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Monday Morning Mailbag: Key To Combating The Cowboys' Offense

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Monday Morning Mailbag feature. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

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Which is more important for the Vikings to stop – the Cowboys passing game or the Cowboys running game? -- Hayden L. Detroit Lakes, MN

The running game. It's important to do a good job containing both, but slowing down the passing attack becomes easier if you can halt the running game first. Any time you can make an offense one-dimensional by making it pass predictable, you're giving your defense a big advantage. Also, the running game is ground zero for physicality. Usually, whichever team is winning when it comes to the ground game is the team that is more physical and is setting the tone.

Why does Sam Bradford on 3rd downs never throw beyond the 1st down marker? Second to last possession, it was 3rd and two and Bradford throws a one-yard pass! -- Ron Papenfuss

I understand the frustration some feel when a pass is thrown short of the marker on 3rd down; I often times share in that frustration. But not every time. There are instances in which routes are designed to be run short of the marker because completing a pass to that receiver on the run provides for a better chance of conversion than throwing to or beyond the marker, which is where the defense is set up. Case and point is the play Ron referenced in his question, which was actually a 3rd and 3. Bradford completed a pass to McKinnon on a play that appears to be designed as a route combination between McKinnon and Adam Thielen. Credit goes to Josh Bynes for making a good play by getting around Thielen to close on McKinnon and stop him short of the line to gain. Often times that route combination will leave McKinnon wide open in space and even though he would've caught the pass before the line to gain, he would've had enough space to gain the yardage necessary for the 1st down.

Can you imagine what Sam Bradford would be with a better offensive line? An otherwise truly superior team takes it on the chops because too much of the game plan is developed around keeping Bradford upright. -- Steven Terry

We need to be measured in that kind of commentary against the offensive line. In their defense, the group has been decimated by injury. Also, there have been times this season where the performance of the offensive line has been key to victory. The offensive line was very good in the wins against Houston and Arizona, and they allowed zero sacks in the win over the Giants in Week 4 and against the Lions last Thursday. With that being said, Steven raises an interesting point about Bradford and his ability to produce when he's protected adequately. Bradford is a 73.3% passer averaging 252.2 passing yards per game with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions for a passer rating of 109.2 in home games this season. The completion percentage is third in the NFL, the passer rating is fifth and Bradford is the only full-time starter without an interception at home. In those five home games, the Vikings are 4-1 and Bradford has been sacked 10 times, compared to the team's 1-4 record and 16 sacks allowed in Bradford's road games. So the numbers clearly illustrate that if protected adequately, Bradford can put up numbers that are among the NFL's best.

I saw Willie Beavers was playing for a few snaps against Detroit. How did he do? Laquon Treadwell also played numerous snaps but did not catch a pass. Should we be concerned? -- Levi Korum Accra, Ghana

Beavers played eight snaps on Thursday, filling in for RT Jeremiah Sirles when he left the game due to injury. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer commented on Saturday that he looked just fine in the limited action. Treadwell started the game and was on the field for 58% of the offensive snaps. Zimmer said he thought Treadwell's performance on Thursday merited him some more action going forward, so that is good news. I am not concerned at this point about Treadwell's development. It's standard for receivers to develop at this pace and I don't think the injuries to the Vikings offensive line or the change of quarterback just eight days before the season have helped Treadwell in his development. We still have five games to go and I think Treadwell can make even more progress in that time.

Do we have any chance at making playoffs or winning our division this year? -- Tory Hansen

Certainly. Losing in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day decreased the Vikings margin of error, but it didn't knock them out of contention in the least. At 6-4, they are one game behind the Lions in the division standings and they are the NFC's No. 8 seed. They have the same number of wins as the would-be No. 6 seed (Washington) and they have just one fewer win than would-be No. 2 seed Seattle. The NFC is packed with contenders and the Vikings are in the mix both from a division and wild card standpoint. As a fan, you want the Vikings to win, of course, and you're rooting against fellow NFC contenders every chance you get.  

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