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Monday Morning Mailbag: Areas To Improve On Down The Stretch

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I wanted to give a shout out to Rick Spielman for the good job he did in rebuilding our offensive line in one offseason. How refreshing to say at midseason that our left tackle has given up zero sacks. Credit also goes to our coaches. If our line stays reasonably healthy, how much more can they improve in the second half of the season? -- Jim Ernst

The Vikings used the draft, free agency and returning players to rebuild the offensive line, so credit needs to be spread around for the success the offensive line has had so far in 2017. Spielman undoubtedly deserves credit, as does position coach Tony Sparano because he's the one responsible for guiding the decision-making process on which five are the best five and for guiding the group as a whole day-in and day-out. As for how much better they can get, I guess I'd look at two stats to measure the offensive line's performance: sacks and yards per carry. The Vikings have allowed only 10 sacks on the season, which is an exceptional number and so it's hard to improve much on that. The Vikings average 4.0 yards per rush (19th) and 120.0 rushing yards per game (12th), so there is room for improvement there, I suppose.  

What has the defense improved upon the most since Week 1 of this season? What areas of the defense could still improve? -- Ian Henley Pasadena, CA

The defense has been pretty good from get-go, so it's hard to pinpoint specific areas where they've generated marked improvement. Penalties in pass coverage is one areas that seems to have improved, though. In the first three games of the season, the Vikings were penalized nine times for defensive pass interference, defensive holding, illegal use of hands and illegal contact. In the five games since then, the Vikings have been penalized just six times for those infractions. If you wanted to nitpick the defense on an area to improve over the final half of the season, perhaps 1st down defense is a place to start. According to my unofficial calculations, the Vikings are permitting 6.1 yards per play on 1st down. It's hard to be too mad at the defense for that, though, because they do rank No. 2 in 3rd down defense (27.7% conversion rate allowed).

What hurdles do you think Danielle Hunter has to overcome with all the chipping and sometimes double teams he's come up against this year? He looks like he's just milliseconds away from 2-4 more sacks this year. -- Chris S. San Diego, CA

Both Hunter and Everson Griffen are seeing their fair share of double teams and chips this season, and Griffen has still managed at least a sack in every game and has 10.0 through the first half of the season. Hunter is playing well, too, so don't let the sack numbers trick you into thinking otherwise. Playing defensive end the way Zimmer wants you to play defensive end is not about getting a bunch of sacks. It's about playing the run well, playing within the scheme and within the rush plan, and being a team-first guy. Hunter satisfies all of those items.

I'd like to see either Rodney Adams or Stacy Coley given a shot at kickoff returns. Is there a chance that will happen, or do you envision Sherels being kept on kickoff return duty for the foreseeable future? -- Cory N.

It will be interesting to see if the Vikings have a shift in plans with regard to kickoff returns coming out of the bye. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, his assistant Ryan Ficken and Zimmer have had plenty of time to study what's happened so far and devise a plan for the final eight games. If active on game day, it would not surprise me to see Adams (who is on the practice squad and would first have to be promoted) or Coley get a crack at kickoff returns over the final eight games. It is nice, though, to have a guy like Sherels in the fold to handle the job if no one else is able to jump out and grab it.

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