The interception numbers for the quarterback and cornerbacks are part of an emphasis on turnovers this week.
The interception tally for the Minnesota Vikings reads like this: QB Christian Ponder has thrown five, and while the defense has six interceptions, none of them have come from cornerbacks Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Xavier Rhodes, A.J. Jefferson or Marcus Sherels.
The Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers are both placing big blame on turnovers as a key component to their offensive struggles and 0-3 records.
During training camp, Leslie Frazier made a big impact on his players by quoting statistics that showed how much more successful teams can be if they win the turnover battle.
"Coach Frazier put up a stat (at the beginning of camp). One of the things that we have been concentrating on is when the defense turns the ball over and scores you have a 75 percent chance of winning that ballgame," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "So that's in their minds. Not just turning the ball over, but also scoring with the ball."
The Vikings have been getting the turnover on defense. While they have created 10 takeaways (six interceptions and four fumble recoveries), only one of those has created an immediate touchdown – Brian Robison's 61-yard return of a fumble against Chicago.
Frazier said Monday he would be revisiting the importance of turnovers with his team.
"For us to come away with four takeaways back to back weeks and not win the game, that doesn't happen very often. But it's happening when you are giving the ball back and you are not playing as well on special teams, and that's part of why we're where we are," Frazier said. "That's part of why our games are coming down to one series, and it's something that has to be corrected. Otherwise we'll be right back at this spot again. You can't turn the ball over at the rate that we're turning it over and expect to win, unless – I've said this before – you're so superior to your opponents, and we're not."
The issues on offense haven't just been on Ponder, although he is third in the league with five interceptions. Running back Adrian Peterson has been guilty of turnovers, too.
Peterson has two fumbles already, not including a muffed exchange between him and Ponder that was credited to the quarterback. Peterson's two fumbles in three games put him on a pace for nearly 11 fumbles over the course of a 16-game season, which would be the most of his career. It was an emphasis for Peterson after having a combined 16 fumbles in 2008 and 2009, which didn't include the issues he had in the 2009 NFC Championship Game.
Since then, however, he appeared to rectify the situation. In 2010 and 2011, he had only one fumble each. Last year, he had four.
"Part of our problem is the turnovers and not being able to close out games," Frazier said when asked why his team is 0-3. "We've been very inconsistent on special teams. You combine that and you end up with a record where we are. We have to fix some of that. If we do, we have a chance to get things turned around.
"It's something we'll continue to emphasize and this will be a great week to come out of a game with no turnovers."
The Steelers could be just the team to help the Vikings with that.
Pittsburgh is one of only two teams without an interception on defense and one of only four without a fumble recovery, making the Steelers the only team in the league without a takeaway after three games.
"The guys are working hard. I'm confident that they're going to come in time as long as they continue to do that," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Obviously some of the game situations and circumstances that we've been in – we've been behind – limit the opportunities for those things to present themselves."
Offensively, the Steelers and Vikings have faced similar fates. Both teams have lost five fumbles, which puts them in a four-way tie for most in the league. While the Vikings have thrown five interceptions, the Steelers have four.
QB Ben Roethlisberger said turnovers have been the biggest detriment to the Steelers offense.
"And that's on me. I can't have it happen. If I don't turn the ball over in critical situations or as much as we have, then I think we're in most of those games," he said.
Meanwhile, the Vikings are beginning to reverse a four-year negative trend.
They entered the season dead last in the NFL in interceptions over the last four years. Last year, only three teams had fewer interceptions than the Vikings' 10. They were even worse in 2011, bringing in only eight interceptions in 16 games, including a record-setting nine straight games without an interception. That dubious accomplishment came despite leading the league in sacks in 2011.
This year, however, they are tied for the league lead with the Denver Broncos with six interceptions.
"Very ball-aware," Roethlisberger said of the Vikings defense. "The D-linemen, if they're not going to get home (for a sack), they're getting their hands up, batting the ball in the air. When they're coming after a quarterback, if they're not going to get a sack, they're trying to strip the ball out. They just seem to always know where the ball is."
However, despite leading the league in interceptions, none of the Vikings' interceptions have been by their cornerbacks.
LB Erin Henderson and S Harrison Smith have two interceptions apiece. LB Chad Greenway and DT Kevin Williams have one each.
Still, Frazier said his cornerbacks are being aggressive enough.
"They're not being tentative in their approach. I think our defense, we had like seven series in a row where we got off the field with no points," Frazier said of last Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. "We just – there are some things we can do better. We've got to hone in on those, like right now. I think we will."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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