From @damp_toaster: What’s one good thing that has surprised you about the Vikings this season?
AK: Rookie tackle Brian O’Neill’s ascension. The second-round pick was at risk of losing the swing tackle job (No. 3 on the depth chart) to Aviante Collins while O’Neill struggled during joint practices and a preseason game against the Jaguars. He’s since started nine games at right tackle, taking the job from Rashod Hill while not surrendering a sack, according to Pro Football Focus. Now that doesn’t mean O’Neill hasn’t struggled. He’s got room to grow (literally by adding muscle), but he’s impressed coaches with his strides improving technique during just his fourth year playing offensive line. He looks like a solid foundational piece for the future, which is the goal when drafting in the second round.
From @AlHonzay: Looking a little ahead, but has Anthony Barr’s play this season drove his value out of the Vikings price range come contract negotiation time? Can our D be as dynamic without him going forward?
AK: Here’s Barr when I asked him Wednesday about his future in Minnesota: “I really don’t know. I have no answer for that. I like it here, but a lot of things have to happen for that to come together. Been saying I’m not totally concerned about it. I know that’s approaching, but it’ll take care of itself.” Barr, now a four-time Pro Bowler, could be eyeing the top of the 4-3 linebacker market set in 2017 by linebacker Jamie Collins Sr., who inked a four-year, $50 million contract effectively guaranteeing him two years and $26.4 million. The Vikings already took an expensive one-year flier on Barr by paying his fifth-year option north of $12 million this season, so does a projected $15 million franchise tag make sense if the sides can’t come together this spring? Signs point to no. Even five years after drafting him ninth overall, the Vikings’ brain trust feels Barr is superbly talented with even more potential to unlock evident by a lowly 13.5 sacks in five seasons. At what cost? And what would they miss by saying bye? During the three-game stretch without Barr this season, linebacker Eric Wilson started and they surrendered an average of 262 yards and 16.3 points per game defensively against the Saints, Lions and Bears.
From @donraul007: You think the Vikings would like a Dallas and NO as playoff opponents, so they can play (and kick) in domes?
AK: A trip to Los Angeles looks pretty good right now, no? Rams quarterback Jared Goff has fallen off his MVP pace at a dramatic rate. He’s thrown just one touchdown to six interceptions in the past three weeks, during which the Rams are 1-2 and in risk of losing a first-round bye. Even with the Saints’ recent loss to the Cowboys, I think New Orleans is a trip the Vikings shouldn’t want any part of in January. And at this rate, if the Vikings end up the NFC’s No. 6 seed, they’re guaranteed a trip to likely No. 1 New Orleans if they win in the wild-card round. So I think the ideal Vikings scenario is overtake the Seahawks for the No. 5 seed (Seattle vs. Kansas City on Sunday), hope the Rams hold onto the No. 2 seed, hope the eventual No. 6 seed beats No. 3, and travel to Los Angeles after a first-round win.
From @IowaVikesfan: How much do you attribute the increase in offense to the new offensive coordinator compared to how bad the Dolphins were?
AK: I attribute a lot of last Sunday’s success to how poorly the Dolphins play defense. Miami had the NFL’s 27th-ranked run defense before the Vikings ran for 220 yards against them. After reviewing the game, I counted 70 percent of non-QB rushing yards (149 of 213) coming before contact. Some of that, like Cook’s 26-yard run in the first quarter, was set up by excellent cuts and elusiveness. But much of the yardage came from the Vikings offensive line and tight ends moving bodies off the line of scrimmage, which we haven’t seen much this season outside of that game. Now here’s where the chess match gets interesting: Cook often popped off long runs versus deep Dolphins safeties, who were backed off to guard against Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Do future opponents respect the run more, freeing up the receivers? Or will Cook continue to have room against a retreating opposing secondary?