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NOTEBOOK: NFL Teams are Going For — and Getting — 2 More Often

EAGAN, Minn. — There is a 2-point trend coursing through the National Football League.

Teams have converted on 35 of 59 total 2-point conversions (59.3 percent) so far in 2018, and the league is on pace to see the most 2-point plays in a season in league history. (The record is 114 attempts in 1994).

“I just think the league is aggressive overall,” said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. “The statistical average has been higher than it has been on 2 points.”

Zimmer said the statistical chart that coaches consult when deciding to go for 2 has been shifting in recent years.

“Typically it’s based on converting, right?” Zimmer said. “So they’re converting at a higher pace.”

Both the Vikings and the Saints, Minnesota’s opponent on Sunday Night Football in Week 8, are performing better than the league average on the play.

Minnesota has been successful on two of three 2-point plays. Quarterback Kirk Cousins threw conversions to wide receiver Stefon Diggs in Green Bay and running back Latavius Murray in Los Angeles, but his pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph against Buffalo was incomplete.

Cousins explained the Vikings strategy when going for two:

“You have them ready, you have them prepped,” Cousins said. “We’ve carried a few on our menu every single week so that we’re ready for when it is needed.

“Then, it just comes down to the situations in the game that may or may not dictate them and the strategy we want to deploy. It’s a big part of the game,” Cousins added. “These games are so close that the nature of being ready for two-point conversions and knowing that they come up and the importance of the play itself working, it’s a big deal.”

Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo said he sometimes might dip into the playbook for extra creativity. In addition to having a handful of 2-point plays, DeFilippo said he might go to a section of his play sheet that houses plays the Vikings offense runs inside the 5-yard line near the end zone.

“You go along, you have your menu of 2-point plays that you like against certain things,” DeFilippo said. “At the same time, the beauty of that is as well as you have your three or four plays that you really like. You can carry those to [plays for the opponent’s 5-yard line] as well. If you need a play on the plus-five, it’s later in the game, you say, ‘I really like this play.’

“Case in point, the play we ran against Green Bay for the 2-point conversion to Diggs to tie it. That was actually really in our plus-5 menu. That was not in our 2-point play menu. We had a feeling what coverage we were going to get. I think that all correlates with if you think you know what coverage is going to get. If that correlates to what the defense is giving you on a 2-point conversion and inside the plus-5 those can go hand-in-hand.

The Saints have converted on three of four 2-point tries. Quarterback Drew Brees converted one of them on a pass, and running back Alvin Kamara has had two successful runs in the first seven games.

Zimmer delved into what goes into a defensive play call near the end zone.

“It really depends on the team and what we think they’re going to do,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes it’s coverage, sometimes it’s what you do best.

“Sometimes, I mean, all of these teams, when you get inside the 5-yard line, that’s pretty much what a 2-point [play] is at the end of the day,” Zimmer added. “You’ve kind of just got to go off your game plan when you’re inside the 5.”

‘Go out and play’

The Vikings might be relying on a handful of young players Sunday night against the high-powered Saints.

Not that Zimmer and his team are worried too much about that. If anything, Minnesota is embracing the challenge that lies ahead.

“Go out and play, baby,” Zimmer quipped. “It’s what we do. It’s why we do this. It’s why we get paid. It’s what they live for.”

Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, guard Tom Compton, safety Andrew Sendejo and Dalvin Cook have been ruled out. Riley Reiff is listed as doubtful. Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph are listed as questionable..

That means cornerback Holton Hill could be in for Rhodes, and linebacker Eric Wilson could replace Barr. Guard Danny Isidora played in Compton’s spot last weekend when the guard was injured against the Jets.

Zimmer said he’s more than comfortable with any player on Minnesota’s roster.

“These guys come in here to play. They don’t come in here to sit,” Zimmer said. “Guys who don’t have confidence don’t usually last in this league. [Hill] is not a guy that is afraid. Just go out and play.

“We are not going to cancel the game,” Zimmer later added. “We are going to show up on Sunday night, trust me.”

The Vikings will be without rookie cornerback Mike Hughes [torn ACL] for the remainder of the season, but are likely to see the return of defensive end Everson Griffen, who last played in Week 2.

On the New Orleans side, cornerback Patrick Robinson and wide receivers Ted Ginn, Jr. and Tommylee Lewis are each on Injured Reserve, meaning Zimmer wasn’t buying the fact the Vikings are the only team that has to rely on young players.

“I think every team goes through that. Guys come in, and they end up playing,” Zimmer said. “Hopefully we have a lot of depth. We’ve been fortunate we have a lot of depth. We have good players.”

Sunday night success

The Vikings will be looking for more success on Sunday Night Football.

Minnesota is 18-17 all-time in primetime on Sunday night, and have won three straight games in that time slot.

The Vikings beat the Giants in Week 16 of the 2015 season before winning the following week in Green Bay to capture the NFC North. Minnesota then opened U.S. Bank Stadium with a Week 2 win over Green Bay in 2016 in the first game in the venue.

Kickoff is slated for 7:20 p.m. (CT) from U.S. Bank Stadium.

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