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NOTEBOOK: Vikings Want to Improve Chances on 2nd Down

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —If the first two games of the season are a barometer, the Vikings offense should have 20 or so plays on second downs this Sunday against the Buccaneers.

Minnesota was in a second-down situation 22 times against New Orleans (not counting a kneel down) and 20 times against Pittsburgh.

If Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer had his choice, is there a specific distance he wants to get to on second down?

"Yeah, first down," Zimmer said with a laugh.

Zimmer then turned serious, saying getting into manageable second-down scenarios simply makes life easier for his offense.

"I think if you can get it second-and-4, then you have a whole lot of things you can do," Zimmer said. "You can still run the ball, you can play action, you can throw the ball.

"There's so many different things you can do," Zimmer added. "Each down is important, but first down is obviously … that kind of gets you not behind the 8-ball."

While Zimmer noted second-and-4 as a target, used second-and-6 as the threshold for keeping things at a manageable down and distance. 

Against New Orleans in Week 1, the Vikings got into a second-and-6 scenario or better 11 of the 22 times. The average distance the Vikings needed to gain on second and/or third downs to move the chains was just a hair over seven yards.

The Vikings took a step back in Pittsburgh, a game that featured a tough road environment against perennially strong defense with a backup quarterback.

Of the 20 second-down situations the Vikings were in, seven featured second-and-6 or better while eight were second-and-10 or worse. Minnesota averaged second-and-roughly 9, a stat affected by the fact that the Vikings were in second-and-20 three different times.

Both Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur and wide receiver Adam Thielen noted the challenges of getting into second-and-long situations.

"You don't like to be in those situations because you'll have to go to different types of plays than if it's second-and-4," Shurmur said. "You can't get to some of the things that you were normally would like to.

"What we need to do is make sure we don't put ourselves in those longer-yard situations. We need to stay on schedule so that we can call the plays that might get us an explosive gain," Shurmur added. "That makes it a little bit easier on ourselves. That allows you to get the ball down the field, so you can get in the scoring zone and score points."

Added Thielen: "It's hard enough to get 10 yards, let alone 20 yards for a first down. Mostly you just want to bite off as much as you can on first down … the more yards you can get on first down, the more the playbook opens up."

Tampa Bay has played just one game after its Week 1 matchup was rescheduled due to Hurricane Irma.

The Buccaneers earned a 29-7 win against the Bears in their opener, with the Tampa Bay defense putting forth a strong performance.

Of the 21 times Chicago faced second down, Tampa Bay forced the Bears into second-and-8 or worse 13 times (62 percent).

The Vikings know another challenge awaits on Sunday.

"We made it hard on ourselves … we put ourselves in tough situations," said Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. "We have to go out and play better and execute better and stay in manageable down and distances."

Priefer explains special teams penalty

The Vikings were penalized 11 times for 131 yards Sunday in Pittsburgh, with each phase of the ball getting flagged at least once.

Minnesota's lone special teams penalty that was accepted came early in the third quarter on defensive tackle Tom Johnson when the Steelers were lined up for a 51-yard field goal. 

Officials called Johnson for an illegal formation as they ruled he lined up over the Pittsburgh center (long snapper), a newer rule that is no longer allowed.

Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer gave an explanation of what he was told about Johnson's penalty.

"I thought we were OK. It was tough, it was a tough deal. His arm may have been covering part of the leg," Priefer said. "That's a big emphasis now for the officials, so it's my job to make sure that we, what I always say, we're not going to give the official an excuse to throw the flag.

"We probably gave him an excuse to throw a flag there by just being maybe that close, that much closer than we were on the rep before. I thought it was a tough call," Priefer said. "But, they called it, and there's a reason why they called it, and we're going to make sure that doesn't get called again."

Priefer said because the rule is relatively new, teams are still adapting to the change.

"In years past he would've been fine," Priefer said. "It's been a big emphasis this year, and we knew that going in. Tom knew it going in. He wasn't trying to get a penalty.

"I think our field goal block team has a bunch of conscientious guys on there and a bunch of defensive starters. They know how important that play is," Priefer said. "We've made an impact over the years. We've just got to make sure we're lined up correctly and still bring as much pressure as we can."

'Everbody knows that'

Tampa Bay added speedy receiver DeSean Jackson this offseason. The 31-year-old is in his 10th season after playing his first nine for Philadelphia (six) and Washington (three).

This will be Jackson's fourth game against the Vikings. After catching 10 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown with Philadelphia in 2013, Jackson caught four passes for 120 yards and a score for Washington in 2014, Zimmer's first season with the Vikings.

Vikings third-year receiver Stefon Diggs, 23, watched Jackson plenty over the years as a teen and in college at Maryland.

"Yeah, man, how could you not, especially in the area that I grew up in, the [Washington D.C.] metropolitan area," Diggs said. "The games that were on TV were the Eagles, Dallas, Redskins, so I saw a lot of him. He's definitely special. He's always been special, though; everybody knows that."

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