In this week's edition of the Vikings mailbag, topics include Mike Zimmer's late-game decision-making against Green Bay, the inconsistent play of Minnesota offensive tackle Matt Kalil and much, much more.
The Minnesota Vikings were disappointed with last week’s 24-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers. The fans seem to appreciate slowing Green Bay’s offense and coming close in the rivalry game.
There was far less vitriol than following the previous week’s loss at Chicago. When it comes to asking for players or coaches to lose their jobs, there was only one target this week — left tackle Matt Kalil.
Here’s what’s on your mind this week:
Question: Why didn’t the Viking’s take the advantage of short field at the end of the game and try an onside kick? — Mike, Minnesota
Answer: Of the coaching decisions on Sunday, this was the one that caught the most attention. Green Bay was penalized for roughing the passer on Minnesota’s two-point attempt, allowing the Vikings to kick off from the 50-yard line. Instead of trying an onside kick, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer decided to kick away, which ended in a touchback.
Zimmer’s thinking was Green Bay would try to run the ball to drain the clock, which was true. Zimmer believed his defense would be able to stop the Packers and the offense would get another shot. Instead, Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy ran for 27 yards and two first downs to finish the game.
Zimmer also hoped to send a high kick and pin Green Bay deep in its own end, which didn’t happen, either. Blair Walsh’s kick sailed for a touchback. In hindsight, and with the yardage little issue at that point in the game, Zimmer should have gone for the onside. He said using hindsight, he’d agree, too.
Q: At around the seven minute mark in the fourth quarter the Vikings completed a far sideline pass. The receiver evaded a tackle and advanced several yards for a first down I believe and was ran out of bounds, I watched as the clock continued to run for nearly 40 seconds until the next play was ran. Why was the clock not stopped? — Mark, Fergus Falls
A: Interesting find. That is indeed the case. Joe Banyard takes a short pass and picks up the first down and then goes out of bounds. The clock appears to stop for a little bit and then starts running again before Minnesota snaps the ball. Not sure why.
Even in the official game book, 33 seconds is accounted for between the snap on Banyard’s catch and the subsequent play.
Q: I’m back to bother you again. The question I have for you is that on draft day the talking heads said the Vikings got a steal in the 5th round with Yankey, what has happened to him? I believe you said some time ago that he might have been overrated. Do you still think that? The second question is "why have the Viking brass been so quiet about the Peterson situation?" Thank you. — Al Tiseth, Chatham, Ill.
A: To answer the second question with a question, what do you want them to say? It isn’t surprising Minnesota has been quiet about the Peterson situation. They don’t need to say anything just yet, while the NFL handles things. Eventually, Minnesota will have to speak, or its action will speak for the team.
As for the first question, the coaches simply believe Yankey isn’t ready. Recently when asked, Zimmer said Yankey has to get stronger. We’re seeing that Yankey was more of a developmental prospect than anyone knew and his slip in the draft probably reflects how NFL teams saw Yankey.
Q: The Vikings have had a few high profile players go out this year, which I realize happens to all NFL teams. The teams try to award contributes with contracts, which goes against the salary cap, which leads to my question: Considering the large contract players that have been out for most/all of the season, Peterson, Rudolph, Kassel, Ponder, etc, what percentage of the Vikings cap space is not on the field? Have any other teams lost same level of projected contributers? — Erik Peterson, Alexandria
A: I’m not sure where the Vikings would end up compared to other teams, but it’s pretty common around the league. Certainly Peterson’s absence plays a big part in Minnesota’s total. Peterson counts $14.4 million against the salary cap this year. Right tackle Phil Loadholt is the newest addition to the list, but Loadholt will only miss five games this season.
Among the others missing are quarterback Matt Cassel (a $5.75 million salary-cap hit this season) and right guard Brandon Fusco ($2.25 million). Rudolph ($2.77 million salary-cap figure for the season) has returned and Ponder has been active every week and counts just $3.23 million against the cap.
Certainly other teams are having some of the same troubles this season. Look at the Chicago Bears, who have three highly-paid starters (Charles Tillman, Lamarr Houston and Matt Slauson) on injured reserve.
Q: I know that Phil Loadholt is not a top 5 or 10 RT in the league but is his season ending injury the final nail in the coffin for the Vikings this year? It seemed like him and John were the only saving factors on the line after Fusco went out. — Adam, Eden Prairie
A: And on to the offensive line, which was the topic of several submissions this week. Loadholt has had some tough moments, but overall had been one of Minnesota’s best offensive linemen this season. Losing Loadholt will hurt. It appears as if Mike Harris will get the first shot at replacing Loadholt.
Center John Sullivan has had a steady season, and Joe Berger seems to have settled the right guard spot a bit. Minnesota has to hope Harris can hold his own on the right side given the issues on the left side, which of course involves the man mentioned below . . .
Q: Seriously, what is Kalil’s problem? I’m not sure if it’s mental, physical, physiological.. It’s past needing to be addressed! Please tell me we have a backup who’d love to play, be productive, be a part of the team! SKOL!!! — Steve Wothe, Chaska, Minn.
A: Kalil drew the most questions this week in our submissions. Kalil’s tough season continued on Sunday when he was penalized three times and then had an altercation with a fan outside the stadium after the game.
Kalil spoke about his season and Sunday’s incident on Monday and knows he shouldn’t have gotten involved with the fan. He has admitted to confidence issues and the knee which required offseason surgery has still been bothering him "on and off," he said. I would tend to believe Kalil’s confidence has been the biggest issue. He has the tools to be a successful left tackle. Kalil seems to be overthinking at times this year, which could be linked to confidence.
Minnesota needs to get its franchise left tackle headed in the right direction. In last week’s mailbag I mentioned it could be time to sit Kalil. Loadholt’s injury perhaps takes a possibility on the left side away from the Vikings’ options. Harris will now have to play right tackle.
The unfortunate part of Sunday for Kalil was he might have been playing one of his better games of the season minus the penalties. He held up in pass protection just about as well as he has all season. Kalil should build on the game instead of letting the other aspects continue to erode his confidence.
Q: With bridewater starting to grow a positive chemistry with Charles Johnson do you see Charles Johnson emerging as one of our top receivers for years to come? — Jordyn, New Prague, Minn.
A: Johnson very well could be emerging into a long-term possibility for Minnesota. Johnson has prototypical size at 6-foot-2 and has good speed. He was clocked at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day in 2013. Injuries kept Johnson from breaking out sooner.
Now being healthy and finding a role with the Vikings has allowed Johnson the chance to show his skills. Minnesota has needed a receiver to step forward this season and Johnson has been the one to do it. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked to Johnson for a team-high 11 targets in Sunday’s game.
Without injuries, Johnson will have a chance to build on the strong start with the Vikings. He is signed for one more season after he was acquired off the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad.
Q: What are the "Keys" to beat the Panthers? What do Vikings need to do to stop Cam Newton? — RAJ_VIKES, Sioux Falls, S.D.
A: Handling Cam Newton is "the key" to beating the Panthers.
Carolina’s defense has been a mess without defensive end Greg Hardy, who is on the commissioner’s exempt list like Peterson, and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who’s now with the Vikings. The Panthers have the league’s 25th-ranked defense in yards allowed and are tied for 28th in points per game.
Minnesota’s offense should have its chances.
Carolina’s offense is Newton. When Newton is on, he can be one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in the league. With a brand new receiving corps, Newton has been up and down this year. Tight end Greg Olsen is still a favored option and Olsen has had a good season. Rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin isn’t a burner, but he has good size and has been a good red zone weapon this year with eight touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Newton has been sacked 32 times this season and thrown 10 interceptions. Newton had five interceptions in the two games before the Panthers’ bye last week. Carolina goes as Newton goes, so Minnesota will try to force Newton to stay in the pocket and collapse a suspect offensive line.
Q: Okay, can we stop with the chant TEDDY, TEDDIE, TEDDIEEE until we see where this goes over the next 18 months? This guy is probably no Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck, but I would give him a chance. Just don’t be so exuberant! We have been over zealous before. Vikings fans are hungry for a real winner after 50 years. — Ron Nelson
A: I tend to side with you, Ron. Teddy is talented and has shown some promise. But there were encouraging signs during Christian Ponder’s rookie season and we all know how that turned out.
However, it’s hard to fault Vikings’ fans for getting excited about Bridgewater. He provides hope for the future and a new face for the franchise. Quarterback is a glamour position and Minnesota has been waiting for a star there — aside from Brett Favre’s short tenure — for a long time.
Q: What’s most important for the Vikings in the first round of the next draft a #1 receiver or an LT. — Adam Masseth, Fargo, N.D.
A: We received two very similar submissions. The other was focused on drafting a left tackle in the first round specifically to replace Kalil. I think we’re just too far away to have any kind of answer on what Minnesota could, or should, do in the first round of next year’s draft.
A lot still needs to be decided before then. If Johnson continues to develop, Cordarrelle Patterson comes around and Jarius Wright and Greg Jennings are still on the team, is wide receiver a priority? If Kalil rediscovers what made him a Pro Bowl left tackle in his rookie season, is left tackle the priority? What about another tall cornerback to go with Xavier Rhodes, Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson? Or a three-down linebacker to complement Anthony Barr?
There is also the question of whether Peterson is on the team next year. Right now, Peterson is suspended for the rest of this season. Peterson will count $15.4 million against the salary cap next season. He only accounts for $2.4 million in dead money if he’s released. It’s quite possible running back could be one of the biggest positions of need for Minnesota.
Rookie Jerick McKinnon has looked good, but a bigger back could be on the shopping list for the Vikings and there are several quality running backs in college football this year. There is a lot to still be determined, particularly where they will be drafting before anyone can know what Minnesota’s priority should be in the next draft.
Thank you for your submissions. Unfortunately we couldn’t get to all of your questions. We tried to answer a wide range of submissions. I hope we continue to hear from you in the future. Our Vikings’ mailbag runs once a week on Thursday mornings during the regular season. Be sure to check FOXSportsNorth.com for upcoming mailbags.