Monday Morning Mailbag: Ground Game Gets Going, Batted Balls, Hughes' Injury

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Is it safe to say that our run game is back on track? Also, 3rd down defense was excellent!
-- Paul
@The_Pauly_V

This is a week-to-week league, and this week the running game was most certainly on track. What was perhaps more encouraging than the total yardage (195 yards on 32 attempts) was the explosiveness of the running game. Latavius Murray had runs of 34, 28, 26 and 21 yards, plus Mike Boone had a 20-yarder. Additionally, the Vikings scored two rushing touchdowns, one from 21 yards by Murray and another seven-yarder from Kirk Cousins. Of the 10 longest plays from scrimmage for the Vikings, the top five were all runs. This is a great sign for the offense, especially since this production happened without the services of starting left tackle Riley Reiff. As for the 3rd down defense, yes it was spectacular. The Vikings did not surrender one 1st down on 10 3rd down attempts and they held Arizona to zero of two on 4th down, too.

How come Kirk Cousins is getting so many passes batted down?
-- Curtis Moore
Easton, PA

As is the case with a lot of issues, the batted passes were a function of a combination of things. Sometimes an unblocked defender got his hands up when Cousins was bootlegging and sometimes defenders just did a good job of getting their hands and arms into the passing lanes. Defensive linemen are coached to do that; if they aren’t going to make it to the quarterback in time, they are coached to get their hands and arms up and in the passing lanes. There are a few things the Vikings can do to reduce the batted balls, including blocking techniques and maybe even the quarterback adjusting his arm angle. But this is the first time we’ve see this issue pop up, so it’s also important to not overreact and overcorrect based on one game.

Felt like the defense was on the field too much today. Gotta figure out how to chew up more time of possession.
-- Jack Gogan
@GoganJack

For the balance of the game, the Vikings actually had a significant advantage in time of possession – 34:15 to 25:45. The reason it doesn’t feel like the Vikings had that big of an advantage is because the Cardinals actually had a slight advantage (15:19 to 14:41) in the second half. The Vikings inability to close the game out in the early and middle stages of the 4th quarter, when at one point they went three-and-out on three consecutive series, is what’s making it seem like the defense was on the field so much. We know the offense can do it because they did it on the road last week in Philadelphia when they drove 55 yards on 11 plays and took nearly 6:24 off the clock before kicking a 52-yard field goal to make it a two-score game with a little over two minutes to play. It’s just a matter of executing better in those moments, which I’m sure is something the offense (and defense) will work on this week in practice.

What happens if the Mike Hughes injury is serious and we have to go without him for a while or for the rest of the season?
-- Melvin
Frisco, TX

Injuries are the worst part of the game and every team has to deal with them. Head coach Mike Zimmer said Hughes was set to have an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the injury. If Hughes is going to be out for an extended amount of time, it will be a combination of players who are tasked with stepping up. Among them are Mack Alexander and Jayron Kearse, who could split a lot of the nickel reps as they’ve been doing for the first six weeks. Where the depth would really be tested is if something happens to any of the top three cornerbacks, in which case rookie Holton Hill and/or Marcus Sherels would be asked to take on more of a role.

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