Every Friday morning, we'll answer Twitter and email questions submitted for these mailbags and our twice-a-week Access Vikings podcasts. Check out our latest podcast discussing the start of the NFC playoff race and Sunday’s game against the Broncos.
Q: What happened to our secondary? — @ledzep33
AK: This issue seems to be part optics, part Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford and Tyreek Hill and, of course, some regression as the Vikings defense has already allowed more passing touchdowns (18) than either of the past two seasons (when they topped the NFL). But the reality is the NFL’s fifth-ranked scoring defense has been more frustrating because they’ve bent more (13th in yardage) than in recent seasons. Still, they do not often break. Despite some rough stretches against the Lions, Cowboys and Chiefs, they remain among the stingiest near the goal line ranking fifth in red-zone defense, according to Football Outsiders. They’ve just been particularly imbalanced when they do break. The Vikings have surrendered an NFL-low two rushing touchdowns, backed up by Sunday night’s performance against two-time rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott, meaning 18 of their 20 touchdowns allowed have been through the air.
Part of the issues, at least in Dallas as we discussed here, came as Prescott outgunned Mike Zimmer’s blitz calls; some were broken plays when rushers didn’t finish; some bad coverage. The Vikings don’t have much of an interior pass rush with a four-man group. Extra rushers were sent, and coverage sometimes suffered, to beat a solid offensive line. Cornerback Mike Hughes was targeted often and had growing pains. The season’s uneven play is best exemplified by Xavier Rhodes, who discussed the first half of his season here.
Q: Can you discuss the tiebreakers between Green Bay and Minnesota if we have the same record at the end of the year? — @lunkluekbronlaw
AK: The Vikings (7-3) need to finish 5-1 (with the loss being at Seattle) and hope the Packers (8-2) finish 4-2 or worse with losses at Minnesota and either against Chicago or Detroit. The Vikings would win the NFC North at a 12-4 tie in that case, because they only have one loss (@KC) among common opponents. The common opponent tiebreaker comes into play if the head-to-head and division records are the same. Should the Vikings lose to a remaining common opponent (vs. DEN, @LAC), they’d need the Packers to lose to either the Giants or Washington. The problem for Vikings fans is you can’t have the Packers finish 12-4 (with, let’s say, losses at San Francisco and Minnesota) and 5-1 in the division, because the NFC North is Green Bay’s barring the Vikings winning out. You need additional help from Chicago or Detroit if you’re going to lose at all.
Q: Who are your favorite players to interview? What is it about those players that makes it enjoyable? — @svartsven
AK: The annual Korey Stringer Good Guy Award is voted upon by local reporters for the player who is the most professional in interactions with media, so a good place to start would be naming the recent winners in Latavius Murray, Adam Thielen, Captain Munnerlyn and Brian Robison. They’re each stand-up professionals through wins or losses, regardless of their individual or team’s play. They understand our industry, its demands and can sense when someone is genuinely interested opposed to asking leading questions. In Week 11, for instance, those types of players make our jobs, and in turn their obligations, easier.
The guys in this Vikings locker room most enjoyable to interview are defensive line reserves Stephen Weatherly and Ifeadi Odenigbo, tackles Brian O’Neill and Rashod Hill, quarterback Kirk Cousins, fullback C.J. Ham, safety Anthony Harris, running back Dalvin Cook and linebacker Kentrell Brothers. All for varied reasons, but Weatherly, Harris and O’Neill because they’re intellectual about the game and respect you enough to trust you’ll understand what they’re saying, or explain if you don’t. Cousins is underrated because starting quarterbacks are rarely insightful, as he is often. Hill, Ham and Brothers come across as great people and want to talk about things outside of football. Odenigbo is a character. Linebacker Anthony Barr is low-key one of the best interviews, and I particularly like him in that setting because he’ll call people out on bad questions.
Q: Do quarterback coaches specifically advise their players on what their level of acceptable risk should be given the status and time left of the game, and if not, should they be for guys like Kirk? — @DogEddieCrane
AK: Yes, from the play calls to more detailed guidance throughout the game, that’s a typical process. Coordinator Kevin Stefanski was asked in August about Cousins taking chances downfield to two talented receivers, but for a head coach wanting his offense to minimize turnovers.
“It's part of our job as coaches to let them know when we're in the mode of taking a shot and when we're being smart,” Stefanski said Aug. 12. “Ultimately, that quarterback is the trigger man. We preach to him that he's got to be aggressive and smart at the same time. We'll do our best to let him know the opportunities that we're giving him to go ahead and press the launch button. But certainly, that's not going to be every play lofting it up there.”