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NOTEBOOK: Vikings Focused on Changing Fortunes in Turnover Battle

EAGAN, Minn. — Mike Zimmer already had an answer to the looming question.

The Vikings head coach met with the media Thursday, and the topic of turnovers was broached.

Mainly how opposing teams have put the ball on the ground nine times…

“And we’ve got one,” Zimmer finished the thought.

The Vikings are one of nine teams in the NFL with just a single fumble recovery on defense this season. The Eagles, Minnesota’s opponent on Sunday, are also included in that group.

The chances have certainly been there for Zimmer’s defense, but the lone fumble recovery came in Week 1 against the 49ers.

Since then, the Vikings have failed to pounce on loose balls — all eight of them.

“We’ve had some opportunities and haven’t gotten them, so it’s a point of emphasis,” Zimmer said. “Hopefully we can get some more on the ground.”

Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly said he missed a chance at one in Week 4 against the Rams.

“Last game I had the opportunity to get one, and I’ve got to be more aware,” Weatherly said. “No one was expecting the ball to come out. But when you rally to the ball and get more guys to the ball, you’ve got to be ready that anything can happen, including the ball coming out.

“I should have gotten on that one,” Weatherly added. “That’s something we’re definitely emphasizing … when we do get an opportunity to get the ball, whether it’s in the air or on the ground, we’ve got to get it.”

While the Vikings are one of nine on defense in recovering fumbles, the offense has lost possession four times on six total fumbles.

While those numbers usually even out over time, Weatherly said the numbers aren’t skewed by chance.

“It’s not much about luck. It’s about finishing,” Weatherly said. “When someone gets there and then the second guy got there faster than expected and got the ball out, the third guy is running to the ball, and he’s on it and now we’re going the other way.”

Minnesota is currently tied for 20th in the NFL with a minus-2 turnover differential. Philadelphia is tied for 26th at minus-3.

After meeting in the NFC title game last season, neither team has a winning record.

Weatherly was asked if the familiar phrase that getting a victory in the turnover battle usually lead to more team wins was just a cliché.

“That is not a cliché. That is a hard fact … like the sky is blue,” Weatherly said. “Coach Zim’ did a presentation on it, you get a turnover and it increases your winning percentage up to the 70th percentile. If you get two, it’s in the 80s.

“It works a lot, especially for the defense. If we get a turnover, that’s less time for the opposing offense to get points on the board,” Weatherly added. “We want our offense to have the ball.”

Hughes could start against Eagles

Mike Hughes could see an even bigger increase in snaps this week.

The Vikings rookie cornerback has played at least 78 percent of Minnesota’s defensive snaps in three of four games due to fellow cornerback Trae Waynes being banged up.

With Waynes not playing Sunday against the Eagles, Hughes could take over that starting cornerback role in Philadelphia.

“I feel like I left a couple plays out there, but overall I feel comfortable at corner,” Hughes said about his play so far this season. “I came in as a corner, so whatever I need to do to help my team, I’ll do it. That’s why we prepare all week to be ready for games like this.”

Hughes, a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, is one of four players this season with a forced fumble, an interception and a defensive touchdown.

The former UCF standout said he feels he has adapted well to the NFL game.

“Just being comfortable. Trusting my technique,” Hughes said. “Going out there, putting everything you do in practice onto the game field. That’s been the biggest thing.

“And also competing – there’s a lot of great guys in the league, a lot of great receivers, so just being able to go out there and compete and have fun,” Hughes added.

Vikings prepping for improved Wentz

It’s been almost two years since the Vikings saw Carson Wentz in action. The quarterback was a rookie in 2016 when he threw for 138 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a Philadelphia win.

Since then, the second overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft has only gotten better. He was an MVP candidate in 2017 with 3,296 passing yards and 33 touchdowns in 13-plus games before tearing his ACL.

Where has Wentz improved since his Week 7 meeting with Minnesota in 2016?

“Probably everywhere,” Zimmer said. “We played him his rookie year, and they kind of kept things pretty basic.

“Now he’s scrambling and running, a big-time arm, throws the ball well, sees the coverages,” Zimmer added.

Wentz sat out the first two games of the season before returning in Week 3. He has thrown for 603 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in two starts.

Sheldon Richardson said he expects to see the same Wentz this weekend that he saw in 2017 when the Vikings defensive tackle was with Seattle.

“His arm didn’t die. He just had a leg injury,” Richardson said. “But he’s most definitely the same guy I still remember playing against last year.

“He’s still running out of the pocket after knee surgery, so things of that nature didn’t [change],” Richardson added. “He’s healthy to me, so I’ll leave it at that. Same old Carson Wentz.”

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