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Monday Morning Mailbag: A Frustrating Finish To 2016

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Do you think over the course of the year, since the defense kept us in games and was on the field a lot, that the last two games they were worn out and frustrated that the offense wasn't able to move the chains consistently? -- Dennis Thomas

I wouldn't explain away any defensive mistakes the past two weeks by blaming another phase of the team. Coach Zimmer preaches accountability and he holds everyone and every phase to the same standard. That's not to say that complementary football, or the lack of it, is inconsequential. The biggest difference between the pre-bye Vikings and the post-bye Vikings was the level of complementary football. Also, it's only fair to credit the opposing offenses the Vikings faced. Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers played great. These past two games shouldn't cast a dark cloud over the body of work for the Vikings defense in 2016, though. That body of work was very good and serves as one of the team's building blocks heading into the offseason.

Why do we consistently target receivers who are short of the line to gain? My count is we've done that 53 times so far this year! On 3rd down, unless it's a screen pass, no receiver's pattern should be short of the 1st down. -- Randy Las Vegas, NV

I agree it gets frustrating to complete a pass short of the 1st-down marker on 3rd down and that it seemed as if the Vikings did that more frequently than other teams. Perhaps part of that is a protection problem where the Vikings don't have enough time to complete passes down the field on 3rd and long because of quarterback pressure. I don't agree that all patterns should be designed to exceed the line to gain on 3rd down. Remember, the defense knows where the line to gain is, so they are going to design a defense that defends that line. Sometimes your chances of attaining a 1st down are better with a catch-and-run type of route than they are on a route that is past the line to gain but that dictates the quarterback throw into coverage.

A real bright spot this season has been the play of Danielle Hunter. His body type and playing style remind me of Vikings legend and Hall of Famer Carl Eller. Do you see the same similarities? -- Mike Hatfield

Although I am familiar with Eller's place in Vikings history and with the kind of player he was, I was not around to watch him play live and so it's hard for me to speak to that comparison. I did ask my dad about this comparison, and after a moment or two of thought he did say this was somewhat of a fair comparison. Now, Hunter has a long way to go in terms of matching Eller's production and profile in Vikings history, but there's no doubt Hunter is off to a great start in his young career.  

Some people want TJ Clemmings to walk the plank. This is my take: He was drafted as a project but due to injuries was thrown into the fire and we got burned. I want him to get stronger and do whatever it takes to improve. What is your take? -- Gerald Goblirsch

I agree with you, Gerald. Clemmings is still a work in progress, which is to be expected of a 25 year old, second-year player. I am interested in him being around the building as much as possible this offseason to see if he can continue to develop. Clemmings is young, he's a good athlete and he cares about being good. He is one of those players who gets down after losses because he cares about playing well and about team success. You want guys with that type of attitude on your team. Also, Clemmings went to the University of Pittsburgh as a defensive lineman and was converted to an offensive lineman during his career there. Considering his youth and inexperience at the position, I think there's something to keep building on with Clemmings. He has a lot of starting equity now through nearly two seasons (29 starts), and there's no reason to think he can't continue to develop and become someone who can help this offensive line at some point down the road.

Thanks for a great year of indispensable content on vikings.com. You almost make the exercise bike tolerable! With our dear Vikes out of playoff contention, why not see what young Taylor Heinicke can do in Week 17? -- Peter Orland, FL

During his post-game press conference in Green Bay, coach Zimmer didn't indicate that he would be treating Week 17 any differently than if it was a game in the middle of the season. I sense it's very important to Zimmer that the Vikings get back to playing their brand of football and that they finish the season with a win, despite being out of playoff contention. Given that, I see Bradford being the quarterback on Sunday because he gives the Vikings their best chance to beat the Bears. With all of that said, it would be interesting to get a peek at Heinicke in a regular season game and it would also do the youngster some good to get some in-game experience during the regular season. It'll be interesting to see how things play out for the regular season finale.

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