The Vikings offense is dead last in the NFL when it comes to turning trips inside the red zone into touchdowns and it's not even close. Adrian Peterson, Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte have turned eight trips inside the 20-yard line into one touchdown – a 12.5 percent conversion rate.
How do they get better? Left tackle Artis Hicks has a crazy idea to remedy that.
"Simply score touchdowns. That's as simple as I can put it. Of course, it trickles down to we've got to work on some other things," Hicks said. "We've got to protect a little bit longer for the quarterback, because in the red zone the field of course shortens so the coverage is able to compact and compress the receivers a little bit more. There's a little bit less space to work. Nobody can cover forever, so you give a quarterback a little more time and those receivers will start popping open. So I think as a line we have to give 'em a little more time."
Against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, the Vikings had numerous issues in the red zone and took away one of their would-be touchdowns with multiple penalties. With a chance to take a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Vikings got the ball to the 3-yard line and needed only 1 yard for a first down. Peterson got them 2 yards, but a holding penalty on Anthony Herrera backed the Vikings up to the 13-yard line. Frerotte then unloaded a screen pass to Chester Taylor, and he picked up a couple of blocks and made a few nifty moves for what would have been a 13-yard touchdown … if Matt Birk wasn't flagged for holding. Eventually, they had to settle for a 20-10 lead with a field goal at the end of one of the longest drives in franchise history.
"It's really not (one issue)," head coach Brad Childress said of the Vikings' red zone struggles. "I thought Matt had a decent block, (one that) we throw on those screens down the field."
"It's hard," receiver Bobby Wade said of the red zone penalties. "This week obviously we suffered some penalties down there. The one, Chester's screen, was big. That was huge. That set us back and then we had another chance down there in the red zone. We ran a couple pass plays and they were kind of a step ahead of us at that point. They made some good defensive calls down there. It got better this week, but we've just got to find a way to keep grinding, mixing it up pass-run, pass-run. Last year we scored so much outside of the red zone, big runs. We had a big pass play this week to Shiancoe that scored, so I guess it's not that bad if you can do that."
The Vikings likely will have enough challenges this week in the red zone without the penalties. The Titans are tied for second in the league in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on only 25 percent of their opposition's trips inside the 20-yard line. Maybe it's not so coincidental that two of the Vikings' other opponents this season, the league-leading Packers (22.2 percent) and the Colts (25 percent), who are also tied for second, are among the NFL leaders. The Panthers are now tied for seventh in that category, allowing touchdowns on only 28.6 percent of their opponents' trips inside the red zone.
For now, the Vikings are focused on the 3-0 Titans and what they do in the red zone.
"They're relentless. They fly around. They're strong. They're going to take shots," Wade of Tennessee's red zone defense. "They've got a couple guys trying to make individual plays and they come up a lot of times. We've really got to be on point down there. They're really good down there. They really get hungry."
REMEMBERING THE TITANS
Wade, who played for the Titans for two seasons before coming to the Vikings in 2007, said linebacker Keith Bullock is the key to the Tennessee defense, which is ranked third overall – third against the pass and 10th against the run.
"He's the heart of that defense. He finds ways to get sideline to sideline. He sniffs out screens better than anybody. Makes big plays," Wade said. "Obviously, their defensive line is strong. (Defensive end Kyle) Vanden Bosch is very similar to (Green Bay's Aaron) Kampman. Extremely high-motor guy. He'll never quit, keep coming. Albert Haynesworth is strong. David Thorton plays the weakside linebacker – he flies around too. It's Keith Bullock's defense as far as I'm concerned because he's the guy that's the vocal leader over there making plays for them."
Adrian Peterson played about 40 snaps on Sunday against the Panthers despite a sore hamstring. He rushed 17 times for 77 yards, the first game of the season he failed to reach the 100-yard mark, but the good news was that he didn't appear to be any worse for the wear.
"(He's) no sorer than he was before the game (Sunday)," Childress said. "… He's doing just fine."
READY FOR RICE
Wide receiver Sidney Rice was inactive for Sunday's game with a sprained posterior cruciate ligament, but he was running routes on the field before the game and said there was a chance he could have played.
"Yeah, there was. Like I said, it was going to be their decision. Their decision whether or not I would be out there on the field and they chose to have me down. I'm still working on it and it should be ready for this week," he said.
"I feel pretty good. Every day shows progress. I'm feeling real good."
Rice said he ran on Monday morning again and it felt then, too.
"Hopefully everything will be fine come Sunday and I'll be out there with the rest of the boys," he said.
McKINNIE STAYING READY
Hicks said he has kept in contact with Bryant McKinnie, who has one game left on his four-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Hicks has been starting at left tackle during McKinnie's absence.
"We text quite a bit. We talk after the game and I ask him, 'What do you think?' He ends up making a joke and I come back twice as hard on me," Hicks said. "I miss that and I miss him being here because he's a good teammate, a good locker room guy, and we miss him. Not just me, the whole team. We miss him."
Hicks said McKinnie has been "taking care of business, and I think he's in a great position to come back and have a great year."
TUESDAY TYING THE KNOT
Defensive end Ray Edwards, who suffered a neck and shoulder injury Sunday, said he will be able to play on Sunday against the Titans. He'd better be in better shape today, as he is getting married.
Edwards is scheduled to marry Djakarta Cunningham, whom he met in 2006 while working out in Arizona to prepare for the NFL Scouting Combine.
Syndicated content contributed to this notebook.