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, and listen for answers on the weekly Access Vikings podcast or find them here on Friday mornings. Let’s get to it.
Q: The Vikings wanted to see what they have in their young defenders. Which guys are building a strong case to be in their long term plans? — @AlHonzay
AK: Cornerback Cameron Dantzler, the third-round rookie, was positioned best after earning the coaching staff’s trust through training camp. But injuries have undercut his start so far as he remains in the concussion protocol. He’s expected to be a starter moving forward, along with first-round rookie Jeff Gladney. Fourth-round rookie D.J. Wonnum had a very productive game Monday night in Chicago. The defensive end is making a lot of extra-effort plays from his game-sealing hit on Aaron Rodgers in Week 8 to his five pressures on Nick Foles this week. He’s not winning right now as a refined pass rusher, but by chasing down and diving for plays. Typically that kind of effort can translate into further development. Fourth-year linebacker Eric Wilson isn’t a newcomer, but he’s headed for unrestricted free agency. He’s made a strong case for an extension this spring while starting for Anthony Barr.
Q: Which current NFC playoff team is most likely to fade in the second half of the season that could get the Vikings a playoff spot? — @Chris_Cordella
AK: We discussed this on the latest Access Vikings podcast, and Michael Rand picked the Cardinals (6-4) before Arizona lost to the Seahawks on Thursday night. If not for the Hail Mary to beat the Bills, the Cardinals would be on a three-game skid. Instead, they’re losers of two of the last three, and face the Patriots and Rams next. The Rams (6-3) are also 2-3 in games outside the lowly NFC East this season and, after beating the Seahawks, will face Seattle again, along with the Buccaneers, Cardinals (x2), Patriots, 49ers and Jets. Either of those two NFC West teams appear the likeliest to slip up based on what we’ve seen and the remaining schedule.
Q: Will we see more 3-receiver sets against Dallas? — @Kirks_Kicks
AK: As readers of our weekly film reviews know, Cousins averaged 12.2 yards per throw out of three-receiver sets against the Bears compared to just 5.5 yards per throw out of the Vikings’ bread-and-butter heavy personnel groupings with a fullback and/or tight ends. They thrived outside of their typical mold against the Bears, but coordinator Gary Kubiak and his staff have altered the approach weekly: calling many under-center, play-action shots vs. a porous Lions run defense, but not as many against stronger Bears and Seahawks fronts in games this season. So what about the Cowboys? I’d expect more of a return to second-down play action than the second-down shotgun throws we saw Monday night. The Cowboys have solid linebackers, but they’re allowing five yards per run (t-31st). There’s blood in the water for Dalvin Cook.
Q: Power rank the Vikings’ non-Hunter defensive ends. — @GBeckTV
AK: Defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo would’ve topped that list after the Yannick Ngakoue trade, and he probably still should, but he hasn’t been as productive in the past three games. Jalyn Holmes has been the starter in Ngakoue’s place, and has fared better against the run than he has as a pass rusher to this point. Run defense is typically a strength of Vikings defensive ends, which starts with the scheme and coaching, but they’re not making the splash plays of the past you’d see from hyper-talented players like Danielle Hunter to Everson Griffen. Wonnum leads the current D-line with just four tackles for a loss in his eight games. They’re leaning heavily on pressure packages to fluster quarterbacks, with coach Mike Zimmer recently calling effective blitz schemes on Matthew Stafford and Nick Foles. With that said, right now: Odenigbo, Holmes, Wonnum and Mata’afa overall, but on passing downs it’s Odenigbo, Wonnum, Mata’afa and Holmes, in that order.