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Monday Morning Mailbag: Previewing Vikings-Eagles & More Questions from Packers

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Good morning on this game day, one that will involve four teams in two games closing out Week 2 with a staggered doubleheader.

The Titans and Bills will start things off on ESPN, and the Vikings and Eagles will start more than an hour later on ABC.

Big time Vikes fan, even bigger NFL. Which is why I'm wondering why the NFL is doing a Monday doubleheader with Bills-Titans starting at [6:15 p.m. (CT)] and us and the Eagles starting at 7:30. I don't want to watch half of the first game and choose between finishing the first or starting the Vikes game. Why not start one at 5 and the next at 8:25 p.m.? Gets late but I wanna watch both games from start to finish.

— Steve in Austin, Minnesota

Reading Steve's email took me back a bit to my college apartment setup with a couple of roommates. Rather than have TVs in our bedrooms, we combined resources with three TVs in the living room, including a hefty old console we had claimed to keep from a junkyard.

The setup enabled a multi-view of college and pro games that were running concurrently on basic cable.

Games are now available on a lot more screens and devices these days, but I still think to some of the fun we had in that environment — shout out to Russ and Nate.

This is the first Week 2 doubleheader of its kind, a revision of the way Week 1 used to open with an East Coast-West Coast tandem. I'm wondering if it will be deemed successful by ESPN/ABC and the NFL. I assume both games will have solid audiences because the matchups are compelling.

One thing I know for sure is that starting at 7:30 p.m. (CT) is tremendously better than seven years and five days ago when the Vikings opened at the 49ers at 9:20 p.m. (CT).

Starting the first at 5 p.m. (CT) would only be 3 p.m. on the West Coast would not be optimal for those audiences.

Starting the second game later would further shorten the turnaround time the Vikings and Eagles will already be lacking as they head into Week 3.

If the Titans-Bills game is less compelling than many think it will be, then viewers have another option. If it goes down to the wire, the "back/previous" buttons on remotes might be in for some extra snaps. If it's too good to turn away from, then the Vikings-Eagles audience may get a big boost in progress.

A great start to a season that should have NO ceiling! Combining the Jimmys and the Joes with innovating Xs and Os, add in the solid foundation being built from the front office, ownership and coaches: 2022 Minnesota Vikings, I like this team!

Am I overconfident to expect this success to be just the first step in a decade or more for the Vikes?


— Larry Lujan in Henderson, Nevada

A great first half showing, great first drive, but [I have] concerns with the second-half offense. Nightmares of a [Mike] Zimmer team — a small lead and going into a shell. Conservative lack of attacking offense. Great win, but I want to see more aggressive offense; put up 30 points, 40 points or more. That's what championship teams do. They don't settle for 23 points.

— Brian Lupacchino

The dust has settled, and now the team moves on for tonight's game. This season opener was just what Viking fans needed. I'd like to throw out appreciation to a couple other players: Greg Joseph and C.J. Ham. Greg did what he does and made it look easy. C.J., well, I've always liked him. For his position as fullback, I do believe that in the big game plan that he should be used a little more often. Maybe for deception as receiver or lead blocker for the running back. In any case, I wouldn't like to see a 250-pound FB running straight at me. C.J., you're the Vikings Tonka Truck, and I mean that in a nice way."

— Jerry in Ohio

What do you think the Vikings need to improve on both offensively and defensively for tonight's showdown in Philly?

— Devin Rust in Kansas

I'm combining these questions because the first two are similarly related, the third directs credit to Greg Joseph and C.J. Ham, and the fourth offers a chance to look ahead.

Minnesota's offense started strongly against Green Bay, scoring on its first possession and adding 10 points in the final four minutes of the first half.

The defense also was ready to meet the moment, forcing two quick punts and making a goal-line stand before another three-and-out and an interception during its first-half shutout of the Packers.

Double-digit leads don't feel safe in the hearts and minds of Vikings fans trying to recover from last season, but it seemed like Minnesota's new coaching staff shifted emphasis to make sure it protected the lead.

To Larry's point, the victory was impressive for multiple reasons, and it's much better than the alternative, but the Vikings have to stack many more this season before thinking that far in advance, starting tonight in a tough place to play.

To Brian's point, it's awesome to see points light up a scoreboard, but it is important to win the game a team is in.

The first goal will always be to secure a victory, and Minnesota did 23-7 for its largest margin of victory in a game started by Aaron Rodgers.

The tactics for achieving the top goal could change over the course of the game. It's hard to say if Minnesota pulled any punches and opted to save a few things in the playbook for a future opponent or the Jan. 1, 2023, contest at Lambeau Field.

There's an adage that you throw to score and run to win. That came to fruition in Week 1.

As for Devin's question, we saw a bit of complementary football from the Vikings with Minnesota's defense getting the goal-line stop and the offense following with an 89-yard drive highlighted by Justin Jefferson's 64-yard catch-and-run to set up a short field goal by Joseph.

Finishing that drive with a touchdown would have been preferred.

The Vikings offense had another great opportunity early in the third quarter after Jordan Hicks sacked Rodgers and forced a fumble that Dalvin Tomlinson recovered at the Green Bay 33.

The ensuing possession lost 5 yards. It resulted in a field goal, but only because Joseph tied a franchise record and set a new personal best with a 56-yarder. Joseph made all three field goals and both extra points on the day.

Jerry isn't the only one who likes what he's seeing out of the kicker in his second year in the Vikings. Ham's role will be one we continue to keep an eye on. He will be key to Minnesota's special teams, and it was fun to see the Vikings work in a fullback screen. The Vikings coaches are likely to involve him in the chess matches they play with opponents.

View photos of Vikings players showing off their travel day fits as they head to Philadelphia for the Week 2 matchup against the Eagles.

The Vikings the past couple of years haven't always fared well in sudden-change-of-possession situations. That didn't bite Minnesota against Green Bay, but it is an area that can be improved.

Each opponent in the NFL presents different sets of challenges.

Philadelphia has a dual-threat QB in Jalen Hurts who rushed a whopping 17 times last week (Dalvin Cook rushed 20 times, for comparisons sake).

The Eagles totaled 216 rushing yards on 39 attempts for an average of 5.5 against the Lions.

The Packers averaged 6.2 yards per carry against the Vikings, but Green Bay rushed just 18 times for 111 yards.

There's two ways to nullify an opponent's ground attack: shutting it down with scheme and tackling on defense or building a multi-score lead that makes foes less likely to run.

Philadelphia's receiving corps has more established firepower than Green Bay's, so that will elevate the test on Minnesota's pass coverage as well.

View exclusive behind-the-scenes photos shot by Vikings team photographers Andy Kenutis, Alli Rusco and Kayla Plummer during the Vikings-Packers season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Loved the Vikings-Packers game. How many sacks will the Vikings have this year after [the Week 1 showing]? I think a lot!

— Jerry Labeau

The truest answer will honestly depend on the health of Za'Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter because of the elite skills each brings to Minnesota's defense. Having that combo means opponents can't devote the entirety of their resources to stopping one premier edge rusher.

Smith's ability to rush from multiple parts of the field (Hunter can, too) really opens up ways that Minnesota can attack.

The 4.0 sacks by the Vikings were impressive, but much of the success occurred because the secondary was providing long-lasting coverage.

Minnesota recorded 51 sacks in 2021, which tied the 1992 squad for second in team history. The 1989 team featuring Chris Doleman (21), Keith Millard (18), Al Noga (11.5) and Henry Thomas (9.0) totaled 72 sacks.

View photos of Kevin O'Connell from his first game as a head coach during the regular season with the team. The Vikings defeated the Packers 23-7 in this game during Week 1 of the 2022 season.

The 2022 Vikings could have a game like last Sunday every week and reach 68.

Mobile quarterbacks like Hurts can slow down a pass rush, which also usually isn't as effective in road games as it is in home games.

We'll have to see what the final numbers shake out to be, but the Vikings should be fairly happy with the way they sacked and pressured Rodgers.

Here is one I didn't see asked or answered in this week's on-line mailbag: What happened to Irv Smith, Jr., on Sunday? He wasn't listed as injured or questionable — but we really did not see him. (I think I may have seen him for one play early on but not after that). Is he still/again injured?


— Tom, a 55-year fan in Maine

There were some questions about Irv and other players/reactions to the game that came in Monday after we initially published last week's Mailbag. I wound up adding several to what initially was posted.

Smith and the Vikings Health and Performance staff are to be commended for the tight end being available by Week 1. That was an initial target date announced by Head Coach Kevin O'Connell shortly after surgery.

Smith wound up playing 19 snaps on offense and was targeted two times but did not record a catch.

Although he didn't personally appear in the box score, he did help affect the game. If you haven't seen the Film Session with O'Connell and Pete Bercich yet, have a look at it.

O'Connell points out the roles that K.J. Osborn, Adam Thielen and Smith played in getting Jefferson so open on his 36-yard touchdown. Smith chipped on the play and then occupied the attention of rookie linebacker Quay Walker.

Jefferson continuing to be open throughout the game allowed Kirk Cousins to focus most of his targets there. Other teams might do a better job of containing Jefferson, which will create enhanced opportunities for other Vikings.

Will Kevin O'Connell open up the offense more and give Thielen, Osborn, Mundt, Irv Smith and Ben Ellefson opportunities? Also, what's the plan for Kene Nwangwu and Jalen Reagor? Are they going to get used offensively at some point?

— Nick in Otsego, Minnesota

I think the offense was pretty open — just like Jefferson — in the first half. Minnesota racked up 262 yards of offense, including 208 through the air (158 to Jefferson) in building a 17-0 lead.

If the Packers had been able to take Jefferson away, then Cousins likely would have worked the ball elsewhere.

Only one person can get the ball on any play, but all 11 players can have a role in the outcome. O'Connell frequently emphasizes this aspect of teamwork.

Nwangwu played six snaps on special teams and returned his lone kickoff fielded 25 yards.

Reagor played four snaps on special teams and returned one punt 7 yards after fighting through contact.

They are positioned to help the team with their unique skill sets as returners, but I also won't be surprised if/when they work into the offense.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 14, 2023.

How would you grade the overall performance of the Vikings rookies vs the Packers?

— Josiah Jochims

What rookies will play 10 or more snaps per game by midseason?

— Craig Rotz in Boston (originally Crystal, Minnesota)

After leaning heavily on rookies during the preseason, Minnesota did not turn toward many against Green Bay.

First-round pick Lewis Cine was inactive, having been ruled out because of a knee injury that has since improved. Cine is expecting to make his regular-season debut tonight, possibly only on special teams unless the Vikings have a package defense with him joining Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum.

Andrew Booth, Jr., suffered a quadriceps injury that limited his first regular-season action to two snaps on special teams. Booth has been ruled out for tonight, but the Vikings traveled the cornerback to Philadelphia to continue developing him off the field.

Ed Ingram became just the second rookie in team history to start a Week 1 game at one of the two guard spots. Ingram played all 62 offensive snaps.

Linebacker Brian Asamoah II played exclusively on special teams (17 snaps). Cornerback Akayleb Evans played 10 snaps on the third phase and added six snaps on defense. Rodgers is the type to try to make a rookie famous for the wrong reasons, but it didn't happen to Evans. Receiver Jalen Nailor played 13 snaps on special teams but none on offense.

Defensive lineman Esezi Otomewo, running back Ty Chandler, tackle Vederian Lowe and outside linebacker Luiji Vilain all were inactive.

This isn't the worst thing to have that many rookies inactive in Week 1. The Health and Performance staff, O'Connell's approach to training camp and the good fortune to not have a major injury during the preseason gave Minnesota its full array of veteran players.

I'll leave the grading of individuals up to the coaching and personnel departments, but I think Ingram's showing had some nice elements and maybe a couple of teachable moments that should be expected.

Ingram is definitely the early frontrunner to play the most on his individual side of the ball of any rookie.

That doesn't mean that his classmates can't contribute significantly, even if their primary playing time is on special teams.