Every Friday morning, we’ll answer Twitter and email questions submitted for these mailbags and our twice-a-week Access Vikings podcasts. Check out or latest podcast previewing Sunday’s game in Chicago.
Q: Shouldn’t the Vikings slide protection to where Khalil Mack is lined up and take him out of the game? He is their best player. — @vikingmaniac
AK: Take a look at last year’s season finale against the Bears, when coordinator Kevin Stefanski called his third game, Khalil Mack was shut out of the stat sheet (not even a tackle) and they lost 24-10. The problem is the Bears defense, especially when DT Akiem Hicks is healthy, can overpower the offensive line from multiple directions.
The Vikings offense started that game with four three-and-outs. During that stretch, Mack had two pressures on Cousins while his teammates — Eddie Goldman (sack), Hicks (sack), Leonard Floyd (tackle for a loss) — made impact plays. They schemed Mack by running away from him and chipping him with a tight end in pass protection, but the Vikings offense was no match in other areas.
The Vikings’ interior line needs to play better than it did last season against the Bears. Mike Zimmer said as much Wednesday when addressing how critical timing will be to the Vikings’ quick passing game at Soldier Field. “It’ll be important to keep the middle of the pocket clean,” Zimmer said, “so we don’t get balls batted down.”
In short, the Vikings need to scheme around Mack again, but the game can also be won or lost with other matchups up front.
Q: How much should we expect from Treadwell and Sherels on Sunday? Their previous time with the team should make this an easy plug and play, right? — @Trimp3
AK: Yes, expect punt returner Marcus Sherels and receiver Laquon Treadwell to be active and contributing on Sunday. Sherels can step in immediately to return punts, which is quite the assurance after Chad Beebe muffed a couple punts this season. Sherels said it’s “like I never left.” How much Treadwell contributes, on offense or special teams, remains to be seen. Rookie receiver Olabisi Johnson earned a roster spot over Treadwell and could step in as the No. 3 receiver if needed.
Q: Can the Vikings tight ends keep the Bears linebackers from blitzing and help open things up for Cook? — @MikeDigitalink
AK: Deploying some max protection to uncork deep play-action passes seems like a sound strategy, no? When asked about that this week, Zimmer said the Vikings have to be wary of how and when max protection is deployed against the Bears because pitting a tight end against Mack “is not a good matchup.” Mack rushes from both tackles, but more often on the left side (60%) where Riley Reiff will protect, according to Pro Football Focus. Both Reiff and right tackle Brian O’Neill are in for a long afternoon.
Where tight ends will play a critical role is run blocking, especially doubling Mack or Floyd on the edges. Chicago’s defense is allowing just over a 1/2 yard per run to the outside on 11 such attempts this season. The Bears also have one of the league’s most athletic linebacker duos in Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan.
Q: Aside from the obvious reason for this (running game firing on all cylinders), is Cousins not seeing Stefon Diggs when he’s open down field (this has seemed to happen a few times)? — Danny Carlson
AK: Six catches in three games marks the quietest stretch of receiver Stefon Diggs’ NFL career so far. As you mentioned, game flow (21-0 leads in two of three games) has dictated the Vikings’ low-volume passing attack so far. It’s no secret they want to run the ball, but the current 56% run rate is unsustainable. With that said, Diggs’ production should increase in time. It’s dipped so far, in part, because of the bad 1-for-7 game at Green Bay, where Diggs had two drops and a touchdown negated by penalty. Yes, Cousins has also missed Diggs down the field as we broke down in this film review.