Thank you for submitting questions for this week's Vikings mailbag. You can always send questions to @Andrew_Krammer on Twitter or email@example.com. Listen for answers on the weekly Access Vikings podcast or find them here on Friday mornings. Let's get to it.
Q: What record should we need to have at the end of these next four games to still be in the race for a playoff spot? — @justiceforzubin
AK: If they're being realistic, the Vikings' brain trust should want to see this team at least continue its middling ways through what appears to be the toughest stretch of the schedule — vs. Cowboys, at Ravens, at Chargers, and vs. Packers. So, 2-2. That means you could ride through a 1-2 record in another tough stretch — at Bears, vs. Rams, at Packers — at the end of the season and still be in playoff contention. Going 1-3 or 0-4 in these next four games would be a really tough hole to crawl out of, especially considering this team has been relatively healthy so far and that's not a guarantee to stay that way. You should especially care about the NFC games against Dallas and Green Bay. Those will matter more when the wins are counted up.
Q: Are the Vikings closer to 1-5 or 5-1? Who are they? — @chickenfingerz69
AK: They certainly seem better than a 3-3 team. They're more talented than a 3-3 team, which is an indictment on both coaching and how players have performed so far. But they also haven't played the toughest schedule yet, with middling quarterback opposition from Baker Mayfield, Jared Goff, and Sam Darnold in the last three outings. That's about to change quickly after the bye week, when we'll find out if they are just a .500 team. Two new factors — Dalvin Cook's return to health and Christian Darrisaw's debut — are big boosts for the offense that came to life in Carolina.
Q: Can Everson Griffen keep producing at this level over the whole season? — Jace
AK: That's a really good question, and one coordinator Andre Patterson keeps saying is on his mind. But Griffen keeps playing more and more. He saw a season-high 85% playing time against the Panthers, with D.J. Wonnum down to 49%. It's hard to keep Griffen off the field when he's turning back time with his ridiculously good play. And the Vikings need it, since Wonnum hasn't made much of an impact in his second year. But there are 11 more games for the 33-year-old Griffen to get through, and they're rolling the dice on his current workload.
Q: What are our best options at cornerback? — @payneaj
AK: The Vikings are moving forward with Cameron Dantzler replacing Patrick Peterson, who will be out until at least the Nov. 21 game vs. Green Bay due to a hamstring injury suffered in the fourth quarter in Carolina. Dantzler has once again overtaken Kris Boyd on the depth chart, but Boyd and Harrison Hand would be the next players up should anything happen to Dantzler, Bashaud Breeland or Mackensie Alexander. Those three have tall tasks ahead of them in Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson, and Justin Herbert.
Q: Who's the most underrated player through the first six games? Or overrated? — Danny
AK: Safety Xavier Woods has played pretty well and it's gone mostly unnoticed. He's been an aggressive defender near the line of scrimmage and solid in coverage, leading the team with four pass deflections. Linebacker Nick Vigil has also played very well, especially while starting for Anthony Barr at the beginning of the season. There were legitimate questions about the team's linebacker depth, but Vigil's emergence has answered some of them. Nose tackle Michael Pierce's impact has also been missed since he the elbow injury knocked him out of the Oct. 3 loss to Cleveland. As far as overrated, and this isn't to discredit his talent, but tight end Tyler Conklin hasn't been used in a way some thought when he stepped into Irv Smith Jr.'s starting role. Receiver K.J. Osborn has taken the lion's share of targets as the third receiving option. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson also hasn't made much of an impact through six games off the bench.
Q: Is the Kirk Cousins we're seeing a result of an improved offensive line or because he's improved as a quarterback? — @thiscrapsucks35
AK: Both. I'm sure Cousins would say he's always improving even this late into his career, but you're seeing him get the ball out quicker than he ever has in Minnesota. That's a credit to the offensive game planning, but also Cousins' processing behind the line. Only two quarterbacks — Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady — are throwing quicker than Cousins through six weeks. He's averaging 2.42 seconds before throwing, according to Pro Football Focus, and it was even quicker in Carolina — 2.34 seconds. They've brought the sack numbers down tremendously with just nine in six games. They allowed 39 sacks last year. The interior offensive line has had some bad moments this year, but they've been less frequent with Oli Udoh at right guard.
Q: When can we expect to see Kene Nwangwu? — @taybaybay_55
AK: The next game. Nwangwu, the speedy fourth-round pick out of Iowa State, was activated from injured reserve this week. He was shelved for two months after hyperextending his knee in an Aug. 21 exhibition against Indianapolis. Now he's expected to replace Ameer Abdullah on kickoff returns, as Abdullah was released to make room for Nwangwu on the active roster. That'll give the Vikings a little more from their 2021 draft class, which has seen just five of 11 picks suit up for a game this year. Only one draft pick, Darrisaw, is a regular contributor on offense or defense.