NOTEBOOK: Outdoor Issue Not Completely Solved

The Vikings finally won outdoors Sunday in New York, but they still need to have their kicker perform better outside, where there is a stark difference in his effectiveness when compared to kicking indoors. It would best be solved before the Vikings try to win at Lambeau on Monday night.

The Vikings have issues all around their team – wanting more pressure from their defensive line, more consistency from their offensive line, better health at running back and more explosiveness at wide receiver.

While special teams have generally been considered a strong point this season, how strong are they? And are we crazy for even raising the question coming off a game where the Vikings returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns?

We may be crazy, but there is reason to question one aspect of the special teams – the consistency of Paul Edinger.

"We have a field goal kicker that I need to make understand – or do a better job of lying to him, and I'm not a very good liar – that each kick he goes out is to win the game," head coach Mike Tice said. "When it is a game winner, he makes them right down the middle, and when it is an average old kick in the first or second quarter he doesn't hit them very well. So I have to do a better job of getting him to take that approach for every kick. He is a hell of a kicker. He is a hell of a clutch kicker, we just have to work on his consistency."

Clutch kicker indeed.

The Vikings entered the season with more emphasis on special teams. Tice arranged their offseason workouts to have special teams interspersed throughout minicamps and developmental camps, and the coach said he wanted special teams to win a couple games each year while not causing them to lose any.

Through nine games, that wish has held true. With Koren's Robinson's 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Mewelde Moore's 71-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter Sunday, followed by Edinger's 48-yard, game-winning field goal with 10 seconds remaining, there is little doubt special teams won the 24-21 game against the Giants.

Edinger also kicked the franchise-record 56-yard field goal as time expired in a 23-20 win over Green Bay on Oct. 23.

Which brings us to the upcoming game Monday night game at Lambeau Field. Why the concern? Because Edinger is just 2-for-7 in field goal attempts outdoors this year.

In his first outdoor game as a Viking in Cincinnati, Edinger didn't attempt a kick in a 37-8 blowout loss. In his second outdoor game at his former team, the Chicago Bears, he was 1-for-3 – pushing a 52-yarder wide right, making a 23-yarder and having a 32-yarder blocked. His only attempt at Carolina, a 33-yarder, also went wide right. That's the same way it started in New York on Sunday, when he pushed a 40-yarder wide right on the opening drive and later had a 32-yarder blocked before returning for the 48-yard successful game-winner.

Edinger denies that being outdoors bothers him, but going 2-for-7 outdoors and 12-for-14 on his indoor attempts is mounting evidence to the contrary. The opponents' success in those same outdoor games, going 6-for-8, would indicate that the weather wasn't a prevailing factor.

Usually, 80 percent accuracy on field goals is a good mark to shoot for, according to special teams coordinator Rusty Tillman. Indoors, Edinger far exceeds that, hitting 86 percent of his field goals inside this year. Outdoors, however, his percentage is 29.

Viking Update asked Tillman this week if Edinger is more of an indoor kicker.

"I don't know if I can say that right now. I haven't been around (Edinger) long enough," Tillman said. "We haven't been outdoors enough for us to say. I don't think there have been enough opportunities for us to make that statement yet."

Fortunately, the rest of the special teams have been solid all year long.

The Vikings are tied for 15th in the league with an average starting position of the 27.1-yard line following kickoffs. Koren Robinson is fourth in the NFL with his 26.3-yard average on kickoff returns. With more returns, Mewelde Moore would be the leading punt returner in the league with his 15.4-yard average on nine returns.

On the punting end, rookie Chris Kluwe is fourth in the league with a 46.3-yard gross average. Kluwe's net average dropped to 38.5 yards after the Vikings gave up a 55-yard return to Chad Morton.

"I think the young player on the punt team lost contain and hurt us on the one return, but in retrospect the return didn't come back and hurt us because they missed a field goal," Tice said. "The only thing the return hurt was our punt net average. We were number two in the NFC in punt net average and the Giants were number one."

Now if Edinger could just become more consistent (he's also only 1-for-5 in field goals between 30 and 39 yards), Vikings fans could finally stop fretting over special teams.

COVER II

The Vikings will be without the benefit of their Teflon cover at the Metrodome for the second straight game, but Tice liked the way his team was approaching their last outdoor game last week.

"It is a good feeling this week because I am not hearing a lot of anxiety about not winning on the road or outside. I am hearing a lot of football talk at practice. I think that shows a good sign of focus on the task at hand, which should be our only focus," Tice said. "Maybe the events of the season, the events of the last couple weeks and the injury to Daunte (Culpepper) has matured the team a little bit. We'll see if that is the case as we progress, but I like the feeling right now."

As it turned out, the Vikings broke a four-game losing streak outdoors against the Giants with their 24-21 win.

Now the Vikings get to travel to Lambeau Field, the site of their previous road win, a 31-17 win over the Packers in the first round of last year's playoffs.

"With a team that you have familiarity with, you find out over time that if you spend too much time getting ready for them you start to outthink yourself. I think we had a little bit of that with the Tampa Bay game personally," Tice said.



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