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 previewing Sunday’s game against the Lions. You can subscribe on Apple and Google Play.
Q: How confident are you that the recent good play by the Vikings O line will continue? Or should we embrace for an emotional rollercoaster? — @MikeDigitalink
AK: Here’s an odd stat: in a small sample size, the Lions defense has been particularly good against the pass at Ford Field. They’ve forced 10 sacks — nine in two home games, which were against Patrick Mahomes and Philip Rivers. They’ve allowed six passing touchdowns — none at home. Will Kirk Cousins and his offensive line bust those trends on Sunday?
The line has played well in spurts, the most consistent by far being right tackle Brian O’Neill, whose improvement in run blocking should not be overlooked. Left tackle Riley Reiff is expected to start on Sunday in Detroit, but his effectiveness could depend on the health of his ankle. Reiff tried to return against the Eagles, but it did not go well. He’s been limited in two practices this week, and replacement Rashod Hill fared better against the Eagles.
Perhaps best friend to both will be running back Dalvin Cook against a Lions defense allowing 5.1 yards per carry. The offense looked great airing it out against a banged-up secondary playing ambitious coverages (and busting them), but they’ll more than likely need Cook to be a difference maker again in Detroit. Run blocking has been the better scenario so far for this offensive line and rookie center Garrett Bradbury, whose 13 pressures allowed leads the Vikings, according to Pro Football Focus.
Q: With the flexible scheming used vs. Eagles, do you think they’ve learned their lesson, or was the inflexibility used in Chicago them actually thinking they could win the same way every week? — @donraul007
AK: The Vikings’ flexibility was gone in Chicago because they all but abandoned play-action passing (just 5 of 36 attempts) — a bread and butter concept for this system. You’ve seen deep play-action shots in the past two weeks, which has opened up the pass. It’s seemingly revitalized the play caller’s confidence in Cousins, who has responded to downfield play calls with big throws.
The question is: When the Vikings can’t successfully get the edges on defenses whether by running outside or play-action bootlegs in the passing game, what can they do well?
Q: What’s up with Hercules Mata’afa? He was getting a lot of snaps early in the season but now I don’t see him on the field much. — @svartsven
AK: This is essentially Mata’afa’s rookie season, and he’s been inactive for two of the past three games. The Vikings wanted bigger players active at defensive tackle, choosing to use defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo as an interior pass rusher instead of Mata’afa. He’s still got plenty of upside as a hyper-quick defensive tackle, but his lack of size is still a detriment early in his NFL career. The Vikings’ third-down defense is faring well, allowing just 35 percent conversion (11th) with a pass-rushing lineup that mixes Odenigbo, Stephen Weatherly and Everson Griffen as interior threats.
Q: Did the Vikings make the right move by [letting] Sheldon Richardson [leave in free agency]? Defense doesn’t seem to have lost a step with Shamar in there, and it seems like they were able to save money as well. — @JoelDubiel
AK: The Vikings turned around and spent whatever savings they had on linebacker Anthony Barr, new deals for receiver Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph while giving Shamar Stephen a three-year deal with $6 million guaranteed to replace Richardson. They would’ve kept him, and it’s my understanding he wanted to stay, but he commanded too much at $15 million guaranteed on his three-year deal in Cleveland. Stephen has nearly as many run stops (8) as nose tackle Linval Joseph (9), even if he has more inconsistency than his counterpart. It was a smart move because of how Mike Zimmer adjusted his defense upon keeping Barr over Richardson. They’re running a “diamond” front, which puts Barr and Danielle Hunter as stand-up edge rushers with three interior lineman like a 3-4 front. It’s worked to create pressure and help stall play-action bootlegs. And the Vikings’ blitz schemes are as effective as ever for the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense. But perhaps the coaching staff could’ve pivoted to an equally-effective direction with Richardson instead.