Notebook: Bad, baffling statistic for Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings did a lot of good things in their win over the Cowboys, but one statistic is especially concerning on offense. Plus, nearly two dozen notes to tell the tale of the game.

Of all the good things the Minnesota Vikings have been doing this preseason, one nagging issue has been their inability to convert on third downs in general and third-and-short runs in particular. Both came back to bite the Vikings offense in their 28-14 win in what may well be a NFL record for third-down futility.

The Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys combined to throw a 21-donut – neither team converting a third down the entire game. The Vikings were 0-for-11 and the Cowboys were 0-for-10. The fail rate was epic, perhaps record-setting.

“We would love to eliminate some of those mistakes we made tonight, some of penalties,” Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “But the one thing about this team is we’re consistent, we’re resilient and we know how to win games.”

It’s hard to gauge the short-yardage issues the Vikings have had, needing three downs to punch one in from the 1-yard line against Oakland and two situations where short-yardage conversion runs failed against the Cowboys. When Adrian Peterson actually starts playing, the script could be completely flipped. The Vikings had better hope.

But head coach Mike Zimmer is about teaching moments and the Vikings’ struggles on third down – whether with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback or Shaun Hill or Taylor Heinicke – are baffling and to have a win in which they didn’t convert a third down is perhaps another NFL record.

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn had one of the penalties that stood out to Zimmer.

“He had the penalty on third-and-18, which I didn’t really like,” Zimmer said, “but I think for the most part he did pretty well.”

There are too many reasons to be optimistic about the 2015 Vikings, but one statistic that continues to jump off the page is the third-down conversion percentage of the Vikings, which is now just 27.5 percent for the preseason.

Zimmer said the game provided “good learning tape.”

Will having Peterson in uniform instead of compression shirts be the answer to the third-down malaise? It had better be for the Vikings to reach their goals.

  • Zimmer set a franchise record by starting his coaching career with an 8-0 preseason record. While Zim is quick to point out that he wants regular-season wins (he now has one more preseason win than regular-season win), he breaks the record set by Denny Green, who started out 7-0 in preseason games in his Vikings coaching career. Green was one who put an emphasis on playing starters longer and trying to build momentum in the preseason. Zimmer isn’t that type, making his 8-0 mark even more impressive.

  • The Vikings got a scare when punter Jeff Locke got rolled up on a punt in which Eric Kendricks got pushed back into Locke’s landing zone from the punt. Locke’s right ankle – his plant ankle as a left-footer – looked bad at the time, six minutes into the second quarter. Kicker Blair Walsh had to take his place because a holding penalty was called on Kendricks and the Cowboys astutely accepted the penalty and forced a re-kick, knowing the Vikings didn’t have a punter. Walsh hit a 50-yard punt, but Cole Beasley returned it 40 yards.

  • The Beasley return stopped a run the Vikings were on. Entering the game, the Vikings had punted nine times and allowed just 11 return yards on those punts that weren’t fair caught.

  • The Vikings’ quarterbacks didn’t let the ball hit the ground very often. The Vikings completed 24 of 27 passes – Mike Kafka was 0-of-1 on his only pass – for 209 yards. Any time a team can hit 90 percent of its passes, it should win.

  • Teddy Bridgewater continued his impressive play, completing all seven of the passes he threw for 76 yards.

  • Tony Romo completed 5 of 8 passes, but had a higher passer rating than Bridgewater because his Romo’s completions went for 88 yards and two touchdowns – both coming in the second quarter when the Vikings were transitioning from their first- to second-team defense.

  • The Vikings’ backup quarterbacks completed 17 of 20 passes for 133 yards. The backup Dallas quarterbacks completed 7 of 17 passes for 43 yards.

  • The Vikings have outscored their opponents 88-45, including a 56-35 advantage in the first half and a 32-10 dominance in the second half, which could speak to the depth of the talent on the roster.

  • Through four games, the Vikings still don’t have a rusher that has hit the 100-yard mark. Dominique Williams leads the time with 20 carries for 93 yards. Nobody else has more than 66 yards rushing.

  • Cordarrelle Patterson electrified (in a bad way for the home team) the crowd at AT&T Stadium with a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. In the realm of dubious preseason record-keeping, the Vikings and Cowboys put themselves on the list following Patterson’s return. The first quarter ended with the Vikings leading 3-0. On the first play of the second quarter, Tony Romo connected with Terrance Williams on a crossing route for a 60-yard touchdown. Patterson brought back the ensuing kick for a touchdown, helping account for 167 yards and 14 points on two plays that took 25 seconds to happen.

  • Mike Wallace led the team with three catches for 50 yards, including a 39-yard bomb from Bridgewater that lends credence to why the Vikings traded to get him.

  • Eleven different Vikings caught passes Saturday, as did 10 Cowboys. Nobody from Dallas caught more than two passes.

  • Blair Walsh made 2 of 3 field goals, which by ordinary standards is viewed as a down performance – given that the missed field goal was from an expected makeable position of 43 yards. However, he came into the game having made just 2 of 6 field goal attempts, increasing his make percentage from 33.3 to 44.4. It will be interesting to see how Zimmer will react if that happens in the regular season.

  • Kendricks saw action with the first-, second-, and third-team defenses, a sign that Zimmer is wanting to see the variety in his game. Kendricks didn’t disappoint.

  • Gerald Hodges made his case by leading the team with four solo tackles and putting pressure on the coaching staff to make their call at middle linebacker – or a hybrid mix-and-match that could leave veteran Chad Greenway as the odd-man out on obvious passing downs.

  • The Vikings doubled up the Cowboys in first downs at 20 to 10.

  • Minnesota had just 290 yards of offense, but that was 96 more than the Cowboys could muster.

  • In the second half, the Vikings outgained the Cowboys 147-21.

  • Both teams committed 11 penalties in the game, with several more declined because of the result of the play. One can only imagine Zimmer and Jason Garrett will be berating players over that type of Raiders-like performance.

  • The Vikings dominated time of possession, despite running just 12 more plays (61 for the Vikings, 49 for Dallas). The Vikings had the ball for 37:34 of the game’s 60 minutes – more than 15 minutes more than Dallas (22:26).

  • With all the talk of Kendricks and Hodges vying for the middle linebacker starting job, Audie Cole covered a fumbled snap on a quick-twitch alertness play that will earn some points with the defensive coaching staff.

  • Both Marcus Sherels and Diggs looked solid as punt returners, which could make for a 54th-man problem on the final cutdown day next Saturday.

  • The Vikings will release 14 players between now and Tuesday afternoon. The front office will meet Sunday to make those decisions. It’s unclear as to when the team will announce the cuts because, if there is a player they want one more look at, the potential for a low-level trade is always a possibility.

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