The Minnesota Vikings know the score. They feel they are a team on the rise, but they haven’t proved that in their road games and that’s the focus over the next weeks.
The Vikings are winless in two road games this year, getting blown out in the season opener at San Francisco and coming up just shy at Denver 15 days ago.
But over the next two weeks they have NFC North opponents on the road.
“We know we’re 0-2 on the road right now and that’s not a good feeling. We’ve definitely got to win some road games,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “In this league you’ve definitely got to win some road games and we’ve definitely got to try to turn this thing around this week.”
The Vikings travel to Detroit on Sunday and then to Chicago the following week as part of a four-game stretch in which they should be favored in every game. Detroit got its first win of the season in overtime against the Bears on Sunday.
Minnesota’s issues with winning on the road have varied, but they believe they have the sort of well-rounded team in which one part of the team can make up for a deficiency in another unit from one week to the next.
“We need to have offense and defense. There’s going to be some games where we have to win the game and the defense might not play as well and vice versa as it was the other day,” receiver Mike Wallace said. “That’s why we’re a team and that’s why you have all guys out there together because one unit might come up short.”
The Vikings already beat the Lions 26-16 in Week 2, but this is a road game. Minnesota is 2-8 on the road under head coach Mike Zimmer, and 2-5 in the NFC North. So what do they need to perform better on the road?
“Probably start fast would be a good one. I think we’ve started fast at home pretty good. I think if we will continue to start fast, I think that helps,” Zimmer said. “But, again, handling the crowd noise, making sure we don’t turn the ball over. We’ve got to protect the quarterback better than what we’ve done on the road, those will all be big things. We haven’t had hardly any sacks at home, but we’ve had several on the road.”
Zimmer is on the money with protecting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on the road. Bridgewater has been sack 15 times this year, but 12 of those came in their two road games with the other three spread out over three home games.
Munnerlyn believes that players knowing the system better and playing together more could be key to turning around a losing road record.
“Everybody is dialed in. Everybody knows their job. Everybody is playing as one,” he said. “We know we’ve got a job and that’s to win football games. Every position, from the defensive line to the linebackers to the secondary, we’re going out there and we’re competing. We’re not going to let it be us this year, so we’re just trying to go out there and stack these wins up.”
The Vikings’ lack of production on the road compared to home games in this year’s games is legitimate. In three homes games, they have rushed 108 times for 446 yards and five touchdowns. In the two road games, it falls to 38 attempts for 184 yards and one touchdown.
But Bridgewater has actually been more efficient on the road, completing 68.5 percent of his passes there for one touchdown and one interception; at home he is completing 60.3 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and three interceptions. The big difference is the number of sacks he has taken.
While the Vikings have relied heavily on their running game and defense to win games, Zimmer believes Bridgewater is capable of getting a win with his passing game if needed.
“I think if it gets into that situation where he needs to go win the game, I do think he will. Does he need to do better and keep improving and keep going forward? Yes,” Zimmer said. “There were several areas offensively that we probably needed to do better than we did yesterday.”
The biggest difference for the Vikings on the road versus home may come on defense. They have averaged giving up 61.6 rushing yards per game at home but 187 per game on the road while their pass defense has been better on the road, giving up only 189 yards per game and allowing only one passing touchdown.
They average surrendering 21.5 points a game on the road compared to 13.3 at home.
“It’s just something where we’ve got to learn how to finish games. You know the crowd is going to get in it and home teams always try to stay around if they’re down. We’ve just got to learn how to finish,” Munnerlyn said. “When we’ve got a team down, finish the game – don’t let those guys stick around, stick around. We’ve just got to learn how to go out there and dominate the game from the first quarter to the fourth.”
Maybe the Vikings will be motivated by their poor road record under Zimmer (2-8) or their division record (2-5). Either way, Munnerlyn knows how important road wins over Detroit and Chicago would be in the next two weeks.
“We definitely need these games. Division games are big. Division games are definitely big,” he said. “I know these guys are going to have their ears pinned back this week, ready to roll and ready to get this road win.”