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Monday Morning Mailbag: Areas of Improvement Post-Bye, Murray-Cook Combo Moving Forward, Keys to Beating The Bears

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What is the number 1 phase of our game do you think needs to be improved in the second half of the season to make playoffs and why.
-- Jason Schweisthal

Turnover margin. It's clichéd and it's low-hanging fruit, but that doesn't make it less valid. The Vikings are +1 in turnover margin, so it's not as if this is a major issue for the team. But with how the defense has turned things around and with how many points the offense can score when it's clicking, the biggest hurdle that stands in the way for the Vikings is self-inflicted mistakes.

I don't see the upside in releasing Roc Thomas and adding Ameer Abdullah. Please enlighten me.
-- Nicholas Balkou

The first thing to keep in mind is that the Vikings have both players under contract; Abdullah was claimed on waivers and is on the active roster while Thomas was released but was signed to the practice squad. I like Thomas. Obviously, the Vikings coaches do, too, because he was signed to the practice squad rather than being released and never heard from again. Abdullah adds value in a couple areas. He's been a featured back in the NFL, with 327 carries and 35 games played for the Detroit Lions since 2015. So if the Vikings see more injuries at the running back position, they know they can turn to Abdullah and the moment won't be too big for him. Secondly, I won't be surprised if Abdullah is considered as an option at kickoff returner. He averaged 29.1 yards per return on 37 tries as a rookie in 2015 and he's had 12 kickoff returns since his rookie season.

Do you see a backfield and set of plays to include both Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook? I love the combination and the power running game. This could be a solid way to use both of their talents. With the offensive line looking more athletic and able, maybe we could include some runs with traps and counters. Skol Vikings!
-- Larry Lujan

Yes. In fact, we saw this a time or two in the win over Detroit. On top of being an effective look in the running game, there are also interesting things the Vikings can do in the passing game with both Cook and Murray on the field at the same time. This type of personnel grouping is more likely to be an occasional tactic, thought, and not one the team would use as its base personnel grouping.

Throughout the season, our receiving corps has been a key part to our success. How do you think John DeFilippo will work the group to keep them as a consistent threat as the second half of the season starts?
-- Graham Engrav

There's an element of "If it isn't broken, don't fix it" when it comes to this question. At the same time, coaches are obsessed with finding ways to improve, so I'm sure DeFilippo will have a new wrinkle or two up his sleeve for the final seven regular season games. To me, the biggest thing is to remain versatile on offense. If a defense tries to take away Adam Thielen, then the Vikings must still be able to move the ball through the air. If a defense tries to clamp down on the run, then the Vikings must be able to rely on their passing game, and vice versa.

If Stefon Diggs is healthy for the Bears game, do the Vikings have to cut Chad Beebe and place him on the practice squad? Or are there other options?
-- Terry T.
Youngstown, OH

No, they don't have to cut Beebe to make room for Diggs to play because both players are already on the active roster. I anticipate Beebe will remain on the active roster for now. He could be one of the players declared inactive on game day, but I think he'll remain on the active roster and it actually wouldn't surprise me if he was one of the 46 active players on game days going forward.

What are the keys to beating the Bears this week?
-- Dustin West

On defense, the Vikings must be mindful of quarterback Mitch Trubisky's ability to make plays with his legs. Whether it's designed runs or scrambles, Trubisky can extend drives and really make life tough for the defense because of his mobility. On offense, the Vikings must block Khalil Mack and take care of the ball. The Bears lead the League in takeaways and points off takeaways, and the presence of Mack as an edge rusher is a big reason why.