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Monday Morning Mailbag: Late-Game Defense, Offensive Changes, Walsh, and More

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Where do we go from here? I know there were some positives to build on, but this is three losses in a row. I believe we can recover. We have the talent. -- Alexander

I believe the team can recover, too, and it'd be best if that recovery began this week in Washington with a victory over the Redskins. Finishing in the red zone on offense, eliminating missed tackles and improving on 3rd down on defense, and straightening out the kicking game will be priorities for the Vikings as they prepare to hit the road next weekend. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he wasn't pleased with the result against Detroit but also said he was encouraged with the fight in his team that he hadn't seen the past two weeks. So, yes, there are building blocks but there also needs to be a sense of urgency to get back on the winning track. I think you'll see that from the team this week, both in how they prepare for Sunday's game and in what you see on the field against the Redskins.

What do you think the issue is with the defensive line not getting as much pressure on the quarterback as they did in the first five games? -- Jacob Marinette, WI

Teams are doing a good job with their protection schemes to slow down the rush a bit, but that overcompensation is adversely impacting their ability to gain yards through the air. While the Vikings had just one sack of Matthew Stafford on Sunday, Stafford also averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt and he was held 50 yards below his season average for yards in a game. So even though the Vikings pass rush isn't registering a bunch of sacks, the threat of the pass rush is still limiting opposing offenses. Unfortunately, that impact wasn't felt on the final drive of the game or in overtime on Sunday.

Why was there no all-out blitz or even a pass rush on the Lions final drive with 23 seconds left? -- Pete Pantelis Tarpon Springs, FL

Zimmer actually said after the game that this is the thing he regrets the most – not sending more rushers at Stafford in the final drive of regulation. It's hard to be too critical about that in hindsight, in my view. There were other late-game issues that had a more direct impact on the game.

What do we need to do to get our defense to play lights out again like they were at the beginning of the season? They have fallen off track and need to get back on. -- Allan Pekin, IL

I think we're being a little hard on the defense here. I know they allowed nine points in the final 23 seconds of the game and in overtime, and I know it was frustrating watching the Lions convert seven of 14 (50%) 3rd downs and pickup three 1st downs via penalty. But let's also remember that Detroit had only 13 points with less than 30 seconds to play in the game, Theo Riddick was essentially shutout except for one long run (42 yards) early in the game and Stafford was held below his averages in passing yards, completion percent and passer rating. All of this and the Vikings were playing without middle linebacker Eric Kendricks plus cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was forced from the game in the early stages. The Vikings defense is, and will be, just fine.

Another tough loss. I really liked how our defense battled. They had a couple missed plays but overall a great effort. That being said, our offense yet again was really disappointing. They moved the ball better but had zero explosive plays and several misses. Do you think this was mostly due to a new coordinator? And what do you see as a solution to our struggles? -- Charles Nagely McMinnville, OR

Even though it came in a loss, improvement was made by the Vikings offense against Detroit. The Vikings had more net yards of offense and 1st downs on Sunday than they had in their previous two games. I liked the creativity of using Linval Joseph as a blocking back and in handing the ball to Rhett Ellison for a touchdown. I also liked the up-tempo series the Vikings had as well as the 14 targets Stefon Diggs saw in the passing game. The offense can be better in the red zone, where they were just two of five (40%), and I still think they can run the ball better (3.1 yards per carry). 

Despite the loss, I think the Vikings offense looked better than the past two games. I think Pat Shurmur will keep the team in better situations. I know that the defense has had some injury issues, which may have caused some out-of-character plays from what we're used to seeing from the NFL's best defense. I hope everyone gets healthy again because I can't wait to see how this team looks once fully healthy. -- Jorge Dominguez

I don't know that any team is or will be fully healthy the rest of the season. Part of the challenge of a NFL season is teams have to find a way to get the job done even though the roster isn't at full strength. But there's no doubt the Vikings have faced more than their fair share of injuries, and I agree that it will be interesting to see this team play at a high level once again.

With half the season over, where do we stand with Blair Walsh? I am not off the train, just very disappointed in Walsh's performance – missed extra point and blocked field goal. -- Tim G.

For a good stretch of games, the kicking game was straightened out. Walsh had made his previous 12 kicks before he hit the uprights on a point after touchdown attempt in the 3rd quarter. Unfortunately on Sunday, it lost some consistency and those missed opportunities for points were costly. Zimmer wouldn't go into this issue with reporters after the game, saying game day wasn't the day to be making (public) evaluations. Walsh, like other Vikings, will have to do his best to put Sunday behind him and quickly regroup to be ready to play on Sunday in Washington as the Vikings look to end this three-game losing streak and restore order in the NFC North.

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