Offensive Players Focused On Improvement

The Vikings offense is looking for a quick recovering after a poor two-game performance out of the gate. Players like QB Daunte Culpepper, TE Jermaine Wiggins and OL Chris Liwienski are all looking to get things going in a positive direction.

The Saints are displaced. Their normal residency in New Orleans is over for at least the 2005 season and the team's temporary home has been moved to Baton Rouge in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The Vikings, preparing for a game Sunday against the 1-1 Saints, support the New Orleans players as humans, but the Vikings have their own troubles on the field to worry about.

"I know that it is extremely tough for those guys, having to be on the road all the time," Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper said. "I give them a lot of credit for getting prepared and focusing on football with everything going on down there. They understand also that we have a job to do too. They are not going to feel bad for us that we are 0-2. We've just got to play the game. For 60 minutes we've got to focus on the game."

Vikings tight end Jermaine Wiggins agreed.

"You have compassion for them as human beings and people, but from a player's standpoint, they're not going to back down. They're going to be ready to play," Wiggins said. "We've got to worry about what we do. We've got to eliminate the turnovers and eliminate the mistakes, just go out there and play football."

The Vikings players are rallying together after a disappointing and surprising 0-2 start, and it seems every one of the players is accepting blame and looking to make the next step forward in search of the first win in the 2005 regular season.

For starters, the offense has been anemic and highly prone to turning over the ball. Through two games, Daunte Culpepper has a 41.6 passer rating. His career low for a season is 75.3 from 2002, when he threw 23 interceptions and 18 touchdowns.

So far, Culpepper has eight interceptions and two fumbles this season.

"I look at myself and I watch the film and say, ‘You know, I probably shouldn't have made that throw, I should have ran it.' A couple of times I probably should have ran the ball. That's the things I'm focusing on," Culpepper said. "I'm ready to get back out there and get in the flow of things. Sunday can't come here fast enough. I want to get this taste out of my mouth."

His next chance will come against a Saints defense that might be just right for the Vikings. The Saints have the 16th-ranked defense in the league and are tied for 23rd against the rush.

The means the Vikings offensive line likely will have a chance to establish a running game, one that has been sorely lacking in the two losses.

"We've got five guys up front who are going to bust their butts to keep our playmakers clean and allow our playmakers to make plays. It starts up front with us," guard Chris Liwienski said.

"We're all in this together. You've got to understand the way this thing works. There are 11 guys and if someone misses a block and there's a free hitter or if somebody misses a block on a protection and somebody is in Daunte's face, he's going to throw a ball high. We've got to have 11 guys working to get this thing right."

In both of their losses, the Vikings have lost the battle of turnovers as well. They are a league-worst minus-9 in the turnover ratio, with Culpepper's eight interceptions and two fumbles lost creating his own set of problems. Running back Michael Bennett lost two fumbles in the first half last Sunday as the Vikings dug themselves a 27-0 deficit before halftime.

Getting behind so early has forced the Vikings' hand, and Culpepper's arm, for the most part.

"It definitely sucks being in a pure passing situation when you're down by four touchdowns. That's not the ideal setup, on the road and throwing the ball 80 percent of the time is not where you want to be," Liwienski said. "You want to be balanced in your run and pass attack."

Against Tampa Bay, the Vikings offensive line struggled to adequately keep defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan at bay. The pressure they applied up the middle thwarted the Vikings' running game and forced Culpepper into some bad situations.

While crediting New Orleans' defensive interior as being good, Liwienski said it is no Tampa Bay.

If Culpepper can have some time to pass, he isn't expected to see Nate Burleson on the field Sunday. Burleson is doubtful for Sunday's game with a knee injury.

That could mean a return to looking for Wiggins more often. Last season, Wiggins led the Vikings with a career-high 71 receptions, but so far this season has only seven catches.

"The first game, I felt like I had a really good game, but they called some touchdowns back. When I get out there, when I get a chance to make plays, I'm going to make plays regardless of who's around me, who we have, who we don't have," Wiggins said. "I'm such a competitor and I'm so confident in my ability that I'm going to do what I've got to do to help this team win.

"I want to carry the load because people have been telling me my whole career that I couldn't do this or I couldn't do that, so I like to go out there and prove people wrong on a daily basis."

The national perspective on the Vikings has taken the easy explanation, that they miss Randy Moss, saying Culpepper is missing his security blanket.

But as the Vikings' leading receiver last year and a player who often finds the opening in defenses when Culpepper is looking to unload, it would seem that Wiggins is more of a security blanket for Culpepper.

While the quarterback has struggled, like the rest of the offense, Wiggins expects a full recovery soon.

"In this business, it's all about moving the chains, whether it's the long ball or the short ball, whatever it is that's going to do it, that's what you have to do," he said. "Daunte's a great player. He's hit a few bumps in the road, and like I said, two years ago they were calling for McNabb's head in Philly."

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