EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —One of the most competitive portions on Tuesday's Organized Team Activity practice was the Vikings offense and defense going head-to-head inside the 5-yard line.
That's just the way Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer wants it, especially since that's an area for improvement heading into the 2017 season. Zimmer mentioned the reps inside the 5-yard line as a point of pride in the way the team has been taking instruction in the meeting rooms and applying it in practice.
"It's good to see these guys and the way that they compete and the way they try to do things right," Zimmer said. "When we have a meeting in the morning and I tell them what I want to work on today and what I want to get accomplished, to see them come out here and do it and pay attention.
"That's why I like this football team so much," Zimmer continued. "If you talk to them about being inside the 5-yard line and things that are going to happen and things that we've got to do, they're going to come out here and work on it. It may not be perfect, but they're going to try and work on the things that we want to get accomplished."
Vikings.com took a look earlier this offseason at how Minnesota fared inside the 5-yard line on both offense and defense in 2016.Offensively, the Vikings had the ball 22 times inside an opponent's 5-yard line, and scored 14 touchdowns for a success rate of 63.6 percent.
"I think looking back to last season, as a whole offense, we were frustrated with our performance in that area," Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said Tuesday. "That's how you win and lose ball games right there.
"That's why it's been such a big emphasis … we talked about it on our team meeting," Thielen added. "(Coach Zimmer) puts up stats in there. When teams score touchdowns, then it changes the whole game."
The Vikings, who used eight different starting offensive line combinations, also kicked four field goals, had a pair of turnovers on downs and turned the ball over twice despite being on the doorstep of the end zone.
"There were a few times we got inside the 5-yard line and didn't even score points last year," Thielen said. "That just can't happen."
Minnesota's touchdown rate inside the 5-yard line was ironically worse in wins. The Vikings went 6-for-10 in victories and 8-for-12 in losses.
The Vikings defense had trouble keeping opponents out of the end zone as the Vikings allowed touchdowns on 17 of 18 trips inside the 5-yard line.
Minnesota's only stop came against the Eagles, forcing Philadelphia to kick a field goal with the 2-yard line as the line of scrimmage.
Joseph, Vikings defense hungry for better stretch run in 2017
Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph was a key cog in Minnesota's strong defensive unit in 2016.
Joseph made his first career Pro Bowl after notching 100 total tackles (according to coaches' tally) with four tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
But 'Big Goon' and his defensive teammates are focused on being better down the stretch in 2017. The Vikings started 5-0 but finished 8-8 in 2016. Four of the losses were by six or fewer points.
"We didn't finish the way we were supposed to," Joseph said. "We didn't finish No.1 (as the league's top-ranked defense).
"Of course it's upsetting, but it gives us room now to know what we need to do to get better this year," Joseph added.
Joseph said the groundwork starts during OTAs and will continue into training camp.
"Every day, we're trying to get better," Joseph said. "We can't ever stay the same.
"We're glad to have Coach back and we're trying to work hard on all the little things we didn't do well last year," Joseph added. "It's coming along."
Minnesota finished third in yards allowed per game (314.9) and sixth in points allowed (19.2) in 2016.
Of the 307 total points allowed, the Vikings gave up 72 of them (23.4 percent) in back-to-back losses to Indianapolis and Green Bay in Weeks 15 and 16.