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Monday Morning Mailbag: Where To Improve on Defense?

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With even more proof that a smothering defense wins championships, where is the biggest area of improvement on a defense that is so close to being one of the most dominate in the league? -- Raymond Bustos The Dalles, OR

The Vikings defense was very good in several key areas in 2015, including 5th in scoring defense (18.9 points per game allowed) and in 3rd down defense (34.4%) and 4th in red zone defense (44.2%). But if you wanted to nitpick an area, one to look at would be takeaways. For as good as the Vikings defense was, they ranked 19th in the NFL with 22 takeaways. The good news is the offense didn't turn the ball over much, either, so the Vikings as a team were still +5 in turnover margin. But the Vikings 22 takeaways were tied with Green Bay and ahead of only New England (21) among playoff teams.

How do the Vikings score more points in the red zone this year? Does some of it come down to play calling and being a little more aggressive? -- Dave S.

It comes down to players executing the plays that are called. It naturally becomes tougher on offenses when you get in the red zone because it's a condensed field and there's less area for the defense to defend, and that makes execution even more important. A couple numbers that stick out to me are that the Vikings were sacked seven times and had 20 negative runs in the red zone last year. Reduce both of those numbers and I think the red zone scoring percentage, which was 50% in 2015, will increase. The Vikings did improve in the red zone as the season went along because they were scoring at a 60% clip in the final eight games.

The quarterback position aside, which one position on both defense and offense do you think is the most challenging for a rookie to adapt to in today's NFL, and why? My personal opinion is the cornerback position on defense and offensive tackle on offense are the toughest. -- Jeff Gifford Grimsby, Ontario, Canada

A coach, scout or player would be more qualified to answer this question than I, and I'm also sure it can vary depending on how you look at it or who you ask. The one thing I'll say about the offensive tackle position being tough is that's the one area where the two athletes going against one another are perhaps the most athletically different as well as different in build. Interior linemen on defense and offense have similar build and skill sets, cornerbacks and wide receivers are similar in those ways, and even linebackers and running backs share those commonalities. But an explosive edge rusher, such as a Von Miller, has a much different build than a lot of 6-5, 310-pound offensive tackles. This isn't a change from how it is in college, but at the NFL level I think those differences are perhaps more pronounced.

Speed, good hands and being able to run routes are givens when evaluating the wide receiver position. But receivers who are able to get consistent separation against defenders are the real gems. How do the scouts measure this in a potential draft pick? -- Charles Daniel Tennessee

A lot of it is done during their film study of the prospects. Scouts can learn a lot about a player by going to practices and games and by speaking with those who know the players well, but evaluating a physical trait such as being able to gain separation from a defender is something that can be done thoroughly via film study.

In honor of Presidents' Day, which Vikings do you think would make the best Presidents? -- Trenton Phoenix, AZ

There are several good options, but I would go with a ticket that includes Trae Waynes and Kyle Rudolph in one order or another. With Newman, you have experience, Midwestern values (he's from Kansas) and obviously someone who understands how to build a strong (national) defense. With Rudy, you have someone who can carry a key battleground state with the electorate (he's from Ohio), he'll carry the youth vote and he can bring some fresh ideas to the table.

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