Friday mailbag: Make or break for the Vikings
Are there fixes for the Week 1 and 2 problems? What happens if they win? What happens if they lose?
Sign up for Purple Insider for $7 per month or $64 per year to get credentialed access inside the Vikings, from in-depth analysis to behind-the-scenes features to the ever-popular Friday Mailbag. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings
By Matthew Coller
Hey everybody, happy Friday! We have seasons on the line for both teams in Week 3, what a time to be alive. Let’s dive into your questions…
David… What historical comps are there for RBs waived or traded for little that went on to have a solid career at their next stop? Fournette comes to mind.
The most recent instance that I can think of is Jay Ajayi. The Eagles acquired him at the trade deadline from Miami in 2017. With the Dolphins he was averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and then in seven games with Philly he had 408 yards on 70 carries (5.8 YPC). Last year Latavius Murrayy quietly gained 700 yards for the Broncos after being let go by New Orleans. Remember when CJ Anderson became a fan favorite in 2018 for the Rams when they went to the Super bowl? He started that year with the Panthers. So it happens sometimes that the guy who’s picked up ends up contributing. I wouldn’t count that out for Akers. It’s not like he’s washed, he’s only 24 years old.
Corey…. The Vikes have now added a guard and running back. It seems there remains a need for help in the middle of the D-line. It is inevitable that we see yet another addition to the team in the next several weeks and especially if the Charges put up big rushing numbers this Sunday?
It’s certainly possible that they could add to the defense as well. The problem is that there isn’t exactly a plethora of talent available on the D-line. Both the Risner and Akers situations were unusual. How often does a quality starting guard who’s 28 years old without a major injury end up as a remaining free agent in Week 3? How often does a relatively young RB who’s had success just get traded for nothing like this? I’m not sure if there is a defensive comparable. Does Akiem Hicks want to play? His numbers weren’t very good last year and he’s rarely been fully healthy. Linval Joseph graded as a replacement level run defender in limited snaps with Philly. Suh was a little better, not a difference maker though. They might have to just live with what they have on the interior DL. The edge rusher situation is a little different, there are more veterans who can contribute as rotational players and with Marcus Davenport still struggling to get healthy (he did not practice on Thursday) maybe they need to look for someone to help there.
Scott… The Vikings are not a bad team but are they a mediocre team - which might be worse?
Could be. Obviously it’s better to draft higher when you are rebuilding but if you are thinking of it through the lens of a future quarterback, I look at it like this: QBs don’t always have to be taken at the very top and the best ones aren’t always the first QB taken and there are often trade-up opportunities. The Panthers got up to the No. 1 pick after winning seven games last year. The Chiefs moved up to get Mahomes, Bears traded up to get Fields, Rams traded to get Goff etc. etc.
If we go through the good QBs in the league who were drafted fairly recently, six of 10 were taken outside of the top five.
Trevor Lawrence — 1st
Joe Burrow — 1st
Tua Tagovialoa — 5th
Justin Herbert — 6th
Jalen Hurts — 53rd
Kyle Murray — 1st
Josh Allen — 7th
Lamar Jackson — 32nd
Patrick Mahomes — 10th
DeShaun Watson (Texans version) — 12th
Of course you would much prefer that they pick No. 1 and get Caleb Williams but I don’t see them going 9-8 as being crushing to their QB future.
Mark…. I love Kirk and he has been worth the cost. He’s a very good almost great QB. Yet...we’ve got to trade him this year. Otherwise mediocre is our destiny.
Whether he’s been worth the cost is an interesting discussion because if you look at the way he’s played since signing in 2018 it was probably in the 98th percentile of outcomes. I think he has played significantly better than he did in Washington, yet they haven’t been able to put together any playoff success since he arrived. Certainly that’s the failure of the management working around his contract but his contract made things harder. I know that wasn’t your point but it’s something I think about when we evaluate the Kirk era.
Anyway, if they lose this week then the trade-Kirk discussion becomes reasonable. Going 0-3 is not impossible to overcome in a pretty unimpressive NFC North but with Kansas City and San Francisco on the schedule and more road games than home it’s really, really hard to see them in the postseason. But there’s a lot of moving parts. Someone has to want him and he has to want to go there. Do the Jets want to make that move? How much would they give up? What if Cousins doesn’t want to go there and he uses the no-trade clause? We’ll see if that becomes a thing or not. In two weeks they could be 2-2.
Thomas… Can you offer a pie chart of blame for the running game’s woes?
You betcha. I’ll go with 25% competition, 25% offensive line injuries, 25% poor blocks, 25% issues with Mattison trusting where to run.
Yes, I made the math easy on myself but I also believe that it’s a combination of all of those things. Last year Garrett Bradbury ranked ninth in run blocking among centers and he basically hasn’t played. Christian Darrisaw was third in run blocking grade and he has either been limited or missed time. That’s tough to overcome when you face two really good D-lines. But there have been chances for Mattison to find some space and he wasn’t able to find the right hole or cut. So they need to be healthier, play teams that do not have Greek gods as defensive linemen and for everything to be better. Other than that, no problems.
David…. My theory for why the Vikings have not been able to stop the run: The Vikings defense is built to play with a lead. I'm guessing they made the assumption that the offense would continue to be a top, high scoring squad, so the defense would more likely than not be defending against a team trying to pass. But when the offense turns the ball over and plays from behind, the opponent is more likely to run, which exposes a Vikings D that wasn't built to stop the run. Am I off base or is there something to this?
I think you are sharp in pointing to game situation impacting how the defense is forced to play. You always hear about being ahead and defenses “pinning their ears back” but there’s more to it than that. The defense can send whatever type of blitzes they want or they can play coverages to keep everything in front of them and they do not have to worry about the run game at all. But when you are playing defense from behind, the opposing offense gets to have their entire playbook open. They can run and use play-action passes off it and they never have to take risks with the ball etc.
To your point, if the Vikings had the Williams Wall like they did in ‘09 and ranked No. 2 in rushing yards against, they could halt a team that was trying to drain the clock. This Vikings team cannot do that. They can use blitzes from the linebackers and safeties and mix coverages and get Danielle Hunter advantageous matchups if they are playing from ahead and cause havoc.
The problem is in situations where it could go either way late in the game, are they going to have drives go against them like vs. Tampa Bay in the fourth quarter or the 16-play drive vs. Philly where opponents just wear them down because they can’t stuff a run or get pressure without blitzing?
Jeff… In the offseason, Kevin O’Connell indicated he wanted to run the ball more efficiently, and the Vikings signed Oliver (a very good blocking TE). Did some of us incorrectly think the Vikings would run the ball more or are they running the ball so little, because the running game just isn’t working?
With O’Connell, he isn’t going to stick with the run if it isn’t working. He said that on Wednesday. Plus, down 27-7 it’s basically impossible to run. I don’t think it’s been any more complicated than that. If the run game is either working against the Chargers or they get ahead of them on Sunday, you will see him pushing the “run” button much more often. That said, they were never going to be a run-first team. When they were talking about the most important part of running being that it sets up second-and-medium to run play-action that pretty clearly tells you it’s all about the passing game for O’Connell. Not that I’m against that at all, they just need a much better counterpunch if the pass game isn’t humming.
OldDrummer55… Has our RB situation improved?
Well, it couldn’t get worse. Ty Chandler has four carries for zero yards. If Akers gives them more than zero yards, it will be better. In seriousness, the range of outcomes is anything from Stevan Ridley’s Vikings career, which lasted only a few days, to Latavius Murray’s Vikings career, which was a very solid 1B type of back. You can’t dismiss that one of the best coaches in football just sent this dude packing but his stats from 2020 and 2022 are decent. We know he can effectively play in the NFL when he’s at his best and that’s about it.
Jake…. On natural grass... I would love to see it and we know the Wilfs would be innovative on a state-of-the-art solution but how would that work for a domed team, in the middle of downtown with a grass growing season over by the second month of the season? In addition to that, when Pittsburgh and Chicago have awful turf as is, the NFLPA will have problems there as well.
I’m intrigued by the subject because the players appear to be convinced that the turf is causing lots more injuries and the league seems to be arguing that isn’t the case. Anecdotally, I haven’t heard any Vikings complaints about the home turf. I’m not sure if they have a different type of surface than other teams or what. It has to be possible to grow grass in Minnesota. So if the NFL ever agrees with the players, they’ll have to figure it out. I have to admit, I’m not particularly knowledgeable on this grassy subject.
Kyle… Will the rotations on defense be a feature of Flores' defense throughout the season or will they stick to starters more as the season progresses?
It’s a staple of Flores to use a lot of different players. When he was with the Dolphins in 2021 there were 16 players who played in at least 14 games and had over 350 snaps. It has been a bit of a mind bender for me watching since Mike Zimmer never changed personnel outside of base or nickel starters. I have conflicted feelings about this. On one hand I like the idea of using everyone to their skill set and maximizing what they do well. If you put the puzzle together it can result in a super dynamic and flexible defense that’s hard to predict for opponents. On the other hand, if you had Lawrence Taylor, Darrelle Revis and Ed Reed they would never come off the field. For the purposes of this year, it’s good to give a lot of players opportunities to show whether they can make an impact or not.
Lorne…. The acquisition of Akers and Risner just doesn't make sense to me. Why are we the last to figure out that another .500 season just costs us the chance of a top 10 draft pick? We are not built to win, sitting at 0-2, having no defense or depth, and not a good team.
That’s fair from a theoretical standpoint. From a practical standpoint it’s pretty hard to tell the coaching staff that’s looking for answers that you are going to ignore obvious upgrades because you’d rather be terrible and pick Drake Maye. At least at 0-2. At 2-5, maybe that discussion is different.
I’m assuming Kwesi and KOC are going to work together for a while and it would probably cause some friction if the front office went out of its way to try to sink the ship right now. The other thing is, if they were going for a full rebuild and Marcus Mariota was playing quarterback because they traded Kirk to Atlanta, then it would be a little puzzling. But as long as they have Kirk leading a very effective passing game that has a chance to drive them to the playoffs the expectation is to win games and be a good team. This wasn’t supposed to be a throwaway season.
I went over the thing about not worrying too much about the draft status at the moment…I would also add that Dalton Risner and Cam Akers are both fairly young and have a chance to stick around if they fit. If they are multi-year players, they are really good finds. And if this team is truly bad, they aren’t likely to swing those powerful tides.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Purple Insider to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.