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Monday Morning Mailbag: Playoffs or Bust?

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I don't want us to get ahead of ourselves, but it is realistic with this season in particular that we have a fair chance at making the playoffs? -- Alex Khang

I don't think there's a team in the League who should go into a season thinking they don't have a shot at making the playoffs. The line between winning and losing, and the line between good teams and not good enough teams, is so razor thin that every team has a shot to reach the ultimate goal every year. If the Vikings put their nose to the grindstone and ignore the outside noise, work hard to improve every day, and catch a few breaks along the way, then yes I do think they can win the division, and make the playoffs, and then make some noise once they are in the playoffs. That's a long ways off, though. For now, they should concentrate on going 1-0 this week against the San Francisco 49ers.

How does the defense contain Colin Kaepernick? Would it be smart to assign a player to hawk him in order to contain him? Stopping Kaepernick will go a long way toward the Vikings winning this game. -- Charles Tennessee

Using a spy on Kaepernick is one idea and it's possible that is part of the Vikings game plan for Monday night. Another principle, though, is for all pass rushers to stay disciplined in their rush and not leave their assigned lanes and/or over-pursue a play to give Kaepernick creases and running lanes. Often times, pass rushers can overrun an angle but quickly chase down the QB. You can't count on doing that with Kaepernick, so defenders must know their assignment on any given play and they must remain gap disciplined so as to not allow Kaepernick to break contain and make plays outside of the pocket.

Matt Asiata was a reliable player to catch short passes from Teddy Bridgewater last season. With Adrian Peterson back, will he aide the offense by catching the ball as well as running it? -- Nik W. Duluth, MN

Only Greg Jennings had more receptions last season than Asiata, so Nik is correct in saying Asiata was a reliable contributor in the passing game while he was also shouldering much of the load in the running game. When it comes to Peterson's touches, though, we have to remember that his strengths are as a runner and the idea to use Peterson as a receiver in the passing game is a good one so long as it's used at the right time and doesn't come at the expense of his rushing attempts. Peterson's strength is as a runner and I would think the Vikings would cater to those strengths rather than try to force a square peg into a round hole.

Assuming Adrian gets his 320 carries this year, how many total touches should we expect for Jerick McKinnon? How many catches and how many rushes? --Zach C. Minneapolis, MN

That's a difficult proposition to figure out ahead of time because at the end of the day offensive coordinator Norv Turner will try to get the ball in all of his playmakers' hands and he'll do it in a manner that he thinks gives the team its best chance to win. That is something that can change from week-to-week. But my sense is Peterson will get the bulk of the carries plus a handful or so of passing targets in a game. That may leave a handful of rushes plus a target or two in the passing game for McKinnon. So maybe three-to-five sounds right for average touches for McKinnon in a game? Again, that's a ratio that can change from week-to-week and doing what he thinks gives the offense its best chance to score as many points as possible will be the determining factor for Turner as he looks to distribute offensive touches.

While the team seems to be pulling together and things are looking up, my concern is how many points they are leaving on the field. Anyone knows it's hard enough to win games. Do you see this as an issue? -- Jim Richards

You never want to leave points on the field, and anytime the team does do that it's fair to be concerned about it. In just this opening week of the season, we saw teams lose games after settling for FGs once they were in the red zone (New Orleans and NY Giants). While it's great to be able to salvage a drive with FGs, it's just as damaging to not finish drives in which you've reached the red zone with TDs. By my (unofficial) count, the Vikings first-team offense scored two TDs in five red zone trips. You'd like to see that percentage a bit higher if extrapolated through an entire regular season. In fairness, the team was playing without the best RB in the NFL and was dealing with a new starter at RT in rookie TJ Clemmings as well as the absence of starting C John Sullivan and FB Zach Line for much of the preseason.

My guess is the Vikings will be a very good red zone (touchdown) scoring team this season, and that is an important category in which to be good. Peterson is an effective short-yardage rusher, TE Kyle Rudolph can be a matchup nightmare in the end zone, Mike Wallace scored nine of his 10 TDs in the red zone a season ago, and Charles Johnson displayed impressive red zone skills with a short TD pass in the preseason.

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