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Monday Morning Mailbag: Finding Consistency On Offense

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I feel like our defense took a step back this week. What changed from the first five games and the last four? We seem like a completely different team. I still have faith we can turn it around. Go Vikings! -- Charles Nagely McMinnville, OR

It's hard for me to get mad at the defense for their performance on Sunday. Granted, they allowed touchdowns on both of the Redskins first two drives, but after that they settled down and helped give the team a chance win. After the two early touchdown drives, the Vikings defense held quarterback Kirk Cousins to 137 passing yards and they held the Redskins offense to three of nine (33%) on 3rd downs and zero of three in the red zone. I agree the defense doesn't seem as dominant as it did during the five-game winning streak to open the season, but they have played without Eric Kendricks for most of the past two games plus other starters such as Captain Munnerlyn, Andrew Sendejo and Xavier Rhodes have missed time. On top of that, the other two phases of the team haven't played with the same consistency, and we all know how important complementary football is to this team. I have confidence the Vikings can turn it around, too, and it needs to start next week against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.

When our offense of line so riddled with injuries do you think it's smart to get the offense lineman back injured reserve instead of Adrian Peterson and save Adrian for next year? -- Mike

I've gotten a lot of questions about using the "Designated for Return" tag on injured reserve players and the Vikings using that tag on either Matt Kalil or Andre Smith instead of Adrian Peterson. It's important to remember that the return tag is not a magical healer of injuries. Just because you have that tag to use doesn't mean the players you've placed on the Reserve/Injured list are going to be healthy enough to be brought back. Right now, we don't know if the Vikings will be able to use the tag at all or upon whom they'll choose to use it. It's all about whether or not one of the players on the reserve list becomes healthy enough to play again, which is not a certainty in any of the three aforementioned players.

I appreciate the need to run the ball, but maybe we need to start to pass in these short yardage situations. This may help to keep the offense on the field and give our defense some rest. -- John Stephens

This is something worth considering, although it's only fair to point out the Vikings did throw the ball as often as they ran it in short yardage situations. The Vikings had 14 snaps with to-go distances of three or fewer yards, and they ran the ball seven times and passed the ball seven times in those situations. They converted two of those seven short yardage rushing attempts, but they converted five of the seven short yardage passing attempts. Teams always want to draw a balance with their play calling, but it's more important to convert than it is to be balanced, so throwing more in short yardage situations seems worth at least considering moving forward.

Why are we not rotating more defensive lineman? Injuries? Where's Justin Trattou? He's been a solid player. It seems the defensive line is getting tired with starters playing way too many snaps and not getting pressure on the quarterback like they used to. -- Doug Rabenberg

The Vikings sack numbers have been down in recent weeks, but I can't say that's a product of the defensive line not playing as well or getting tired. You have to give credit to opposing offenses for putting together good schemes and/or focusing on getting the ball out quickly. Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins had 125 passing yards after his team's first two drives on Sunday, but he had only another 137 on the next seven drives to close the game. That does not indicate to me that the defensive line wore down during the game.

I have no doubt this team fights, but we need to stop giving ourselves black eyes. We threw an interception with about five minutes to go. We got the ball back and were driving, but a sack and a penalty put us into 3rd and next to impossible. Do you see us fixing that soon? -- Gerald Goblirsch

Performing well in key situations is paramount in the NFL. That is exactly why teams structure practice the way they do, with periods of each practice dedicated to things like 3rd downs, two-minute drills, red zone, short yardage and move the ball. The Vikings did not execute as well as we know they can in some of those areas on Sunday, but in some of them they did and we've also seen them execute well in crucial situations at other points this season, particularly during the five-game winning streak to open the season. Those past successes and a couple of good moments in Sunday's loss lead me to believe that the errors we've seen are indeed correctable.

View game action photos as the Vikings take on the Redskins at FedExField on Sunday.

With us dropping four straight games but still being tied for first place in the division, do you think Thanksgiving Day versus the Detroit Lions could possibly decide the division? I know it's still early, but what are your thoughts on that game? -- Thomas Hicks

Technically, the Lions are in first place alone because they hold the head-to-head tie breaker over the Vikings at this moment. That's what makes the Thanksgiving Day game against the Lions a huge one for the Vikings. That game alone won't decide the division because each team plays five games after that one, but it will certainly give one team a leg up on the other and perhaps an advantage over the other teams in the division, too. The Vikings played the Lions tough two weeks ago and I see no reason why they can't do so again and even win the game in two weeks when they travel to the Motor City. 

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