NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It appeared Sunday would be another rough day for Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who had hit just three of his first 11 passes and threw interceptions on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. But the progress Bridgewater made later in Sunday's game, including his first NFL touchdown pass, came after what could be an important realization in the quarterback's development.

Bridgewater
Bridgewater threw the first of his two interceptions to Leodis McKelvin after he appeared to pass up a deep shot to Jarius Wright down the middle, firing late to Chase Ford on a ball that was tipped and intercepted. McKelvin also undercut an out route to Adam Thielen that Bridgewater appeared to throw late after hitching twice. The problems led the rookie to think back to what he was doing in training camp during a stretch of interceptions in early August, and what he experienced at that point ultimately helped him turn things around on Sunday.

"That was just me trying to be perfect," Bridgewater said. "I think I went back to old training camp days of trying to be perfect in every area, instead of just trusting my God-given ability and trusting the offense and trusting the system. I am going to continue to get better; just get a rhythm."

After the two interceptions, Bridgewater found one. He hit 12 of his final 15 throws for 136 yards and a touchdown, making arguably his best throws of the day to extend drives on third downs. He hit Greg Jennings up the seam for 38 yards on third-and-7, found Wright on a gorgeous 28-yard back-shoulder throw on third-and-18, and hit Wright on the same drive for 14 yards on third-and-10. After a loss to the Detroit Lions in which he went just 2-for-8 on throws longer than 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Bridgewater hit several throws downfield on Sunday, connecting with Jennings, Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson on 12 of his 15 completions.

"After the second interception, Greg came up to me and told me, 'Hey, whatever is going on up in that head, up in that computer of yours, just reboot it,'" Bridgewater said. "Hearing that coming from a veteran, that was just telling me to relax and just play football."

Bridgewater overshot a deep ball to Patterson that might have sealed the game on the Vikings' final drive, and he was sacked five times on a day where he said he still held the ball too long on several occasions. He also blamed himself for a red zone sack in the fourth quarter where he had a run-pass option and kept the ball instead of handing off to Jerick McKinnon. "I should have left the run on, but that's a play where I was trying to think too much," Bridgewater said. "I need to give my guys a chance [to make a play]."

If the game baked some progress into Bridgewater's game, in a season that increasingly looks like it will be about developing young players for the future, the Vikings will be better for it. On Sunday, there was reason to think Bridgewater made some progress after an ugly start to his day.

"I thought he settled down better in the third quarter and end of the second quarter," coach Mike Zimmer said. "We continue to have high expectations of him, and he needs to keep being put in these situations, as well."
videoORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Mike Zimmer became the Minnesota Vikings' head coach in no small part because of games like these. His predecessor, Leslie Frazier, presided over a team that blew five last-minute leads in 2013, effectively handing over their chance to win a mediocre division in a series of miscommunications, coverage breakdowns and missed chances to salt away games. Zimmer and Frazier will share a field next Sunday in Tampa, and the closing touchdown drive the Vikings allowed in a 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday shares some DNA with the ones that helped send Frazier back to being a defensive coordinator.

But the Vikings' problems were spliced in between a set of commanding plays from an aggressive defense, and they put a sour finish on a performance that looked nothing like the tepid defensive efforts the Vikings had last season. The Vikings put the Bills on the brink several times on Sunday, and came tantalizingly close to taking the game for themselves.

That they didn't ultimately shows how much of a work in progress they remain.

"You check off every thing you wanted to do, you do it -- other than maybe stopping the run as well as we would like," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "But the game wasn't over. There was time on the clock, and they were able to make some key throws there at the end."

The Vikings' performance, which featured six sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception, will ultimately be remembered for the throws Bills quarterback Kyle Orton made, especially in situations where the Vikings had the Bills dead to rights. Greenway was targeted on one of those throws -- a fourth-and-20 strike to tight end Scott Chandler, who got just behind the linebacker after it appeared Greenway was still communicating defensive adjustments to teammates when the ball was snapped.

"You can't have it," Greenway said. "It's a situation where you've got to get off the field. I thought I was in a good spot. Perfect throw-and-catch. That's what sucks about this game; you play good for a long time, and you end up losing."

Three plays later, cornerback Josh Robinson was matched against wide receiver Sammy Watkins on third-and-12; Robinson had inside leverage on Watkins in man coverage, but Watkins beat a quick jam from Robinson and got inside on a slant route for 18 yards. Then, on second-and-20 after an intentional grounding penalty that forced 10 seconds off the clock, Orton hit Chris Hogan on a jump ball over Xavier Rhodes. Two plays later, the Bills were in the end zone, on a touchdown pass to Watkins that Orton squeezed past Rhodes with one second left.

"I've just got to make the play on the ball," Rhodes said. "No matter if it was good coverage, I've got to make the play."

Coming into Sunday's game, the Vikings were tied for the second-worst conversion rate in the league on third downs of 10 yards or longer, giving up first downs on nine of their 27 attempts. They'd forced a fumble on a third-and-10 in the first quarter, and sacked Orton on a third-and-10 and third-and-17 in the fourth quarter. But then came the fourth-down completion to Chandler, the third-down slant to Watkins and the second down jump ball to Hogan, and the Vikings' progress was tough to remember.

"We probably need to be better in some of those long-yardage situations than we have been," Zimmer said. "That's kind of been the Achilles heel. But, if you go back and look at the things we're working on: playing the run. Other than the one long run [by C.J. Spiller], I thought we played the run well. The third-down conversions have been better. Defensively, I think we continue to work towards where we have to get to. Our guys have to continue to have confidence in themselves that they can make these plays at the end of the ball game."
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Minnesota Vikings' 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday:

Zimmer: Not coaching was never a thought: Coach Mike Zimmer had a "minor procedure" to deal with kidney stones on Friday but told Fox's broadcast crew in a production meeting that he'll need more work done to remove them on Tuesday. He coached in some pain on Sunday, but Zimmer said there was never any doubt he'd be able to coach on Sunday. "I'll be all right," Zimmer said.

Greenway
Greenway on fourth down: "You can't have it" -- The mood was somber in the Vikings' locker room after a loss in which the team gave up a game-winning touchdown with one second left. It was a defeat eerily similar to the five games where the Vikings blew last-minute leads last season, and the Bills extended this drive on a couple of key plays: a fourth-and-20 where Kyle Orton found tight end Scott Chandler just behind Chad Greenway, and a third-and-12 that got the Bills to the Vikings' 20. "You check off every thing you want to do, you do it -- other than maybe stopping the run," Greenway said. "The game wasn't over, and they were able to make some big throws at the end. The [fourth-and-20], you can't have it. It's a situation where you've got to get off the field. I thought I was in a good spot. Perfect throw and catch. That's what sucks about this game: You play good for a long time, and you end up losing."

Ducasse felt "sharp pain" in knee: Guard Vlad Ducasse, who was already filling in for injured starter Brandon Fusco, left the game with a knee injury late in the first quarter, on the same play that also saw center John Sullivan leave with a concussion. Ducasse wasn't sure how he hurt his knee; "I just went to get up off the ground, and there was a sharp pain in my knee." Ducasse did not return, and Mike Harris played the rest of the game at right guard.

Vikings-Bills halftime thoughts

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
2:55
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It's been an eventful first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills are tied at 10. The Vikings lost center John Sullivan to a concussion and guard Vlad Ducasse to a knee injury, while the Bills' top two running backs -- Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller -- were carted off the field with injuries. We've had two interceptions from Teddy Bridgewater, two forced fumbles and an interception from the Vikings' defense and a combined nine penalties from the two teams. If it's been full of activity, it hasn't exactly been aesthetically pleasing.

Here are a few observations from the first half:
  • Bridgewater's first interception came on a tipped pass, on a play where he threw late to Chase Ford after looking at Jarius Wright down the seam. Wright was open on the play, but Bridgewater hitched and threw late to Ford. He also had Cordarrelle Patterson open on a sack late in the second quarter, when Bridgewater stepped up in the pocket instead of throwing downfield, but when Bridgewater has trusted himself to throw, he's had opportunities. His first career TD pass was set up by a 38-yard strike to Greg Jennings down the middle of the field, and Bridgewater hit a nice comeback route to Wright on a field goal drive just before halftime. If Bridgewater is assertive, he's got room to work.
  • The Vikings have stayed committed to the run against the league's best rushing defense, and it's paid off so far. Jerick McKinnon has 42 yards on nine carries, as the Vikings have had some success running outside and staying away from the Bills' solid tackle tandem of Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.
  • Chad Greenway is back on the field, but he hasn't completely returned to his normal role; he's splitting snaps in the nickel defense with Jasper Brinkley.
  • Fox sideline reporter Peter Schrager said early in the broadcast that Mike Zimmer is still coaching with kidney stones on Sunday, and will have them removed on Tuesday. The Vikings said on Friday that Zimmer had a "minor procedure," and the coach returned to work on Saturday, but he's still evidently toughing it out today.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Hello from Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings will try to improve to 3-4 this afternoon against the Buffalo Bills. The Vikings will have linebacker Chad Greenway back on the field for the first time since Sept. 21, as he returns from three broken ribs. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who was questionable to play with elbow and ankle injuries, will also be in the starting lineup for the Vikings.

Defensive end Scott Crichton will be active for just the second time this season, as the main backup for both Everson Griffen and Brian Robison now that Corey Wootton is out with a lower back injury. Crichton said the Vikings worked him at both left and right end this week, and put him on the top field goal unit. Wootton got only 10 snaps last week in relief of Griffen and Robison, but Crichton will likely see some playing time today.

The Vikings could be limited once again in how much they can move Anthony Barr to defensive end on third downs; they'd been doing that when both Hodges and Greenway were healthy, but had to curb it back once Greenway got hurt and Hodges had to play full time, instead of moving to Barr's linebacker spot in the nickel package. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings try to use Audie Cole or Michael Mauti in that kind of a role today, to free up Barr as a pass-rusher.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:
MINNEAPOLIS -- That the Minnesota Vikings were looking to trade Percy Harvin was an open secret in March 2013, when general manager Rick Spielman sent the talented, yet troublesome receiver to Seattle for three draft picks. It seemed like a situation where Spielman would struggle to create leverage, given how apparent a Vikings-Harvin split seemed, but the Seahawks were willing to unload a first-, a third- and a seventh-round pick for reasons that Harvin made obvious during his dynamic performance in Seattle's Super Bowl win in February.

Harvin
Eight months later, with Harvin on the way to the New York Jets for the paltry sum of a mid-round draft pick, the reasons the Vikings wanted to part with him again seem as obvious as the reasons the Seahawks wanted him in the first place. Harvin leaves Seattle with a fresh set of reports swirling in his wake about how the receiver was a bad fit for Seattle's culture, to the point where the team's front office wanted him off the roster. Now, he goes to a 1-6 team that will owe him no guaranteed money after this season, and especially if the Jets have a new power structure in place next year, Harvin could again be looking for a team to gamble on his immense talent.

That Harvin seemingly couldn't function in the Seahawks' ecosystem -- seen as one of the most player-friendly in the league -- is as dumbfounding as the fact he clashed with a coach as genteel and likable as former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. It's not as though Harvin's recent stops have seen him matched with coaches regarded as difficult to work with, and even though he seemed thrilled to join the Seahawks when the Vikings dealt him 19 months ago, his durability and behavioral issues surfaced as quickly there as they did in Minnesota.

The Vikings used the picks they received for Harvin on cornerback Xavier Rhodes (who looks like a mainstay in Mike Zimmer's defense), offensive lineman Travis Bond (who was released last year) and running back Jerick McKinnon (who could develop into a solid weapon for offensive coordinator Norv Turner). That remains an impressive haul for a radioactive player like Harvin, and even if Rhodes and McKinnon fail to capitalize on their potential, Spielman appears vindicated by his decision not to consider giving Harvin a lucrative multi-year contract.

Harvin is someone else's problem now, a step further removed from the Vikings and a step closer to an uncertain future in the league. He will return to Minnesota with the Jets on Dec. 7, and even if he makes a few splash plays against his former team (as he did last November in Seattle), it's doubtful the Vikings will miss him much. His abrupt exit from a championship team suggest the Vikings were right to turn him loose, and shrewd to sell as high on him as they did.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Linebacker Chad Greenway was listed as questionable for the Minnesota Vikings' game on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner, speaking in Mike Zimmer's absence as the head coach was having a "minor procedue" on Friday, said Greenway will be a game-time decision on Sunday against Buffalo.

Greenway, however, said he'll play if it's at all possible. "If there's a way," he said, "I promise I'll be out there."

Greenway
The linebacker has missed the Vikings' last three games with broken ribs, and he would wear some kind of protection if he's on the field Sunday. He was a full participant in practice for the third straight day on Friday and said he continues to feel better. He'd likely return to his starting weakside linebacker spot on Sunday with Gerald Hodges out because of a hamstring injury. If Greenway is unable to go, Audie Cole would be next in line.

Greenway broke three ribs on Sept. 21 against New Orleans, and the Vikings decided to hold him out for the following game against the Atlanta Falcons. "After the New Orleans game, we made the right call," he said. "It needed a few weeks, and it's progressing how everybody thought it would. To me, it's the most frustrating injury I've had, because what do you do? You sit around and wait for it to heal itself."

Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is also questionable for Sunday with elbow and ankle injuries. Defensive end Corey Wootton will miss Sunday's game with a low back injury, meaning rookie Scott Crichton will likely return to the active roster after being deactivated for the last five games.

Crichton said he has been on the first field goal unit this week, and he worked at left end this week,after playing right end all season. The Vikings have used Wootton to spell both Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, and they'll likely move Crichton into that spot this weekend.

"This is the opportunity I've been waiting for," he said.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was not with the team at its Friday practice, as he underwent what team spokesman Bob Hagan termed a “minor procedure.” Zimmer will be back with the team on Saturday, and plans to coach on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, Hagan said.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner was scheduled to address reporters after the Vikings’ Friday practice. The Vikings did not announce any further details about Zimmer's procedure.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The job certainly has changed since Kirby Wilson started.

When Wilson left the Pittsburgh Steelers last winter to become the Minnesota Vikings' running backs coach and work with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, he was also counting on one very sizable perk: the opportunity to work with Adrian Peterson, who had taken almost every carry for the Vikings when he was healthy over the last seven seasons and who figured to be a prominent part of the team's offense again.

[+] EnlargeKirby Wilson
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallKirby Wilson is getting Matt Asiata and the other Vikings running backs up to speed.
"I'm human," Wilson said. "I would have loved an opportunity to see what we could have done together, and as a football team. You sit back, you just say, 'God has given me a tremendous opportunity to work with and develop some new players.' I flipped the script very fast when it came to that, because that excited me to develop two more guys that hadn't really done it."

Instead of coaching a former league MVP, Wilson is working with a running back who had 47 carries before this season (Matt Asiata) and a converted triple-option college quarterback (Jerick McKinnon), trying to remake a ground game that has been the focal point of the team's offense since Brad Childress was the head coach. To this point, that process has been bumpy; the Vikings have run for 534 yards in the five games Peterson's missed, but 241 of those came in a 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 28. In the four other games -- all losses - the Vikings ran for 54, 59, 111 and 69 yards, at a time where their offense could use some balance to help rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

The task will remain difficult this weekend as the Vikings face the league's top-ranked run defense. They plan to use both running backs after featuring McKinnon last week, believing they'll fare better with Asiata and McKinnon's complementary styles, but the riddle of how to replace Peterson remains one the Vikings haven't solved yet.

"You're not going to have the dynamic, explosive, spectacular runs and plays that you get out of a player of [Peterson's] magnitude," Wilson said. "We definitely miss that element, but we've moved on to a certain degree."

Wilson said the adjustment has been the largest for McKinnon, who got his first true snaps as a running back at postseason college all-star games and is still learning the fundamentals of the position. "He definitely had no clue as to what's next when [Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges]," Wilson said. "He was probably in more of a shock mode than Matt, but he's done a good job since the initial shock of it all.

"You never want to put the most pressure on the guy with the least amount of experience. You never want to do that. But he's handled it quite well."

McKinnon, who ran for 135 yards in Week 4 and gained 82 all-purpose yards last week, admitted the process of becoming a featured running back has been a "whirlwind," but said he feels like he's becoming more consistent, and while the Vikings want to get Asiata more carries this week, it seems as though McKinnon will be the primary back. He fits well in the read-option looks the Vikings had initially planned in order to spread defenses out and keep them from stacking the box against Peterson. McKinnon can bring back some of the explosive plays the Vikings have been missing in the run game.

Whatever the Vikings do, it likely won't replace what they had in Peterson. Wilson said he still texts Peterson once a week, to let him know he's thinking about him, and it doesn't take long before his admiration for Peterson's on-field work comes up in a conversation.

But until -- or unless -- Peterson returns, the Vikings' running game remains an unknown commodity.

"We're still trying to find out what it's going to be," Wilson said. "We're still trying to massage our way through this right now."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- On Thursday, the Minnesota Vikings moved closer to getting Chad Greenway back on the field, as the linebacker was a full participant in practice for the second straight day. Greenway, who hasn't played since fracturing three ribs Sept. 21 against New Orleans, seems on track to return Sunday against Buffalo, and coach Mike Zimmer sounded optimistic about that possibility Thursday.

Greenway
"Yesterday, we were in pads and he felt pretty good," Zimmer said. "We've done another test on this, to see where he's at healing-wise, and he looks pretty good. I'm going to have to trust him and what he says."

The Vikings were without Gerald Hodges again Thursday because of a hamstring injury, but Zimmer didn't sound apprehensive about the possibility of putting Greenway back in a full-time role if he's healthy enough to go Sunday.

"My thought is, if he can play, he can play," Zimmer said.

Linebacker Michael Mauti missed Thursday's practice with an illness, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd sat out with a lingering ankle injury after being limited Wednesday, and defensive end Corey Wootton missed his second consecutive day of practice with a low-back injury. But Zimmer wasn't concerned about any of the three being unavailable for Sunday's game.

Defensive tackle Linval Joseph was limited with an ankle injury, and cornerback Jabari Price was limited with a hamstring injury after missing Wednesday's practice altogether. Safety Harrison Smith (ankle), tight end Chase Ford (foot) and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (hip) were again full participants.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In a week where we've spent plenty of time talking about an unexpected concern for the Minnesota Vikings -- their pass protection -- it only seems fair to take a look at a pleasant surprise: the performance of their young cornerbacks.

Robinson
Rhodes
Secondary depth looked like an issue for the Vikings as recently as training camp, when Josh Robinson was dealing with a hamstring injury and struggling to prove he'd progressed from a disastrous second season. But Robinson has performed well as an outside cornerback in nickel situations -- albeit in fewer snaps than Xavier Rhodes or Captain Munnerlyn -- and Rhodes has been a solid cover corner in his second year, as well.

According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks have a passer rating of just 53.3 when throwing at Robinson (the seventh lowest in the NFL), and a mark of 71.0 when targeting Rhodes (19th lowest among cornerbacks). Passers have had more success against Munnerlyn, completing 16 of 22 passes targeted at him for 199 yards and three touchdowns.

"They are getting better with their techniques," coach Mike Zimmer said of Rhodes and Robinson. "They’ve got a tough job when you’re out there one-one-one with good receivers all the time it’s not an easy job because those guys are terrific athletes and we ask them to do an awful lot. So far they’ve been good at what they’ve been doing."

The Vikings have five interceptions this season, which puts them 15th in the NFL (though Harrison Smith, who has three already this year, is on track to become the first player since Cedric Griffin in 2009 with more than three interceptions). Still, Zimmer said there's much more that matters to him at cornerback than just interceptions, and on that front, his two young corners are getting better.

"Everybody wants to get interceptions; I got that, but there’s something to be said about your guy not catching the ball and them having to go somewhere else," Zimmer said. "To me, that’s a big value if my guy isn’t catching the ball, because I can worry about other things. Maybe I’m the only one that thinks that way but I do."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It would appear Chad Greenway has a good chance to get back on the field this Sunday after a three-game absence.

Greenway was with the Minnesota Vikings at the start of their practice Wednesday afternoon, after doing some limited work on Friday for the first time since he broke three ribs on Sept. 21 in New Orleans. As the veteran returned, linebacker Gerald Hodges -- who started the last three games in Greenway's place -- was sitting out of practice after injuring his hamstring Sunday, so Greenway could have an open path back to his spot as the starting weakside linebacker.

Coach Mike Zimmer said on Wednesday afternoon he would "possibly" consider making changes to the starting five on the Vikings' offensive line after the team gave up eight sacks on Sunday, but the Vikings had the same five starting linemen from Sunday's game -- Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Vlad Ducasse and Phil Loadholt -- working together during the open portion of Wednesday's practice.

Cornerback Jabari Price and defensive end Corey Wootton also appeared to not be practicing, and tight end Kyle Rudolph, of course, remains out with a sports hernia.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' defensive performance in a 17-3 loss to the Detroit Lions Sunday must be graded on a curve, considering the Lions were without wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush, which led them to simplify their offense into a short passing game and power running game designed to keep the chains moving and force the Vikings' offense to play from behind.

But 10 days after a 42-10 shellacking at Lambeau Field, the Vikings had reason to be happy with a number of things they did on defense. After surrendering another early touchdown, they held the Lions to 10 points and 175 yards the rest of the day, limiting the Lions to just one third-down conversion for the game.

It wasn't enough to win on a day where the Vikings managed just three points and the Lions started their average drive at their own 36-yard line, but coach Mike Zimmer was right to point out some positives about the defensive performance on Monday, especially after drilling players to stay disciplined against the run.

"Defensively, I think what we went back and emphasized extremely hard, I thought we did a really good job in," Zimmer said.

Here are some other observations of the Vikings' defense after a film review of the Lions' 17-3 win:
  • Joesph
    After playing his worst game of the season against the Packers, nose tackle Linval Joseph might have been at his best Sunday against Detroit, collapsing the middle of the Lions' offensive line for much of the day and getting good push on a quarterback hit and a sack he shared with Brian Robison. Joseph admitted he was playing out of his gap a few times in Green Bay, but he got back to what he does best on Sunday: swallowing up blockers and holding firm in the middle of the line.
  • It was an easier day for the Vikings' cornerbacks because of how rarely Matthew Stafford went downfield (he was 1-for-10 on throws at least 10 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Information), but Josh Robinson bounced back from a bad night in Green Bay and continued to show improvement at corner. He had good inside leverage on one of the few times he was tested downfield, on a sideline throw to Corey Fuller late in the second quarter, and gave Stafford no place to fit the ball (though Fuller motioned that Robinson grabbed his jersey after the play).
  • Zimmer brought extra pressure on just 14 of Stafford's 41 dropbacks, and the Vikings did a good job getting to Stafford with just four pass rushers; three of their four sacks came with standard pressure. Tom Johnson had another strong day in the Vikings' nickel package, bull rushing Dominic Raiola on a third-quarter sack of Stafford, drilling the quarterback on a pressure in the second quarter and nearly taking him down again on one of the stunts he ran with a defensive end (Everson Griffen in this case).
  • The Vikings' first defensive drive set the tone for the day, and we need to spend a little time on what went wrong. Zimmer wasn't happy with the Vikings' pursuit of Theo Riddick's 41-yard screen -- "We didn't get off blocks; we had one guy loaf," he said -- and Joique Bell shed a pair of arm tackles from Anthony Barr and Jasper Brinkley on a 10-yard run on the Lions' third play of the game. Stafford's touchdown to Riddick came when Gerald Hodges (who had another good day in run support) appeared to lose him in coverage; Hodges and Barr also both jumped tight end Brandon Pettigrew on the screen, leaving room for Riddick on the right side.

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
11:00
AM ET
A weekly look at what the Vikings must fix:

As much focus as has been put on the Vikings' struggles to protect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, one of their offensive issues could hurt them even more this weekend in Buffalo: their inability to develop a consistent running game.

The Vikings' running backs -- Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata -- gained just 35 yards on 13 carries last week against the Detroit Lions. The Vikings' biggest play of the day came on a reverse to Jarius Wright, and Bridgewater gained 11 yards on three scrambles, but one of the league's best defensive fronts repeatedly pushed Vikings linemen into the backfield, recording four tackles for loss and putting the Vikings in untenable third-down situations all day. The Vikings went just 3-for-14 on third downs and needed to cover at least 6 yards on 10 of those plays. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 10 teams had at least 10 third-down attempts of 6 yards or more Sunday; only three won their game.

Coach Mike Zimmer said he liked some of the things McKinnon did Sunday, and McKinnon could get the majority of the carries against Buffalo. He seems to fit better than Asiata running out of the shotgun sets the Vikings mostly use with Bridgewater as the quarterback, and the Vikings also might be able to give their running game some juice with a few read-option plays (they ran four Sunday for 19 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Info).

But nothing will replace the ability of the Vikings' line to open holes against defensive fronts, and especially without injured right guard Brandon Fusco, the group could have a tough task again this week in Buffalo. The Bills have allowed a league-low 2.79 yards per carry this season.
Mike ZimmerHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesMike Zimmer is learning how to effectively get his message across to a young Vikings team.
MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Minnesota Vikings were in the process of searching for a new coach last winter, general manager Rick Spielman asked veteran players what traits they most wanted to see in a new leader. A major one that led the team to Mike Zimmer -- indeed, a major reason why many give Zimmer the "players' coach" label even though he doesn't meet many of its cliches -- was this: Zimmer would let players know where they stood with him, often in rather blunt fashion.

"If you can get an idea of where you stand, it gives you a chance to know what you need to work on," fullback Jerome Felton said after Zimmer was hired in January. "You can just focus on football, rather than wondering, 'What’s going on? Why is this the situation happening?' When everybody asks what you want from a coach, I always talk about being an authentic person."

The Vikings heard where they stood with Zimmer on Sunday, all right. Well, maybe they got a better idea on Monday.

On Monday, Zimmer candidly and pointedly detailed what he likes about his team, and what causes him to lose sleep over it, after a 2-4 start. He made it clear he would not tolerate repeated mistakes or rash conduct, like the 15-yard penalty Adam Thielen received for talking to officials during the Vikings' 42-10 loss to Green Bay in Week 5, and he laid out something of a manifesto for why he's so demanding.

"I want them to understand that it’s not OK to lose," Zimmer said. "That’s what I want them to understand. I want them to understand that it’s not OK to lose, that we have to change the mentality and the mindset of this. I can remember telling the defense the same thing in Cincinnati a long, long time ago that we have to develop this mindset that it’s not OK to lose, it’s not business as usual. I’m not very accepting of these kinds of things."

It was an effective way to send a message to players, from a coach who's already proved capable of getting his players' attention through his public comments. It would have been even more effective, though, if Zimmer had said it on Sunday, instead of using part of his news conference on Monday to backtrack from the headline-grabbing remarks he made about increasing fines for players who are late to meetings.

Those comments, Zimmer said Monday, came after he "kind of flew off the handle a little bit yesterday," and were motivated in part by a pair of practice squad players being late to a weightlifting session on Saturday. They caused at least a bit of puzzlement from veteran players -- safety Harrison Smith said he hadn't noticed players arriving late, while receiver Greg Jennings said the Vikings certainly weren't the only team to have that issue. "If Coach feels like we have an undisciplined team, it's not for me to express my opinion," Jennings said.

Zimmer is right to set high standards for his team and hold players accountable for meeting those standards. He's working with one of the league's youngest rosters, and can point to all sorts of markers of sloppiness -- 18 penalties the last two weeks, 13 dropped passes this season and a minus-5 turnover margin. But he's learning, too, about the process of talking to an entire team, of managing a much larger media pulpit, and as he grows, he'll develop a better appreciation for the power of remarks like Sunday's -- both to whip a team into form and to rankle veterans who might tire of them over time, particularly if they're brought on by trivial things.

The coach delivered another manifesto of sorts on Monday, one that showed he's becoming aware of just how many people are listening to what he says. "I’m always going to be pretty honest, I think," Zimmer said. "That’s my creed as best I can be and I’ll continue always to try and be honest with you and maybe do a better job of trying not to let some things bother me as much. I am learning, trying to be a good head coach. I’m trying to do a better job every day, every single game. I’m not perfect just like the players aren’t. I’ll just keep trying to do better and trying to get my team to be better."

As a young team is learning how to read its new coach, the coach is learning exactly what kinds of signs to give them. From what Zimmer said on Monday, it seemed he'd sent a message to himself, too.

" I know one of the hot topics is this fine thing, and that was probably 'Zimmer being Zimmer,'" he said. "I kind of was not in the best frame of mind at that time. This team has not had an issue, a continual issue, of being late. Every time a guy has been late, when I’ve been anywhere, I’ve fined him so it has not been an issue. I had two practice squad guys miss lifting on Saturday so that was kind of sticking in my mind. I’m looking for everything that I can look at, everything that I can control and try to continue to get this team better each and every time."

 

 

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