Every Thursday morning, we’ll answer your questions via email or Twitter submitted for our Access Vikings podcast and post-game Overtime videos using the hashtag #AVOT on Twitter.
From @christardiff: How fast can we upgrade the offensive line in the next couple drafts or free agency?
AK: The Vikings need fixes right now, when their Super Bowl window appears open, not down the road. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he wants to see a more balanced approach with better commitment to the run game moving forward, and they’re working on adjusting protection schemes to help the current lineup they’ve got. While personnel changes don’t appear imminent, the biggest thing they can do is get a run game going that has so far produced an NFL-low 10 rushing first downs. The defense can help, too, by not giving up early deficits as they’ve done in recent losses to the Bills and Rams. The long-term vision is for Brian O’Neill to take over at right tackle, but they could be looking for two new guards next offseason with Mike Remmers’ cap hit increasing and guaranteed money dried up.
From @matthewkrier: Zimmer called it a breakdown, but multiple times LB Anthony Barr got matched up on a wide receiver in coverage and got burned for touchdowns. Is this a failure to recognize personnel packages in the huddle or is the scheme bad?
AK: The Vikings avoided their base defense against the Rams. One of the two times they ran it, the Rams motioned out of a two-back set into an empty backfield – forcing Barr onto receiver Robert Woods on the outside. That play resulted in a 31-yard touchdown pass over Barr. Credit the Rams for forcing that matchup. An underlying issue was the Vikings’ lack of safety help on those big plays, including the 70-yard touchdown to Cooper Kupp where Andrew Sendejo was far removed from the play leaning to the opposite side even though he was assigned the single-high deep coverage. Here’s George Iloka on the issues: “Just the little things here or there…whether it’s your eyes are off on a play because you’re worried about this, or you’re making a check here for a play you might not get [but] that you might see.” Sounds like some educated gambles didn’t pay off for the Vikings’ deep defenders.
From @4theloveofjoe: Since the Eagles loss in the playoffs, it looks like the road map to beat our defense is out there. What adjustments can Zimmer make to stop/fix this? Does Zimmer think it is a scheme or players issue?
AK: The Rams game was a defensive abomination from Zimmer’s defense. But let’s take stock of what teams have actually done against them since the NFC title game loss. In the three games between the two debacles – vs. the 49ers, Packers and Bills – offenses scored just four touchdowns on 31 drives that started in their own territory. This excludes the 13 points the Bills put up on short fields vs. the Vikings. There’s no “road map” that’s beating them, just talented and well-coached offenses that have been hyper aggressive on early downs. To fix this, Zimmer needs to find a way to produce a pass rush without Everson Griffen and the linebackers and defensive backs need to cover better.
From @IowaVikesFan: For how bad the DBs have looked, do you think we finally see George Iloka get more playing time on defense?
AK: This is a puzzle that even stumped Iloka, who assessed his role after that question with a few seconds of silence then saying, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t try to give it too much thought. My job is just to prepare every day. Their job is to manage the team and whatnot. I’m just trying to be the locker room guy.” It’s fair to wonder how long the Vikings will use safety Jayron Kearse, who again appeared as the third safety late in the Rams game, over Iloka as an additional defensive back. Zimmer has been clear, saying recently Iloka will have to ‘wait his turn.’ No matter how they do it, the Vikings secondary needs to play better than they did against the Rams.