While the Vikings offense is struggling to convert third downs, their defense is doing its job, which is good news for them and bad news for the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills were not very good converting third downs last Sunday in a loss to the New York Jets
. And this week's opponent, the Minnesota Vikings
, don't exactly qualify as a "get-well soon" card.
The Vikings, led by defensive tackles Pat Williams
and Kevin Williams up front, rank seventh in the NFL for getting off the field on third down. Opponents are converting just 28.6 percent of their tries (12 of 42).
After a 3-of-12 effort against the Jets, Buffalo's offense, meanwhile, ranks 29th in converting third downs (27.8 percent, 10 of 36).
Coach Dick Jauron
said it's not third down that most concerns him, actually. It's what happens on first and second.
"Third down is always going to be a function of first and second down," Jauron said. "It's hard to convert third and longs and hard to defend third and five or less. They've done a good job there, they pressure well with their front four and they have a nice pressure package with their linebackers and their secondary involved in the pressure game."
actually ranks ninth among NFL quarterbacks on third-down completions (17 of 25, 175 yards, 87.9 rating). But difficult down-and-distance makes it tough for every one of those completions to move the chains.
Against the Jets, Buffalo faced only four situations of third-and-three or less. The Bills passed on every one of those plays, converting only one successfully. Five situations presented the Bills with third-and-11 or longer. Just one was converted.
LB Takeo Spikes (hamstring) took part in all drills on Thursday, including 11-on-11 team work, and is on schedule for a return to the lineup Sunday against Minnesota. Spikes was injured on the second series of the season opener at New England and has sat out two games.
SS Matt Bowen (lower leg), a free-agent veteran the Bills could use to improve their secondary and special teams depth, could see his first action Sunday at home against Minnesota. Bowen, who was injured in the first preseason game at Carolina on Aug. 12, took part in all drills on Thursday. He remains a game-time decision, coach Dick Jauron said, but he's very close.
CB Kiwaukee Thomas (back) was able to take part in a full practice Thursday but continues to be listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Vikings. Thomas is the club's most experienced nickel back.
WR Andre Davis has yet to catch a pass but he's made two big special teams plays, recovering a blocked punt and an onside kick. The Bills may start finding ways to utilize his deep speed in the passing game.
RB Willis McGahee, the NFL's leading rusher with 311 yards, faces a stiff test Sunday at home against the Vikings, whose front seven is led by DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. Those two players have combined for 30 tackles, 15 QB hurries, three tackles for losses and one forced fumble.
SS Donte Whitner has been named NFL defensive rookie of the month for September. The No. 8 overall pick in the draft recorded 17 tackles, an interception and a pass defensed to break up a two-point conversion.