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Monday Morning Mailbag: Can Defense Still Reign In Today's NFL?

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On the surface, it's easy to say a dominant offense is most important in today's game due to the top four offenses all making it to their conference championship games. However, I think defense and running the ball is as important as ever because all four teams did that during their playoff runs. Wouldn't you agree that running the ball combined with good defense is still clearly the most important things to winning a championship?
-- Jeff Skinner
Minneapolis, MN

There is no singular way to win in the NFL. Some teams can win with high-powered offenses and forgettable defenses. Other teams win with defense leading the way and the offense playing complementary football. Some seasons one style of play is more prevalent among the winning teams than others. For example, the final four teams in 2018 (Jacksonville, Minnesota, New England and Philadelphia) all had top five defenses. This year, the final four teams ranked 1-4 in offensive points per game. Both philosophies can work. But yes, running the ball well on offense and playing good defense is as important as any other tactic in football. Running the ball well allows your offense to establish a tone and it allows your team to control the clock and keep the defense rested. Playing good defense keeps the opponent off the scoreboard and usually results in winning field position.

Is it better to draft an offensive lineman versus sign a free agent? Also, if we draft an offensive linemen in the 1st or 2nd round this year, would the Vikings select the better athlete over one who plays a specific position (guard or tackle)?
-- Noel Hong
Bayfield, WI

Ideally, the core of your team and the building blocks of each position group are attained via the draft. That's the best way to control the types of personalities you bring into the locker room as well as the best way to remain salary cap efficient. There are times when signing players via free agency becomes necessary and even optimal, but those times are few and far between relative to the importance of hitting on draft picks. As for whether an offensive guard or offensive tackle becomes the priority in this year's draft, that will depend in large part upon what type of blocking scheme the coaching staff is going to ask the offense to employ as well as what happens with linemen currently on the roster. Does Riley Reiff stay at left tackle or is he asked to move inside or to the right side? Is Brian O'Neill the right tackle or might he train on the left side? What is the status of Nick Easton's recover? These are all questions that factor into whether a guard or tackle takes priority. Also, the Vikings will stay true to their board and take the best available player. If a guard and tackle are both being considered, whichever player has a higher grade is the player GM Rick Spielman will select.

I would like to see us look for some better defensive backs. As good as our guys are, we need better. Or are our guys still growing into the job? Xavier Rhodes even looked questionable at times, although he may have been playing through some injuries.
-- Lloyd Gossman

It's hard to agree that the Vikings are deficient in the secondary. Were they perfect in 2018? No, they weren't perfect and head coach Mike Zimmer will demand improved play in 2019. But let's also remember the Vikings ranked No. 1 in fewest passing touchdowns allowed (15), No. 3 in fewest passing yards allowed (3,140/196.0 per game), No. 4 in passer rating allowed (83.3), No. 6 in completion percentage allow (62.6%) and No. 6 in yards per attempt allowed (7.0). I'd say our secondary was exceptional for the season. I'm all for adding more talented defensive backs this offseason because you can never have enough good players, but the ones we have right now did a great job in 2018.

Does the hiring of Gary Kubiak mean that Kevin Stefanski spends 2019 looking over his shoulder?
-- David Sinclair
Rio Rancho, NM

Not at all. Kubiak's presence on the Vikings coaching staff is not just about his offensive acumen and oversight. It's also about being able to provide input to coach Zimmer about issues the entire team and sometimes entire organization faces. As for Stefanski, Kubiak is another resource at his disposal as he takes the reins of the Vikings offense. During Stefanski's 13 seasons with the Vikings, he's been exposed to a lot of different types of offensive philosophies, from Brad Childress to Norv Turner to Pat Shurmur, just to name a few. Now we can add Kubiak's name to that list. It's an eclectic collection of philosophies and concepts and I anticipate Stefanski picking and choose from them all to build up his own brand of offense that will become the 2019 Vikings offense.