Turnovers, Penalties Become An Issue

The Vikings feel like they are making the mistakes that are stopping themselves on offense. A high number of penalties and turnovers at key times are being blamed.

The Vikings' primary focus this week will be on attempting to get their struggling offense on track.

Minnesota (2-1) enters Sunday's game at Buffalo having failed to score a touchdown in nine-plus quarters. The streak dates to the third quarter of the Vikings' season-opening victory at Washington when quarterback Brad Johnson found receiver Marcus Robinson on a 20-yard scoring pass.

One of the Vikings' biggest problems has been scoring touchdowns in the red zone, where they rank 27th in the NFL in efficiency.

The team has scored twice in eight trips inside their opponent's 20-yard line but one of those touchdowns came on kicker Ryan Longwell's scoring pass on a fake-field goal attempt in a Week 2 victory over Carolina. The touchdown generated by the offense inside the red zone came on the opening drive of the season, when running back Chester Taylor scored on a short run.

No one thought the Vikings' offense would put up huge numbers but it was expected that by hiring former Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress as their head coach, the Vikings would be able to find the end zone.

Contributing to the Vikings' problems have been penalties and turnovers. A fumble by receiver Travis Taylor and one late in the game on a disrupted handoff from Johnson to Chester Taylor last Sunday proved to be critical mistakes in a loss to Chicago.

Childress put a focus on those turnovers in his Monday news conference and no doubt has talked about the importance of ball security with his players.

Childress and his players also point to penalties that have driven the Vikings backward on more than one occasion. Minnesota was called for nine total penalties in each of the first two games and then took eight versus Chicago. Half of those were called on the offense.

A prime example of the problem came during a first-quarter drive last Sunday. On a first-and-10 play from the Bears 44, receiver Maurice Mann was flagged for holding, making it first-and-20 at the Chicago 49. Two plays later on second-and-11 from the Bears 45, Johnson was called for intentional grounding. That put the Vikings in a third-and-22 hole at their own 44.

Drive over.

In addition to cutting down on mistakes, the Vikings also could look to broaden their offensive scheme. Tight end Jermaine Wiggins, the team's leading receiver each of the past two seasons, has only eight receptions in three games.

Wiggins did have a dropped pass on a third-down play in the second half against Carolina, but the normally sure-handed receiver would seem to be a good option inside the red zone.

So would Robinson, who had the touchdown catch against the Redskins.

Despite practicing all last week, he did not play against the Bears because of a hamstring injury. Robinson is expected to return against the Bills and should be a primary target inside the 20-yard line. His 6-3 frame and jumping ability make Robinson an ideal receiver to put in jump-ball situations against undersized cornerbacks.


  • The Vikings had the only shutout in the history of this series in the first meeting between the teams. Minnesota blanked Buffalo 19-0 in 1971 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn.

  • Running back Robert Smith rushed for 169 yards, an opening-day Vikings record, in Minnesota's victory over Buffalo in 1997. Smith had a 78-yard touchdown run in that game, the third-longest in team history.

  • The last time these teams met was in 2002 when Buffalo edged the Vikings 45-39 in overtime at the Metrodome. Receiver Peerless Price caught 13 passes for 185 yards, including a 48-yard scoring catch from Drew Bledsoe in the extra session. Vikings running back Moe Williams rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown, and Randy Moss caught 11 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.

  • Quarterback Brad Johnson completed 17 of 30 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns on Aug. 31, 1997 at Buffalo in his first stint with the Vikings.

  • Playing for the Green Bay Packers, safety Darren Sharper picked off an Alex Van Pelt pass on Dec. 20, 1997 against Buffalo and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown.

  • Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield was a first-round pick of the Bills in 1999 and played the first five seasons of his career with Buffalo (1999-2003) before signing with Minnesota as a free agent.

  • Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams played the first eight seasons of his career with Buffalo (1997-2004) after signing with the team as a rookie free agent.

  • WR Troy Williamson played despite an injured left shoulder last Sunday. Williamson, however, was used on only two kickoff returns and figures to see spot duty again in those situations.

  • RB Artose Pinner returned four kickoffs against the Bears and could see the majority of action on kick returns again at Buffalo.

  • LB Ben Leber sprained his left knee early in the loss to Chicago and is undergoing treatment. He did not practice Wednesday and is listed as questionable. Leber was replaced at strong-side linebacker by Dontarrious Thomas in practice.

  • NT Pat Williams suffered a sprained ankle/foot last Sunday and is listed as questionable. He was able to practice Wednesday.

  • DT Kevin Williams was excused from practice Wednesday so he could take care of a personal matter, according to a team spokesman.

  • RB Ciatrick Fason was inactive for a second consecutive game last Sunday against Buffalo, enabling Pinner to suit up as the No. 3 running back behind Chester Taylor and Mewelde Moore.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 11 — Number of game-winning field goals kicker Ryan Longwell has in his 10-year career. That includes two this season, which is Longwell's first with the Vikings.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's just going to be another game for me. I won't have any hard feelings there. If those other guys were there still, I'd have hard feelings. (Former Bills General Manager Tom) Donohoe and all those guys. It was a joke there. That's why none of those guys are still there." — Nose tackle Pat Williams, a former member of the Bills, talking about the management team that let him walk.

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