Player and Coach Analysis Provides Insight

While the Vikings were making plans to shore up their staff in dealing with off-the-field behavior, players continue to search for answers to their on-the-field performances. The players' and coach's analysis has provided a few answers in the wake of a 1-4 start, and it goes further than Daunte Culpepper's turnovers and sacks.

The Vikings' woes of 2005 have been all-encompassing on the field. Each of the units – offense, defense and special teams – have taken turns in being the primary culprits in their 1-4 record to date.

"As far as on the field, we're embarrassed. I shouldn't say embarrassed, but we're disappointed that we've gotten blown out," linebacker Keith Newman said. "On the field, 1-4 is not where we expected to be at this point, but it's the reality right now."

The reason for the four losses can be shared. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought pressure with their defense, shaking quarterback Daunte Culpepper's effectiveness and forcing him into three interceptions and two lost fumbles in a 24-13 loss.

Then came a pass defense against Cincinnati that allowed Bengals QB Carson Palmer to throw for 337 yards and three touchdowns on his way to a 108 passer rating. In that game, it started early, with Palmer hooking up with Chad Johnson for a 70-yard touchdown 52 seconds into the game on their way to a 37-6 blowout.

Following a solid all-around effort in a 33-16 win against the embattled New Orleans Saints, the Vikings defense and offense shared equal blame in a 30-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. The defense surrendered an incredible 285 yards rushing, including more than 100 yards rushing to quarterbacks Michael Vick and Matt Schaub. On Minnesota's offense, Culpepper fumbled twice and threw one interception as the Vikings fell behind 27-0.

After the bye week, the Vikings offense floundered some more in a 28-3 loss to Chicago. Culpepper threw his 11th and 12th interceptions of the season and took numbers 21 through 24 in the sack department this season, but the field goal unit really let down the Vikings in Chicago, with a botched hold leading to a no-kick in the game's first drive, followed by two more misses – one block and one short and wide right.

"We have to find a way to sustain momentum changes in the game, take advantage of opportunities early and often to get the other team to be in the uphill battle that we were in (Sunday in Chicago)," safety Corey Chavous said.

The momentum-busting has been especially hard for the Vikings on the road the past three years, but especially this year.

In their first road game at Cincinnati, they were never really in the game after that first-minute touchdown by the Bengals put the Vikings on their heels. Eventually, they trailed 37-0. In the Atlanta game, the Falcons built a 24-0 lead by halftime. While Minnesota only trailed 7-3 at halftime in Chicago, they slowly let momentum continue to build on the Bears' side, eventually trailing 21-3 early in the fourth quarter.

"It's pretty much the same mistakes – penalties, turnovers, offsides, interceptions – just the same mental errors," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "Things we need to correct and correct in a hurry. … It's really on the players, jumping offsides and doing things like that – it's really unacceptable."

He's right. Head coach Mike Tice has been preaching discipline and focus since taking over as head coach since the final game of the 2001 season. But the reality is that, through five games, the Vikings have committed 49 penalties for 354 yards. Amazingly, their opponents have 60 penalties for 421 yards in those same games.

Sadly, the players seem at a loss on how to turn it around.

"I don't know how you correct the mistakes. We're working hard in practice, we're all studying," Winfield said. "It's just when we get out there on Sundays we don't make the plays that give us a chance to win."

Newman agrees that the players are responsible.

"I think the coaches are doing a good job of preparing us, but we're just not doing the job on Sundays," he said. "Coaches can only do so much. They can prepare you Monday through Saturday. When Sunday comes, the players have to make the plays and right now we're not making the plays."

Said safety Darren Sharper: "The main thing we have to do is go out there and not hurt ourselves. When you're averaging over 10 penalties a game in losses and then you're not converting when you have opportunities in the red zone, that pretty much tells the storyline right there. Everyone knows we have the talent to get it done, we have the scheme to get it done. … We're not making enough plays to overcome some our mistakes on the field."

The red zone has been a problem in the losses. In the season-opening loss to Tampa Bay, the Vikings were 0-for-2 in the red zone. In Cincinnati, they were 1-for-2. Even in a win against the Saints, the Vikings were only 1-for-5 in the red zone. In Atlanta, they were 1-for-2, and in Chicago they were 0-for-3. That's a total of three touchdowns in 14 attempts with the ball inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

Sunday's game against Chicago was the ultimate example of the red-zone malaise that has hurt the offense.

Facing first-and-goal at the 2-yard line in the second quarter, Culpepper ran out of bounds for a 3-yard sack instead of throwing the ball away. After a defensive penalty got back those 3 yards, the Vikings committed their own penalties. On second-and-goal from the 2, Jermaine Wiggins had a false start, followed by a holding call on Adam Goldberg, setting up second-and-goal at the 17, which eventually resulted in the Vikings' only points of the game – a 23-yard field goal by Edinger.

"Penalties hurt us. The first time down there we took a sack and a couple penalties. … The penalties kill you," center Matt Birk said.

"With all the (off-field stuff) around here, maybe a guy starts thinking, I don't want to be the one that screws up. Inevitably, you screw up. We have a saying: ‘Don't be the one, be the one.' – don't be the one that (screws) up, be the one that makes the play. Because of the lack of success, maybe we don't have the confidence that we need."

The biggest issue may be the lack of a commitment to a running game once the Vikings do get in the red zone. Want proof? Only one of the Vikings' three red-zone touchdowns this season have come on passing plays, and that one was a meaningless 5-yard scramble by Culpepper that capped the 37-8 blowout loss.

Against New Orleans, their red-zone touchdown came on a 13-yard pass to Travis Taylor in the first quarter. In Atlanta, it was a 16-yard touchdown pass to Troy Williamson that was far too little, far too late.

After a generally rosy day-after assessment of the Vikings' 28-3 loss in Chicago, Tice was asked what didn't go right.

"We didn't get the ball in the end zone," he said. "That team had only allowed one touchdown in the red zone going into the game, so it wasn't like they were bums. We didn't convert down in the red zone. Right now, getting that ball in the end zone, maybe we should've run it. Who knows, we could start second-guessing everything when it doesn't work."

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