Monday Morning Mailbag: Defense's Strong Night, 4th Down Decisions, More

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I will never give up on my team, but I'm having trouble finding any positives from the game. Miscues, no pass rush, no urgency and very little fight. Please expose the positive takeaways from tonight.
-- Paul P.
Seattle WA

The team showed great fight in the game. They came out on the wrong side of a 30-20 decision, but there’s no question the fight was there. Head coach Mike Zimmer said as much during his postgame press conference. The defense was without three starters – Anthony Barr, Andrew Sendejo and Xavier Rhodes – and yet Drew Brees was held to 120 passing yards and the Saints finished with fewer net yards, 1st downs and time of possession than the Vikings. All things considered, I thought it was a valiant defensive effort. Execution was lacking at times on offense and there were two crushing turnovers, but I also thought the effort was good on that side of the ball. Two of the Vikings three losses are to the Saints and Los Angeles Rams, who are a combined 14-1 on the season. Before we get too down on the team for this loss, let’s keep the caliber of opponent in perspective and let’s also remember there are eight games to go.

What can one say…a fumble that should have been an eventual score, an interception returned for a touchdown and a missed 4th-down conversion…I felt we outplayed the Saints until the 4th quarter when we just ran out of gas. Too deep of a hole to climb out of with the time we had left. Overall, I loved the effort from everyone on both sides of the ball. Just not the outcome we hoped for.
-- Nicholas Balkou

So many games in this League come down to one or two plays, and Sunday night’s game was no exception. The Vikings had a three-point lead and were looking to make it a 10-point lead with 1:11 to go in the 2nd quarter. They also had the ball coming out of the locker room after halftime. Then, all of a sudden, Adam Thielen loses a fumble, the Saints return it to the Minnesota 33, and it’s New Orleans who has a 17-13 lead at halftime instead of the Vikings staked to a two-score advantage. From there, it was all New Orleans and it all goes back to one crucial play with 1:11 to play in the first half. There were many other plays subsequent to that lost fumble late in the first half that had an influence on the outcome, but there’s no denying that play changed the course and trajectory of the game. Mistakes such as that one and then the pick-six to PJ Williams were indeed too much to overcome, even for a Vikings team that has the heart of a champion and refused to go away quietly against a very talented Saints team.

Can you explain the thought process of going for it on 4th down in our own territory? It gave the Saints a short field. I think that play was extremely confusing to understand.
-- Judd Thompson

Coach Zimmer was asked about this decision during his postgame press conference and he explained that he told the team he planned to be aggressive during this game. That philosophy can be empowering to the team, particularly when you’re facing an opponent who is also aggressive. The Vikings went for it on 4th down two other times in the game, scoring touchdowns on both plays. On the attempt that failed, it was the first possession of the 3rd quarter and coach Zimmer decided to take a calculated risk after an unfortunate turn of events late in the first half had flipped the game around. Converting that 4th down would’ve given the Vikings a chance to re-flip the game around, and it’s hard to blame a head coach for wanting to give his offense that chance near midfield against another powerful offensive team.

Can you explain why on 4th and 1 Cousins throws to Treadwell? We have Diggs, Thielen and Rudolph, any one of which would have caught the ball. I was also concerned with the play calling, especially during the 3rd quarter. It seemed predictable as we lined up and ran on 1st down. We had a chance to go up tempo and take the game back, but we just plodded along. We have a very prolific passing attack that is crying to just to be let loose. We let this one slip away. On a positive note, Holton Hill deserves a nod for a strong game. Skol!
-- John Stephens

Before you get too critical of that 4th down play, just remember that Treadwell was open and Cousins delivered a strike to him. Give credit to Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who made a great play on the ball and forced the incompletion. As for the play calling the 3rd quarter, there were six 1st down snaps for the Vikings. Those six snaps were comprised of five Latavius Murray carries for 18 yards and then a sack of Cousins. Maybe it was predictable, but the Murray rushes had the Vikings in 2nd and manageable, whereas the lone pass attempt on 1st down nearly resulted in a turnover (Cousins fumbled on the sack but replay review overturned the call to a sack and down by contact). Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo is always looking for ways to get better, so I’m sure he’ll be the first to volunteer he could’ve done a better job during the game. But I wouldn’t look at that play calling in the 3rd quarter as a cause for the loss. Better execution, particularly with pass protection, would’ve made a difference in the 3rd quarter.

When we were 1-2-1 and my friends here in Chicago were harassing me, I told them with confidence we would win the next three. I didn't say four. We all knew New Orleans was going to be a tough game. It turns out we handled their offense for the most part, but it’s hard to overcome those turnovers. We are on to next Sunday. If we can be 5-3-1 and have a bye week to get healthy, I will be very bullish about this team's playoff future. Bring on Detroit! Skol!
-- Cris Arens

Yep, you need a short memory in this business. The biggest game is the next game, and for the Vikings that is a date with the Detroit Lions. The Vikings have three consecutive division games coming up, as they travel to Chicago coming out of the bye and then host Green Bay the following week. There is a lot of football left to be played, and Cris is correct that finding success in the remaining five division games will have all of us feeling much better about our prospects for the postseason.

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