Vikings

Vikings Return to Work With Renewed Focus

A Bad Decision, According To the Old Model. Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen (Cumulus Media)

The Minnesota Vikings returned to the practice field Monday morning to begin preparations for the Philadelphia Eagles. It wraps up a bye week in which the Vikings watched the Dallas Cowboys dismantle the Green Bay Packers to give Minnesota a comfortable two-game NFC North lead heading into Week 7. They also got to watch the Eagles drop their second straight game, tempering their momentum behind rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who now has to prepare for the league’s top defense after completing just 11 of 22 passes against the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

Monday’s practice was arguably the Vikings’ biggest bye week advantage. Why? Because NFL teams don’t typically practice until Wednesday following a game. The Vikings get an extra practice this week, not to mention the coaches don’t have the burden of watching the previous day’s game on Monday morning. Head coach Mike Zimmer was impressed with the way the team fell into step on their first day back in pads. “My first year, when I’d give them some time off they’d come back and forget everything they had learned. Today it wasn’t like that. …Their recall right now is so much better than what it was.”

“We’d get the bye week and come back kind of rusty,” said running back Jerick McKinnon of his two previous seasons. “This year I feel like the focus is still there.”

mckinnon-run

The Vikings’ veteran coaching staff spent their free time evaluating the season’s first five games – a nice point of reference at about the one-third mark of the campaign. “With the coaches we’re doing a five-game study of our cut-ups of different areas: red zone, short yardage, two-minute, third downs, the run game, first downs, play-actions and the first- and second-down dropbacks,” Zimmer said last Monday. “Trying to just see what we’re doing good, what kind of tendencies we have, what we need to do better, what we need to change. Things like that.”

When asked about the main takeaways from the film sessions, Zimmer said the coaches’ discussions were mostly centered around offensive and defensive philosophies and wouldn’t divulge much further.

The Vikings have actually played a couple of ugly games after bye weeks under Mike Zimmer, going 1-1. In 2014, they lost 21-13 in Chicago, getting outgained 468-243. Last year, they held off a late Chiefs rally to win a low-scoring 16-10 affair.

But the offense is better now than it was at either of those junctures. The Vikings have yet to turn the ball over offensively, are now in the top half of the league with 23.8 points per game, and quarterback Sam Bradford is the only qualified passer in the NFL completing over 70 percent of his attempts.

Perhaps the only thing that can slow the Vikings down is injuries, though they haven’t seemed too fazed thus far after a litany of injuries on offense. Stefon Diggs did not participate in Monday’s practice, still showing a slight limp from a groin injury that caused him to miss Week 5. Jarius Wright, a big contributor in last Sunday’s game against Houston with Diggs out, was also not practicing. The Vikings also exchanged two tight ends for one, getting Rhett Ellison and David Morgan back from knee injuries, but losing MyCole Pruitt to a knee injury of his own – his second knee issue of the season.

Whatever disadvantage these injuries may put the Vikings at, they have a unique advantage in the form of Bradford, who is two months removed from running the first-team offense in Philadelphia, Minnesota’s next opponent. While the Eagles will likely be cognizant of Bradford’s presence and change some of their looks, the quarterback’s exposure to the Eagles’ defense is nonetheless is a good resource. In theory, he’ll have a better idea of the secondary’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as where blitzes might be coming from. This isn’t something Zimmer wants to rely on, however, for fear that his players get too dependent on looking for tells that may or may not be there. “Some games we get signals from other teams and things like that and a lot of guys don’t play good when they know that stuff,” said Zimmer. “We typically kind of just play and do what we do and don’t worry too much about the other team.”

mike-zimmer

As far as improvements, the Vikings are putting their nose to the grindstone trying to ascend even higher off their 5-0 start. Linebacker Anthony Barr identified third down defense, red zone defense and tackling as areas to improve upon. Defensive end Everson Griffen wants to keep building on the team’s league-leading turnover margin. Linebacker Eric Kendricks wants to see communication improve. “We have our own standard,” said Kendricks. “We don’t want to declare best defense or anything like that, but we have our own standard and we want to play to that standard.”

Offensively, the running game is arguably the league’s worst thanks to a shoddy offensive line, the loss of Adrian Peterson and a number of obvious run situations late in games that were easily predictable to opposing defenses. Lead back McKinnon (whose vision was profiled by Arif Hasan earlier Monday) said he watched tape of himself during the bye and came away with a handful of nuggets on how to improve the team’s rushing attack. “I missed some holes on some runs,” said McKinnon. “I feel like I can sometimes set things a little better. When I get the opportunity, just make the most out of it. Still waiting to hit that long one, so I’m still a little disappointed in myself right now. There’s been too many games without doing that, so my main focus is just being able to hit explosive plays for offense.”

The Vikings practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before heading to Philadelphia to face the 3-2 Eagles on Sunday.

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A Bad Decision, According To the Old Model. Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen (Cumulus Media)

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