Red zone a focus for Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have their share of explosive plays, but they need to turn the red zone into a touchdown zone more often.

The Minnesota Vikings are 29th in total offense, held back by their 30th-ranked passing attack. Those rankings are based on yardage.  It gets a little better when looking at points per game, where the team ranks 22nd.

But the Vikings have had plenty of opportunities to increase their point total, yet too often have settled for field goals when they get in scoring position (the good news for them is that Blair Walsh has returned to his more consistently successful ways in the regular season after struggling in the preseason).

But as the Vikings prepare to play more accomplished offenses in the second half of the season, they may have to start increasing their scoring to keep up. So far, the Vikings are the only team in the league that hasn’t allowed more than 23 points in a game and have the No. 2 overall scoring defense.

They can’t rely on that forever, and their 30th ranking in the red zone is cause for concern, or at least questioning.

They have had 21 trips inside the 20-yard line this year but have come away with touchdowns only 38.1 percent of those times, third-worst in the league. Their eight touchdowns after getting in the red zone is also tied for third-worst. Walsh’s improvement has led them to coming away with points 90.5 percent of the time they have advanced inside the 20-yard line – a percentage in the top half of the league – but scoring touchdowns there will be more important if they plan to keep up with some of the top-10 scoring offenses that they face in second half of the season, including Oakland, Arizona, Atlanta and Green Bay (twice).

Everson Griffen was talking about the next step for the Vikings defense being able to create more turnovers to put the offense in better scoring position.

“I just say we need more turnovers. You need more turnovers to help the offense score more points,” Griffen said. “You help the offense score more points, that means you get to rush the passer even more during the game.”

Well, that’s probably true if those turnovers turn into touchdowns, but even Teddy Bridgewater knows touchdowns haven’t been scored often enough. As Griffen was making his statement, Bridgewater walked into the locker room and overheard the defensive end saying that. Bridgewater interrupted the answer to proclaim his own self-accountability.

“We’ve got to score some more touchdowns,” Bridgewater said.

They both laughed, but the truth can be funny that way.

Head coach Mike Zimmer probably knows his defense, ranked No. 2 in the league for points allowed per game, will be tested more heavily facing quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers (twice), Carson Palmer, Eli Manning and others in the second half of the season.

The big plays haven’t been lacking. Rookie Stefon Diggs is tied for fourth in the league, despite playing in only four games, with seven catches longer than 25 yards; and Adrian Peterson is tied for third with 17 rushes longer than 10 yards.

It’s the harder yards on a constricted field that have perplexed the Vikings offense so far, and red zone production is turning into a Zimmer focus.

“I did talk to them about that and that’s just something we’re going to have to continue to work on, finishing the drives,” he said. “Don’t take for granted when it’s third-and-5, let’s make sure we get the first down. I think there were some times (Sunday) that we missed some areas where we could have hit something else. It’s just more work to do.”

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