's a great point you make about penalties and turnovers.
The Vikings committed just two on Sunday and have only been flagged 25 times for 185 yards, compared to 43 instances for 368 yards by opponents. The Vikings have lost one of five fumbles; opponents have lost five of nine.
Those two factors are major reasons for the 5-1 start.
So far, outside of the Green Bay game, bit of a roller-coaster "ride." I guess entertaining. So called "ugly" wins. Take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day. And players finishing the game healthy. … Question regarding the tight end position. Not much depth. #82 (Ben Ellefson) on IR (Injured Reserve). Minimum time on IR 4 weeks or 4 games? Did the Vikings even dress a third TE for the Miami game? Does Coach consider C.J. Ham a bit of hybrid FB/TE in his offensive scheme?
Purple Blood, living in Cheesehead country.
The mandatory minimum time for a player to spend on IR is four games, because of an agreement between the NFL and NFL Players Association this spring.
So Ellefson will at least be on the shelf a bit longer at the very least.
The Vikings added veteran TE Jacob Hollister to their practice squad at the end of September, and he suited up for the first time in Purple this week after being elevated. Hollister played 11 snaps on special teams for Minnesota.
Smith played 33 offensive snaps, and Mundt played 29 against the Dolphins. WR K.J. Osborn played 31, by the way.
Ham's versatility enables him to play somewhat of a hybrid role if needed.
They played a great game against Green Bay. The next week, you change the offense and do not come back to the plays that worked the week before. Why not use plays that work until the defense stops you instead of you beating yourself by trying other plays? Are there too many plays in the playbook? You can also run the same play with many variations to confuse the D.
— Scott Hellzen
Defenses change what they do. Green Bay played zone defense. Philadelphia opted for much more man-to-man coverage.
Every defense presents a different set of challenges and requires a different plan of attack.
When the Vikings are in a third-and-8 (or whatever yardage) situation, they often throw a pass a few yards short of the sticks where the receiver is immediately tackled, resulting in a punt. This happened several times against the Dolphins. Common sense says if you have 8 yards to go, you should throw to a receiver who is at least 9 yards downfield to assure a first down. If it's third-and-5, then throw to a guy who's at least 6 yards downfield, and so on. This isn't rocket science!
Why do the Vikings keep throwing shorter than necessary passes on third downs? They don't seem to learn from history, as just about every opponent expects them to do this.
— Skip Ringerud (Vikings fan since 1963)
I can relate to what it's like to see a pass shy of the sticks and a tackle that prevents the chains from moving.
Part of the credit could be directed toward the Miami defense that was able to win some up-front battles and force the ball out.
In that particular game, taking care of the ball and punting was not the worst situation, especially with the way Wright was booting it and the coverage team was getting down the field.
The bigger the number after the and, the smaller the likelihood usually gets, but there's some statistical room for improvement on third downs after the bye.
View pregame photos ahead of the Vikings-Dolphins Week 6 game on Oct. 16 at Hard Rock Stadium.
Will the Vikings be able to get the two Jekyll and Hyde halves into a consistent look this year, or is every game coming down to can they hang on or pull a win out of the hat. Watching the past four games, I am stressed wondering if they can hang on or come back and win. Will the bye help or hurt their play?
Jared was a beast for the Vikings.
— Bill K. (Viking fan since 1965)
NFL games are usually close, regardless of the matchup. It's part of why people enjoy watching them so much and part of why the anxious feelings can creep in from week to week.
So far, this team is 4-0 in one-score games a season after the Vikings went 6-8 in such contests.
It seems like multiple players have met the moment in the clutch.
Rest will be important after knocking out the two longest road trips of the entire season in a span of three weeks.
It was a bold decision by O'Connell to request that Minnesota's bye week not follow the Week 4 London game, and it has paid off, along with some other decisions he's made in his first six games as a head coach.
Rest should help if the Vikings can avoid rust.