Bobby Wade is leading the Vikings in receptions and reception yards, but his 6.3-yard average on punt returns ranks 35th in the league and is just above half the yards the Vikings' opponents are averaging (12.2) on their returns. And despite him being the only player to return a punt for the team this year, he only has nine returns to go with his nine fair catches, which is tied for fourth-highest in the league.
The situation came to head last Sunday when Wade may have given Dallas punter Mat McBriar too much respect. When Wade let a punt hit at the 29-yard line, it rolled all the way to the Vikings' own 9-yard line.
"I've got to be more aggressive back there, me personally," Wade said. "Obviously, we came in there with the punter, he's leading the league, a Pro Bowl punter. I played him at 50 yards and it dropped at about 40. It's kind of the in between with that."
"If you were to ask Bobby, he just kind of misjudged it and didn't feel like he was going to have a great opportunity to get up and field it, so rather than take the chance of a muff and turning the ball over, he chose to get away from it," said special teams coach Paul Ferraro. "It's a fine line; it really is. But, again, if you were to ask Bobby I think he would tell you that he could have done a better job with that. We need to improve in that area and that's something we have been working on this week and I expect to the improvement this week."
Wade said he didn't want to rush up to the ball and then misplay it.
"You want to make a play on that, but you're running full speed and you don't want to muff a punt in that situation," Wade said. "You know you're getting the ball back regardless, but with that said, I have extreme confidence back there and I've got to be a bit more aggressive and try to get some production out of it."
Last year's punt returner, Mewelde Moore, who was inactive for only the third game last week, was too involved filling in for injured blockers on the punt return unit to have him field punts, Ferraro said. Moore averaged 10.1 yards on 36 returns last year and had only nine fair catches the entire season, the same number he had in 2005.
This week, the challenge for Wade – or his replacement if the Vikings choose to go that route – will be increased. They will be fielding punts from former Australian Rule punter Sav Rocca.
"His ball kind of has been all over the place. Actually, out of 25 punts leading up to the Chicago game, because in the Chicago game he was punting it out of bounds, I believe seven of his 25 punts hit the ground, so some people have had some trouble fielding his punts," Ferraro said. "So that's going to be a key for us because we needed to a better job last week in that area. With coming in with a punter that is kind of erratic and all over the place, he's done some good things, but his ball just because of the way he kicks it, it tends to kind of be all over the field. So we've got to do a great job of fielding the ball this week."
That could mean the return of Moore, the former Minor League Baseball center fielder, back in the role of returning punts.
Speaking of special teams, Adrian Peterson is drawing strong reviews for his work returning kickoffs. His 28.5-yard average is 15th in the league.
"He's more of a downhill runner. He's a really strong guy. As soon as he catches the ball he takes the ball and gets north," Eagles special teams coordinator Rory Segrest said of Peterson. "They do a good job in front of him just taking off and clearing a path for him. I would say, again, probably the biggest difference is he's just downhill and gets through there and breaks tackles."
WELCOME TO THE RED ZONE
The Vikings have the fewest red zone trips of any team in the league with six – no other team is in single digits – but the Philadelphia Eagles aren't flying high in that category either.
While the Vikings have scored touchdowns on three of their six red zone possessions, the Eagles are ranked 30th in the league by converting only 30 percent of their 20 red zone trips into touchdowns. Take away their 4-for-5 performance in a blowout win over the Detroit Lions in Week 3 and the Eagles have converted only 2 of 15 red zone trips into touchdowns.
"The red zone is one area where we certainly must improve upon. It goes back to me, as well," Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Morhinweg said. "It starts with the game plan. You've got to put the people in the right spots. It's a mistake to say, ‘Well, that defender made a great play,' or, ‘We just didn't make that play.' That's a mistake. You've got to put the player in the right position to be able to make a play. We just haven't been able to do that quite as well as we want to.
"As far as making the great plays, I think our players are capable of that and I certainly think we'll see more of that coming. The other thing we do need to get better at is our explosive plays, (which) are down considerably. I looked at that very closely."
Conversely, the Eagles defense has been stout in the red zone, ranking second in the league by allowing opponents to score touchdowns on only 6 of 21 trips into the red zone (28.6 percent).
LOST IN TRAFFIC
Minnesota's defense is tied for seventh in the red zone, allowing 40 percent (8 of 20) of opponents' trips into the red zone to turn into touchdowns. Last Sunday, against the Cowboys, they hurt that percentage with 2 of 4 red zone trips resulting in Dallas touchdowns.
On the Cowboys' opening drive, Antoine Winfield was covering a receiver in the right flat and Tony Romo got safety Darren Sharper to try to offer assistance as Terrell Owens slipped in behind Sharper 8 yards deep in the end zone.
"In that coverage, we're taught to look at the quarterback and read his eyes to see where he's going to go with the football," Sharper said. "I was a little too shallow and he pumped one way and I kind of went with that, being a little overly aggressive. T.O. snuck behind me and ran to the back line of the end zone."
Asked if he knew Owens was behind him, Sharper was honest.
"I forgot all about him, surprisingly. I was so keyed into the quarterback that I forgot all about him," the 11th-year safety said. "… They try to do that – send somebody in your face so you, as we say, bite the cheese. I bit the cheese and it wasn't cheddar, it was touchdown cheese."
Tarvaris Jackson was limited for the third straight practice on Friday with his fractured right (throwing) index finger.
"He threw it a little bit better today in terms of just that pat and go, put some touch on it," Vikings coach Brad Childress said Friday. "It will be one of two things, either he'll start or he'll be number three and I will leave it at that."