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Monday Morning Mailbag: Assessing Vikings at Midway Point & Kendricks' Stellar Play

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Everything seemed to go the way of the Vikings again this week. Impressive performance from Dalvin Cook and the O-line. Kudos to Ezra Cleveland...he looked very comfortable and blocked very well for Kirk Cousins and Cook. Should we be giving others on the bench or practice squad a shot? Skol.

— Nicholas Balkou

The Vikings reached the halfway point of their season Sunday with a two-touchdown win over the Lions, as Minnesota is now 3-5 eight games into the 2020 schedule.

Of course, Minnesota won two straight games — over NFC North foes Green Bay and Detroit, no less — to help ease the sting of a poor start and get the Vikings at least in position to make a possible run at the playoffs over the second half of the season.

But the thing that stands out to me isn't that the Vikings have recorded back-to-back wins, but how they've done it: by relying on Dalvin Cook and the run game, getting an early lead and making enough plays on defense.

This tweet below is Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's postgame speech from Sunday's win. In it, he talks about how the team has seemingly found the formula for success, which is built around Cook and timely takeaways on defense.

There's no doubt to me that Cook has established himself as the NFL's best running back right now. He can do it all, as evident by his 56 touches for 478 yards (8.54 yards per touch) with six touchdowns over the past two weeks.

Credit the offensive line — Cook certainly has the past few games — for their strong play of late.

But this is exactly how Zimmer wants to win games, and how he has always wanted to do so: pound the rock, be the more physical team, force the opposing quarterback into mistakes and get wins while holding the opposition to around 20 points or less.

We'll see what Pat Elflein's status is this week, as it's his final week to be activated from Injured Reserve, or else he'll miss the rest of the season. But Cleveland has looked really good at right guard, and has shown signs of being a key part of the Vikings offensive line for years to come, even if it's not at the position he was projected to play coming out of Boise State.

As far as young players, I'm not sure who else deserves a chance for extended playing time that isn't already seeing the field. That's especially the case on defense (more on that below).

But as the Vikings look ahead to a Week 10 road game against the Bears on Monday Night Football, they will try to rely on the same formula that has earned them wins in the past two weeks.

If they do end up making a ferocious run at the playoffs, it will likely be on the back on Cook, who should be considered among the league's best players right now.

There is a Viking that deserves more good coverage than he gets from reporters. Eric Kendricks is a tremendous football player, period.

— Gary Gimble

You won't get any argument from me, Gary, and I'm sure a lot of others associated with the Vikings will gladly shout from the rooftops about how much Kendricks means to this team.

Here is what Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer, who is also Kendricks' position coach, said about him last week:

"He's been tremendous. I think he's playing even better than he did last year. He might not have the same PBU statistics that he had last year, he just got a few more opportunities. They don't throw his way very often because he's great in coverage. I think he's playing as good as he ever has and probably better than he ever has. He's up there leading the league in tackles. It really seemed like he made every tackle in the first half [against Green Bay] just because he anticipated so many plays and he was able to flow. The defensive line did a great job keeping guys off of him. I think he's playing the best 'Mike' linebacker in the NFL right now, to be honest."

That was evident again Sunday, as the sixth-year linebacker was all over the field against the Lions. And he had one of the biggest game-clinching plays when he picked off Matthew Stafford in the end zone in the third quarter.

I'd also argue that Kendricks has gotten a good amount of publicity for his play this season. I especially liked this piece here by ESPN's Courtney Cronin.

And I also believe it's worth mentioning that while Kendricks is playing his best football on the field, he's also doing his part to make as much of a difference off of it as he can.

Kendricks is a key voice on the team's Social Justice Committee, and has spoken up and spoken out in recent months on social justice issues.

As Kirk Cousins said earlier this year of Kendricks, he is walking the walk while also talking the talk … both on and off the field.

It seems to me that the Vikings are starting to hit their stride. Do you think it hurt this team with so many young players to not have a preseason? It seems to me that it would have given them time to work out the mistakes and figure what their roles were. Younger players always need more practice to get their feel for Zimmer's system?

— Byron Voigt

We'll end with this one from Byron, who brings up a valid question about the lack of preseason games.

To start, let's take a look at the Vikings starting lineup on defense from Sunday's game. I mentioned this in my postgame story on the defense, but you could argue that Kendricks, Eric Wilson, Shamar Stephen, Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris are the only starters that remain from what the Vikings envisioned back in training camp.

That group seems to be rounding into form and certainly looks better than they did in the first few weeks of the season.

Did the lack of preseason games hurt the young players? Of course. But since no team had a preseason, I hesitate to use that as a reason why the unit struggled so much early in the season.

However, I will say that these encouraging signs seem to be a good sign for the future for youngsters such as Jeff Gladney, D.J. Wonnum and Troy Dye. As I mentioned above, we'll see if the team can make a surprising playoff run over the final eight games.

But if we continue to see the defense trend in the right direction, that should give the Vikings plenty of optimism for the future.