The Vikings are seeing red lights in the so-called red zone, adding another frustrating element to a season that has already mounted numerous challenges on their offensive personnel.
They have already lost their potential Hall of Fame running back (Adrian Peterson) to legal issues, their veteran starting quarterback (Matt Cassel) to broken bones in his foot, their former Pro Bowl tight end (Kyle Rudolph) to sports hernia surgery and likely their starting right guard (Brandon Fusco) for some time with a pectoral issue.
Center John Sullivan refuses to use injuries or different personnel as an excuse for any of the offensive struggles, and that goes for the challenges in the red zone, too.
“We just have to capitalize on opportunities that we have. That’s really what it comes down to,” Sullivan said. “It’s the same stuff as when drives stall out in the middle of the field. It’s a mistake here, a mistake there. At this point in time, we’re not good enough to overcome those mistakes by one or two guys at a time. We all need to be executing all the time.”
The Vikings have had their share of stalled drives, no matter the field position, and the statistics inside the 20-yard line show that. Through three games, they have gotten inside the 20-yard line only five times, the second-fewest of any team. And once they have gotten there, they have scored only two touchdowns, also the second-fewest of any team.
“Sometimes when you get into the red zone, it’s from long drives and things like that and taking the ball all the way down the field. I feel that we’ve just got to keep our focus up when we get in the red zone. That’s one of the most important parts of the field, the red zone,” receiver Jarius Wright said.
“I really can’t call what’s different. I know we executed way better in the preseason, which I feel we’re going to get our offense going. Our defense just keeps playing great and our offense will complement that.”
On Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, the issues were especially prevalent. Trailing 13-0, they mounted a 71-yard drive, but, despite being aided by a defensive holding call in the red zone, they had to settle for a field goal after two incompletions and a 5-yard scramble that ended with Cassel breaking several bones in his left foot.
On their next possession, a 41-yard reception by running back Matt Asiata put them inside the red zone, but after getting to first-and-goal at the 7, a sack and then a 4-yard loss on a run left them settling for another field goal.
“We had a couple guys open and didn’t get them the football. When we have guys open, we need to hit ’em. I think that is the biggest thing,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “We had a couple situations, though, three times in the ballgame we had shots at touchdowns and something happened to get us out of there. We had guys open and threw the ball the other place, or the quarterback got pushed off too soon because of pressure.
“So, it’s staying with the play a little longer; it’s continuing to try to get open. I don’t see it being a problem yet. I know we didn’t score many points last week (against New England), but that was a little bit different, I think. And then this week we had the three field goals. We’ve got to start scoring some touchdowns.”
In a rare low-scoring game (20-9) that involved the Saints like the Vikings were able to carve out Sunday, every scoring opportunity counted.
“I think we can do a little better in the red zone and that’s my personal opinion,” Wright said. “I think we made it down there like three times and kicked field goals. If we get seven points there, we win the game there just within in those three drives.”
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