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Monday Morning Mailbag: Defensive Scheme, D-Line Depth and More

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Why doesn't Coach Zimmer turn our defense into a 3-4 scheme? In a passing league that we have today, wouldn't it be more efficient? We have a decent LB core that can still be improved and good developing CBs. Wouldn't we prosper more with a 3-4 scheme to start building off of? -- Javon N. Long Island, NY

I wouldn't say that a defense with a three-man front is necessarily more equipped to stop the pass than a defense with a four-man front. Both can defend the pass well if they are executed properly by players on the field. The NFL's top two defenses this year were Seattle and Detroit – both 4-3 teams. Buffalo was the No. 4 defense and they are a 4-3 team. The top five NFL defenses in terms of least passing touchdowns allowed were Buffalo, Seattle, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Atlanta – all teams that have a 4-3 defensive front. I'm not saying the 4-3 is better than the 3-4. I don't think either is better than the other in principle. Both are well-designed fronts, which is why teams use one of the two as their base defense. Both can work equally well and they do it in different ways.

Ultimately, the best defenses are those that can be versatile. Maybe they use a 4-3 front as the primary base defense, but if they can sprinkle in an odd-man front every now and then to keep the offense on its toes, I think that's a good thing.

I have a question about drafting a lineman. Let's say that the Vikings are on the clock at No. 11 and they want to draft a lineman. If a higher-graded tackle is on the board and a slightly lesser-graded guard is also on the board, what would be the ideal route to take? Best available or bigger need? -- Michael X.

This is an interesting scenario and it's one teams are faced with every year on draft day. At this stage, and we're still in the very early stages, I'm not crazy about taking an offensive linemen at No. 11. But I'm even less crazy about passing up a better player to take a lesser player just because of a need at a different position. I am a strong proponent of taking the more talented player when possible. Faced with the choice of a more talented tackle (less of a need) or a little bit less talented guard, and only able to choose between those two positions, I would take the more talented tackle. That way we'd have injury insurance against Kalil and Loadholt, we'd have competition for Kalil in what could be a contract year, and we'd have someone to push Loadholt as he begins the peak and downward path of his career arc.

View the top 30 images of Vikings defensive line from the 2014 season.

Although we saw great improvement from our defense, we still need to strengthen it by adding more depth and talent. What do you think about adding an impact DE such as Jason Pierre-Paul to our trenches? It's clear that he'll be on the market when free agency comes. -- Alex R. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I don't know that it's clear he'll be on the market when free agency opens because the Giants surely understand the kind of player he is and may consider re-signing him. In addition to that, the Giants have the option of using the franchise tag to retain his rights in 2015. With that said, there is a lot to like about JPP and if he does indeed hit the market I feel he'll command top dollar. He is an accomplished, durable and experienced pass rusher who is entering the prime of his career. The 6-5, 278-pound athletic specimen is a two-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro who has 42.0 sacks and only five missed games in five seasons. He would make any defense better and brings exceptional pass-rushing ability to the defensive end position. I don't know if the Vikings would be interested in him or not, but if he does hit the open market I expect he will command a lot of attention, perhaps even from the Vikings. The last former Giants defensive end the team signed in free agency – Linval Joseph – worked out very well.

There were some great plays in 2014 for Minnesota (to name a few, Jarius Wright's walk-off touchdown, Adam Thielen's blocked punt touchdown, and Harrison Smith's interception of Ryan Tannehill). What do you think was the play of the year for the Vikings? What was an underrated play you liked? -- Zach C. Minneapolis, MN

I would point to Jarius Wright's overtime touchdown as the play of the season for the Vikings. Aside from being a game-winning play, the fact that it was a product of Teddy Bridgewater recognizing a zero blitz and getting the Vikings into the right play puts it over the top. The play was a representation of Bridgewater making a play not only with his physical abilities but with his head, as well.

As for an underrated play, I would call out Anthony Barr's sack of Matt Ryan in Week 4. It wasn't a play that led directly to victory, as his fumble return touchdown did against Tampa Bay, but it was a play that required preparation, quick thinking and explosive athletic ability. On the play, Barr was lined up in the A gap, he was assigned to an eligible receiver, he saw that receiver stay in to block, and he then quickly decided to rush the passer. Barr burst through the line of scrimmage as if he was shot out of a cannon and he brought Ryan to the ground for a sack on a 3rd down. As with Bridgewater on the overtime touchdown throw to Wright, I feel that play is representative of not just physical talent but also the ability to help a team win games through preparation and intelligence.

What was the most unexpected aspect of playing outdoors this past season? -- Kathye S. Mandan, ND

I don't feel the team was surprised by much of anything. A lot of that had to do with how thorough the team was in preparing to play home games outdoors, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that the organization plays many of its road games outdoors every year anyway, plus most players and coaches played on teams before coming to the Vikings who played home games outdoors.

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