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Monday Morning Mailbag: An Uncharacteristic Performance

View images from the week 16 matchup at Sun Life Stadium between the Vikings and Dolphins.

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To submit a comment or question to the mailbag, send an email to Mike Wobschall at wobschallm@vikings.nfl.net. Remember to include your name and town on the email.

What can you say about our overall defensive performance? Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill had 396 yards passing and four touchdowns with just one interception. These are numbers you don't want from opposing quarterbacks. -- Dave P.

The number one thing I can say about the defensive performance in Miami is that it was uncharacteristic of this team. The Vikings defense this season has taken drastic steps of improvement under head coach Mike Zimmer, particularly in the passing game. On paper, the passing game was a mismatch for the Vikings defense entering the contest. They ranked No. 6 in the NFL in pass defense and the Dolphins had been inconsistent and un-explosive throwing the ball most of the season. But Miami was able to reverse the trend thanks to good decision making from Tannehill and some coverage breakdowns by the Vikings. Again, it was an uncharacteristic performance by the Vikings and is not a representation of how this defense has performed all season. I expect the mistakes will be fixed this week and we'll see a much better offering on Sunday against the Bears.

Do you feel we could've done anything differently to score a touchdown at the end of the first half rather than having to settle for a field goal? -- Richard C.

The Vikings inability to punch the ball into the end zone at the end of the first half felt at the time like it was going to be a major factor coming down the stretch of the game, and that's exactly how it turned out. It's unfortunate the Chase Ford reception wasn't ruled a touchdown because it looked clear from replay that he was into the end zone. But you have to play with the cards that are dealt to you, and the Vikings couldn't convert. I hesitate to question play calling the day after a game because it's much easier to call plays from the comfort of home or your cubicle when there's no pressure and no play clock running down. But a different route of attack in that situation would've been to pass the ball on 1st and goal rather than run it and have to use a timeout. That way, the 2nd down play could also be either a run or a pass, giving the defense less of an advantage. By running it on 1st down and calling a timeout, the defense now knows you will be passing and has an edge it otherwise would not have had.

Again, this is all hindsight and Monday morning quarterbacking/play calling, which is a fruitless endeavor for the most part. The Vikings called and ran the play they thought would give them the best chance to score at the time, and you can't expect the team to do anything other than that. Unfortunately, it just didn't work out this time.

What do you think Coach Zimmer has learned the most about his team this year? -- Steve G. United Kingdom

I certainly cannot speak for Zimmer and he's the only one who can truly answer this question, and I'm sure this is a question he'll receive at one of his press conferences so we'll hear his answer soon enough. There are two things I will say about this, though. The first is that I remember Zimmer saying numerous times throughout the year that he "likes how this team operates" and he appreciates the team's competitiveness and heart. I think he's learned over the last 10 months that he has a roster full of guys who care about their craft, care about playing hard and care about winning. The second thing to point out is that often times when Zimmer was asked questions about how something is going this year compared to last year he would qualify his answer by saying he doesn't know what happened last year and can only go off of what he's seen this year. Going forward, he'll have a year of personal experience working with these players and he'll be able to draw upon that experience when making decisions, whether personnel or strategic.

Too many of our offensive drives have ended in a 3rd down pass completion short of the 1st down line. Why would there be any pass route in our 3rd down package, excluding a screen, where the receiver is short of the line to gain? -- Randy G.

Generally speaking, the design of a passing play is to attack different areas of the field/defense. Typically, a passing play will have a combination of deep, intermediate and short routes, so as to give the quarterback the best chance to find an open receiver. If the quarterback throws a pass short of the line to gain or a receiver runs a route short of the line to gain, that is not necessarily the fault of the play design or the play call – it may be the fault of the quarterback (for choosing the wrong receiver) or the receiver (for not running the correct depth). Additionally, there is value to completing a pass on 3rd down that is short of the line to gain. If the routes that carried receivers to the line to gain aren't open, the quarterback should check down to receivers short of the line to gain with the idea that those receivers can make a play after the catch. Even if the receiver doesn't make a play to get the 1st down, that receiver may draw a penalty of some kind that will result in the 1st down. Keep in mind, the defense knows how far the offense has to go in order to get a 1st down, so the defense is going to adjust its strategy accordingly. At some point, the offense has to decide whether to force the issue or take what the defense is giving, and sometimes it's wisest to just take what the defense gives you.

The penalties against us were a major contributor to why we lost, and there were several questionable calls, as well. What can the Vikings do to minimize showing up on the referees' radar? -- Tony C. Ronan, Montana

Penalties can be the result of improper technique, a player losing his edge in an individual battle and overcompensating in an attempt to recover, lack of awareness, or poor decision making. Regardless of what leads to a penalty, it's generally a players' issue. It's up to Vikings players to eliminate penalties from their game by using the technique taught to them, playing hard and playing with discipline. Generally speaking, penalties have not been a season-long issue for the Vikings and I have no doubt the players will clean this up for the season finale next week against the Bears.

I have to be honest, even with these last two games coming up as losses, I find it hard to feel too down about it because of the enormous amount of progress I've seen out of this team. Everyone has shown vast amounts of improvement and it can only continue as the season finishes out. I'm very excited to see what happens within the next season with a full year of Coach Zimmer under their belts. Skol! -- Jeff M. Anchorage, AK

Well said and I agree with the opinion. The goal is to become a team that is unsatisfied with anything but wins, but right now it's important to look for the silver linings in these performances and use those as building blocks for this team's future.

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