Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is done using the numerous on- and off-field troubles as an excuse to explain Minnesota’s recent string of woes.
“You know, you might have been able to say that a little bit earlier in the year. But I don’t think this is a product of distraction,” Zimmer said, referring to the Vikings losing their past two.
“Our team has been focused. We just have not played well.”
The first-year coach is looking beyond star running back Adrian Peterson’s absence, the revolving door at quarterback and his players getting fined for showing up late for meetings, and is instead focusing on Sunday, when Minnesota (2-4) travels to play the Buffalo Bills (3-3).
“A new team?” Zimmer said, repeating the question. “I expect to see an old team, one that I saw before.”
Zimmer was referring to his team that went 4-0 in the preseason, beat St. Louis 34-6 in the season opener, and showed resilience in rallying to defeat Atlanta 41-28 three weeks ago.
Coming off a 17-3 loss to Detroit, the Vikings have turned in Jekyll-like performances in losing their past two by a combined 59-13 margin. Their quarterbacks have thrown five interceptions and been sacked 14 times in the losses.
Buffalo hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency either.
Since opening 2-0, the Bills have lost three of four, including two straight at home and have switched quarterbacks. And last weekend they squandered an opportunity to secure an edge atop the AFC East with a dreadful 37-22 loss to New England.
“We’ve got to put it past and learn from it and get better,” linebacker Brandon Spikes said. “I don’t want to say you’re happy about a loss, but hopefully we learn from this.”
The Bills’ running game is struggling and receiver Mike Williams caused a stir this week after his agent sought permission to seek a trade after his client was inactive against New England.
“Yeah, I’m not going to lie,” coach Doug Marrone said, when asked if he was annoyed by questions regarding Williams. “Someone else’s problems all of the sudden become my problems.”
Talk to Zimmer.
Here’s a number of things to look out for in a nonconference matchup on Sunday:
HANDLING PRESSURE: The Vikings’ offensive line was exposed in allowing eight sacks against the Lions. Things don’t get any easier against the Bills, whose 19 sacks rank second in the NFL behind Detroit.
Zimmer was contemplating making changes to his line, though rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater put the troubles on his shoulders.
In preparing to make his third career start, and first on the road, Bridgewater said it’s on him to not hold the ball too long.
“There were multiple times on Sunday where I found myself holding onto the ball where a guy was running wide open,” said Bridgewater, who also threw three interceptions. “I’m just going to put that game behind me.”
RUN TO A CRAWL: The Bills running attack is sputtering behind co-starters Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
Buffalo has been held to fewer than 100 yards rushing in four straight games after doing that just five times last season. The Bills’ two touchdowns rushing are the fewest to open a season since scoring one through seven games in 2010.
Spiller’s role has particularly dropped. He was limited to six carries for 19 yards and lost a fumble against New England.
“I think C.J. would tell you that, yes, he has to improve on things,” Marrone said. “But when I say improve, we all have to improve.”
REPLACING PETERSON: Zimmer acknowledged he’s still attempting to establish an ideal balance in playing time between running backs Matt Asiata and rookie speedster Jerick McKinnon.
Zimmer said he needs to get Asiata more involved after the compact, straight-ahead runner was limited to two carries and one catch against Detroit.
“I think McKinnon still has explosiveness, I would just like to see us keep using them both,” Zimmer said.
AIR BALLS: The Vikings have gone through three quarterbacks — Bridgewater, Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder — and 19-plus quarters since scoring a touchdown passing. It’s a drought that dates to Cassel hitting Asiata for a 25-yard pass on the opening drive of a 30-7 loss to New England on Sept. 14.
NORTHERN EXPOSURE: The Bills are 2-0 against NFC North teams this season after wins at Chicago and Detroit. That upped Buffalo’s record to 9-7 against the North since the NFL realignment in 2002. The Bills went 1-3 against North teams in 2010.
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