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Updated: October 21st, 2010 3:52pm
Notebook: Vikings still trying to end early-game inepititude on offense

Notebook: Vikings still trying to end early-game inepititude on offense

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- One of the most consistent elements of the Minnesota Vikings' offensive struggles this season is their ineptitude in the early going.

Through five games, the Vikings' first two drives (10 total) have netted 126 yards on 49 plays (2.57 average), eight first downs and no points.

None of those drives have netted more than two first downs. Only one has netted more than 19 yards. Eight have ended with punts, one with a turnover on downs and one on a fumble, which handed the ball to the Dallas Cowboys for an easy scoring drive from the Vikings' 48-yard line last weekend.

"A lot of jitters," Vikings receiver Percy Harvin said. "A lot of teams like to blitz us in the first couple drives. So, I think us just executing, going out there, playing relaxed and getting back to how we played last year -- we actually should invite the blitz with the speed we've got. ... We'll get it corrected."

By comparison, opponents have racked up 316 net yards on 55 plays (5.75 average), 16 first downs and 24 points on those 10 early drives.

It's at least partly telling of the issues Vikings coaches have had trying to get their evolving pieces to fit together. The first two drives are made up of scripted play calls, which coaches usually go through with players the night before Sunday afternoon games.

Asked why those plays are leading to points, Harvin said, "I don't know. We're not executing as well. We go into halftime, make adjustments and we come out a lot better."

Indeed, the Vikings' highest-scoring quarter by far is the third, in which they're outscoring opponents 38-20. They're getting outscored in the first (31-14) and fourth (21-19) and are even at 16 in the second.

In 2009, the Vikings outscored opponents in every quarter including the first, in which they had a 69-29 advantage.

"We were one of the very best I think last year with our openers and scoring in first drives and things like that," coach Brad Childress said. "You're putting down thoughts that you think can get guys started, whether it's getting the running game or getting the quarterback started with some completions ... and then the other thing you're trying to do is you're trying to look and see how they're playing personnel and playing formations and that type of thing."

The early struggles won't be easy to stop on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers, who have outscored opponents 44-10 in the first quarter this season.

"I feel like we can be very explosive," running back Adrian Peterson said. "We have showed signs, like you have seen, but it's about doing it for four quarters. We haven't done that yet. We look forward to doing that this Sunday night."

Hitting it off

A day after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's memo to teams about increased enforcement and penalties for illegal hits, players around the league screened the accompanying video.

It didn't exactly get rave reviews in the Vikings locker room.

The video was about 4 minutes long and focused on a half-dozen plays from last weekend -- including the three illegal hits that led to $175,000 in fines, plus three hits deemed legal, including Chicago receiver Earl Bennett's block that left Seattle punter Jon Ryan writhing on the ground.

Punter Chris Kluwe posted a photo on his Twitter account of a drawing on the locker-room whiteboard featuring two identical sets of stick figures engaged in a hit and the message, "QB or Receiver that makes over $10 (million) - Illegal. Punter or anyone else we don't give a (expletive) about - Legal."

Several Vikings defenders spoke Wednesday about their concerns with how the rule will be enforced. Harvin joined the chorus on Thursday, saying it will "slow down the game a little bit. You can't judge how you tackle someone, so I think it's ridiculous. That's not my call, but I don't agree with it."

No offense

A surprise deactivation against Dallas, fullback Naufahu Tahi said he had talked to coaches and knew the most was about game-planning for the Cowboys' 3-4 front, not anything punitive.

"We all understood," Tahi said. "It's just something that we thought about doing in the (January) playoff game versus Dallas, too. ... It wasn't new and it wasn't surprising to me. So, it's just all part of the game plan."

Inactive only one other time since 2008, Tahi said he expects to be back in the lineup on Sunday.

Health watch

The Vikings added Harvin (hamstring) and offensive lineman Ryan Cook (wrist) to Thursday's injury report, listing both as limited participants in practice.

The report was released after media access had ended for the day, so no further information on either injury was available.

End Brian Robison (ankle) and defensive tackle Letroy Guion (toe) were upgraded from limited to full participation, while tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser (groin) and cornerback Lito Sheppard (hand) returned to practice on a limited basis after sitting out on Wednesday.

Still limited were: cornerback Chris Cook (knee), tackle Chris DeGeare (ankle), linebacker E.J. Henderson (knee), center John Sullivan (calf) and quarterback Brett Favre (ankle/right elbow).

Sullivan said he could play if called upon, but Childress indicated reps are being split evenly between him and Jon Cooper.

In Green Bay, cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) and receiver Donald Driver (quadriceps) didn't practice, while safety Nick Collins (knee) and linebacker A.J. Hawk (groin) returned on a limited basis and left tackle Chad Clifton (knee) and end Cullen Jenkins (knee) were upgraded from limited to full participation.

Woodson was excused for a personal reason, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

Quick hits

• Vikings DC Leslie Frazier, who has been linked to the University of Minnesota's vacant coaching job, was asked if he'd consider taking a college position. "I think in my heart I feel like I could be a head coach," Frazier said, "but my focus is really what we're doing here in Minnesota with the Vikings and really trying to win a championship. I haven't given any thought to collegiate football or professional football as far as being a head coach at this point. It's just so hard to get a win in our league. You don't want to have anything to split your focus and that's where my attention is really on -- helping us get a win against Green Bay."

• Harvin said he isn't sure when or if he'll be used on punt returns but he's "definitely ready." Asked how close that is to happening, special-teams coordinator Brian Murphy said, "It'll come eventually. I don't think it's him -- I just think it'll be the right place, the right place and the right time to be back there returning punts."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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