Vikings Focus on Red Zone

Each of the Vikings' three games this season has been decided by three points, but they would be able to extend their margin for error if they'd become more efficient in the red zone. See the statistics and what a couple of offensive players had to say about them.

The Vikings aren't hitting a panic button by any means – after all, they are 2-1 against three 2005 playoff teams – but they have been assessing their offensive troubles and looking to correct them.

Chief among the concerns are the team's third-down efficiency (or lack thereof) and lack of consistently getting touchdowns when the offense advances into the red zone.

"When we get into the red zone, we have a couple of mistakes where we hurt ourselves. It's been more or less us hurting ourselves than other teams. Once we (cure) that and get seven instead of three I think we'll be a lot better," left tackle Bryant McKinnie said.

The reason most often cited by players is penalties. With the Vikings have 26 penalties in the first three games, it's understandable that they'd like to correct them.

"Penalties are the biggest thing. You've got to be able to execute the game plan, of course, but you don't want to shoot yourself in the foot," right guard Artis Hicks said. "You've already got a tough enough time dealing with they're giving you on defense. You can't add to it by penalizing yourself and shooting your self in the foot."

"Sometimes we were rolling them on a drive and there as a penalty – I had a holding called on me and I think that was close to the red zone," Hicks added. "We overcame that penalty, but sometimes we don't overcome penalties like that. That's on me to pay attention to the small things, get my hands on the inside – small things like that, that a lot of times take those extra four points off. Those extra four points are huge, especially after a game like that."

The Vikings did overcome Hicks' second-quarter holding penalty near the red zone. He was flagged on third-and-1 at Chicago's 23-yard line, but at the tail end of the next play on a 10-yard run by Mewelde Moore on third-and-11, the Bears' Alex Brown was flagged for a horse-collar tackle, a 15-yard personal foul that allowed the Vikings to move half the distance to the goal line. That set up first-and-10 at the 11-yard line.

But, as the red zone theme has developed this year, the Vikings were inefficient once they got near. A run for no yards by Chester Taylor, a 3-yard pass to Jim Kleinsasser and an incompletion brought out the field goal unit.

Hicks said the offensive line didn't feel too good about anything after the Bears game, despite playing a division favorite to the wire.

"We lost. There is no such thing as a moral victory. We can't come out of that game feeling good about much of anything. We got into the red zone and we didn't convert those three points into sixes and sevens. That was the difference in the game. I think as a unit there was a lot of good plays that we left on the field," Hicks said.

That was the difference, but it wasn't penalties as much as inefficiency in the red zone.

On the first drive of the game, the Vikings went 61 yards in four plays, then stalled when they hit the Chicago 20-yard line. A first-down pass to Travis Taylor went incomplete. Then Chester Taylor ran for 2 yards and a third-and-8 pass to Moore ended after gaining 5 yards. Field goal number one.

On their last possession of the half, the Vikings stalled after Brown's horse collar penalty gave them a first down in the red zone. Field goal number two.

And that was the last time the offense made it into the red zone, as Ryan Longwell's third field goal came with the ball snapped from the 23-yard line.

The Vikings survived their first two games of red zone inefficiency, going a respectable 1-for-2 in a season-opening 19-16 win over the Redskins before going 1-for-4 in a 16-13 win over the Panthers.

If they want to become a consistent offense, they'll likely have to do better than their season average of scoring a touchdown only 25 percent of the time they get in the red zone (and one of those came on a fake field goal that turned into a touchdown pass). They'll have another chance to rectify the situation Sunday in Buffalo.

"(The Bills have) a young defense," Childress said. "Dick Jauron is very sound fundamentally. Those guys are playing it to a "T", and while they don't give you a lot of complicated looks, they do the little things within the defense, much the same as the Bears' scheme of defense that is going to allow them to be good. I think they're the 11th best in the NFL. It's formidable to go into Buffalo."

Only Chicago, at 22 percent, is worse than the Vikings at scoring touchdowns in the red zone in this young season, while St. Louis and Denver are tied with Minnesota at 25 percent (Oakland has yet to reach the red zone.) Meanwhile, 16 teams are operating at 50 percent touchdowns or better when they reach the end zone.

Now that should make the Vikings red with anger or embarrassment.

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