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Monday Morning Mailbag: Trying To Explain Lapses On Defense?

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While I was happy to see Kirk Cousins standing up for our defense, I am very concerned as well. Our defense handled that Rams offense last year; we should have been MUCH better on Thursday night. Do you think it’s miscommunication, over-coaching or players that just don't mesh well? There is WAY too much talent on that side of the ball for us to be as bad as we are. I just want to understand what the problem is!
-- Andrew Lovsness
Redmond, Oregon

The defensive lapses in the first four weeks of the season are difficult to explain. There are enough individual players not in their best form that it’s fair to wonder if it’s a systemic issue and not an issue of one or two guys not pulling their weight. Has the defensive scheme changed significantly and players are having trouble executing the new wrinkles? Have opposing offenses found the antidote to last year’s No. 1 defense? Are young players making mistakes too costly for the veterans to overcome? These are all fair questions. It’s above my pay grade and knowledge base to know if it’s over-coaching, poor playing or a combination of the two. But I do know head coach Mike Zimmer and his defensive staff will take the “no sacred cows” mindset this week as they make adjustments in preparation for Week 5 and the rest of the season.

Watching the defense get ripped too many times with Anthony Barr in the opposing receiver’s rear view mirror and no Everson Griffen rushing the passer. The defense is in big trouble!
-- Craig Lindahl
Fort Myers, FL

My hunch is that while the Todd Gurley touchdown reception may have been Barr’s fault, he was not at fault for the first Cooper Kupp touchdown or the Robert Woods touchdown. I would be shocked if the design of the defense assigned a linebacker to a wide receiver. To me, those were miscommunications and/or perfect offensive design that solved the Vikings defense. With that said, we have not seen Barr in his best form yet this season. Barr was elite in pass coverage a season ago and I know he can play better than what we’ve seen so far this season; I’m looking forward to that over the final 12 games of the regular season. As for Griffen, there’s no question this defense misses his presence both as a pass rusher and as an emotional leader. A lot of the criticism from Thursday night centered on the pass coverage, but there wasn’t a pass rush by the Vikings defense and we all know the coverage can only do so much when they aren’t supported by a pass rush.

Our running game is slowly improving. How fast can we improve? How can we improve? What is our ceiling?
-- Gerald Goblirsch

The running game hasn’t been good enough in 2018, but it’s hard to be too critical when the best piece of the running game – Dalvin Cook – is coming back from an ACL injury and has also been limited because of a new injury. Cook missed the Week 3 game against Buffalo and was on a pitch count this past week in Los Angeles. Early in the game against the Rams, there was a perimeter run by Cook where Pat Elflein was out in front making a key block. That’s the type of run this offense is capable of and that’s the type of production I expect to see once Cook is 100%, especially now that Elflein is back in the lineup.

Tough loss to the Rams. I know the Vikings will be fine because our biggest weakness right now is our defense. We have been unusually bad in pass coverage this season, but we will be ok because that’s Zim’s bread and butter and he will get it fixed. Our offensive line has been up and down this year. Can you just touch on why Tom Compton is playing over Brett Jones at guard? Is it just needing more time to learn our scheme or is Compton a better player? Seems like he has been the main one getting beat on a lot of the hurries and sacks. Skol!
-- Mark McIntire

Compton has been working exclusively at left guard since training camp and Jones has been exclusively at center since he was acquired via trade on August 26, so it would be unusual to ask Jones to slide into Compton’s spot on a week’s notice just because the starting center (Elflein) was back in the lineup. The performance of all five offensive linemen was probably evaluated by the offensive staff over the “mini-bye” and it will be interesting to see if any adjustments are made. One thing is for certain: the return of Elflein will be a big boost for this group the rest of the season.

I still believe we will right the ship and win our next three games, starting with revenge next weekend in Philadelphia. But my confidence would be a heck of a lot higher if Brian Robison and Terence Newman were wearing purple versus holding fishing poles and clipboards. Any chance they can both have shoulder pads and purple jerseys on this year?
-- Cris Arens

My sense is neither guy will be brought back and the guys the Vikings have on the roster right now need to step up and get the job done. The Vikings have done a great job of developing Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes over the years, and now they need to keep putting the work in to develop youngsters such as Mackensie Alexander, Holton Hill and Mike Hughes. Up front, the Vikings have to keep getting what they can out of Stephen Weatherly until Griffen can (hopefully) come back. Once Griffen is back, the defensive line is the strength of the defense both in terms of talent among the starting group and overall depth.

All the experts on sports talk radio and TV are saying the Vikings season is over. Can you give me some reasons why that's not true and give us Vikings fans hope that we can salvage this season? Seriously, I give the Vikings five more wins considering how they're playing right now.
-- Kris Arndt
Utah 

How a team plays in the first four weeks is not necessarily how they will play over the final 12 games. Think about last year’s Vikings, who went 2-2 in the first month and then finished by winning 11 of the final 12 games. I’m not saying this team will win 11 of its next 12…the point is teams can improve as the season goes along and this Vikings roster is talented enough that it’s fair for us to expect drastic improvement as the season wears on. The key is to stop the bleeding ASAP because the NFC is loaded and the margin for error is only getting smaller each and every week.

The schedule for this year is absolutely brutal to say the least. I don’ know how we’re even going to make the postseason. I guess that’s what I get for being a Vikings fan.
-- Cyrus Sutherland

Come on now! That’s not the attitude a tough-minded Vikings fan should have. Vikings fans are passionate, smart and dedicated. Don’t give up so easily! The “woe is us” attitude is something Zimmer warned to stay away from. Remember, we’re only a quarter of the way through the season. The first quarter of the season was disappointing, but a strong second quarter of the season can get the Vikings right back in the mix and ready to battle over the final eight games.

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