The statistics say the Vikings offense has a long way to go, but the players aren't backing the sentiment.
The Vikings were playing the top-rated defense and offense from 2010 when they lost to the San Diego Chargers Sunday, but the statistics showed a more lopsided game than the 24-17 score.
The Chargers had 31 first downs to the Vikings' 10, and 21 of those came from their passing game while Donovan McNabb generated only three first downs in the passing game. McNabb completed 7 of 15 passes for 39 yards – the worst output of his career when he's played a full game – and he had only two yards passing in the second half.
"You've still got to realize that it's early in the season. We have a new coordinator, new players, new system," said tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who didn't have a catch in his first game back from a training camp hamstring injury. "It's going to take some time to really get it down pat like we wanted to get it pat. … Hats off to the Chargers. Now it's time to focus on us. It's a lot of opportunities that we missed during the game. We were just seeing that in film. We're going to correct that this week and most likely we're going to put in more things to exploit some vulnerabilities in these defenses."
The Vikings converted only 4 of 11 third-down opportunities and had only 187 yards of total offense. Meanwhile, they gave up 407 yards of offense of the Chargers, creating a time-of-possession disparity of nearly 15 minutes in San Diego's favor.
But, despite what the statistics say, the offensive players remain encouraged.
"I feel like we're close, [we were] able just to see some things which I feel like with the guys we've got in terms of the offense, [coordinator] Bill Musgrave, he's going to be able to put us in the best position to win," Adrian Peterson said.
Peterson had, by far, the Vikings' most productive day on offense. He rushed 16 times for 98 yards, a 6.1-yard average, but in the first half it was even better, rushing nine times for 74 yards, an 8.2-yard average. That fell considerably in the second half as the offensive production waned. In the second half, Peterson carried the ball seven times for 24 yards.
Despite getting only 16 carries, he was able to maintain a broader outlook about the offense.
"You know, that's just how the game went. The second half we just weren't able to get a drive going," Peterson said. "We have to kind of take some attempts to pass the ball a little more. We didn't have that many opportunities the second half."
He's right. The whole offense sputtered in the second half. The Vikings had only four series in the second half (they had seven in the first half), running 17 plays. The final drives were both three-and-out affairs.
"It's kind of hard to get more carries than that, especially when you're looking at each rep like it's do or die, we need to make this happen now," Peterson said.
Center John Sullivan didn't seem discouraged by the pass protection of the offensive line and said the Chargers didn't make any significant changes in the second half.
"I think we knew where we were going. We continued to play physical in the run game. It just worked out that – I don't know what the conversion rate was – but we need to convert third downs and we need to have explosive plays," Sullivan said.
The Vikings converted only 36 percent of their third-down plays (and one of five in the second half). They also had only one pass that was classified as deep, according to the official play-by-play – a fourth-quarter incompletion to Bernard Berrian – and had only two plays that were longer than 15 yards (both runs).
Sullivan said the key to converting third downs is to do better on first downs, thereby creating more manageable third-down situations.
Shiancoe and Peterson each said the Vikings have enough of the playbook installed to make adjustments, and head coach Leslie Frazier said execution was the issue, not play selection. Still, with only 17 plays by the Vikings in the second half, something has to improve.
"Even though we had 17 plays, we had opportunities to be able to go out and create drives and put ourselves in position to put points on the board," Peterson said. "We just didn't capitalize."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Players try to explain the offensive letdown
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