EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings coaches usually spend the bye week doing a self-scout in each phase of the game.
It's a chance to assess what has worked — and what hasn't — on offense, defense and special teams.
But given the lack of second-half explosiveness from the Vikings offense in the past month, Minnesota was forced to dive into the well earlier than normal with that unit.
"Yeah, we just did it a little bit early," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "I just felt like it was important to figure out what's going on here."
That's the issue that many with the Vikings are trying to comprehend and figure out.
Because over the past four games, the Vikings defense actually has more second-half touchdowns than the offense. (Linebacker Nick Vigil had a pick-six against the Cardinals).
That's eight consecutive quarters — and 24 offensive possessions — after halftime without a trip to the end zone. The Vikings have kicked seven field goals in the second half, including Greg Joseph's 54-yard, game-winner on Sunday.
"We just need to execute. We need to find a way in the second half to be more productive, to score touchdowns," said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. "And in the Seattle game, it was red zone, we would get down in the red zone but then we didn't finish.
"Last week, it was a combination of factors, and we didn't do as well in that four-minute trying to run the clock out. And the week before that, it was a gain a combination of things," Cousins added. "So we've just got to find a way to not only move the football, convert third downs, stay on the field, but then when we get down in red zone, come away with a touchdown instead of kicking field goals."
Zimmer said Wednesday that he made the struggles an emphasis for his coaching staff earlier this week.
"I don't know if I pinpointed it, but we've researched it an awful lot," Zimmer said. "We went through every possession in the second half. We've gone through down-and-distance tendencies, first-and-possession, earned first downs, second-down-and-long after a penalty, after a sack.
"I gave the coaches a lot of projects to do this week, on Monday," Zimmer said.
The main takeaway, Zimmer noted, was to start fast coming out of the break.
"I think probably being a little bit more specific coming out of halftime, instead of saying, 'Hey, these are the plays that we're thinking about running,' … going, 'All right, here's what we're going to run. Here's the first play, second play, third play,' and we go from there," Zimmer said.
View photos of Vikings players from practice on Oct. 13 at the TCO Performance Center.
Minnesota's opening possessions in the second half have resulted in three punts and a field goal in the past four games. And yes, it's worth noting that Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook has been either out or limited in the past three contests.
The two most-recent home games featured three-and-outs to start the third quarter. On Sunday, Cousins was sacked before the Vikings ran on second-and-15. Wide receiver K.J. Osborn then gained 4 yards on a third-and-11 screen before the punt unit jogged onto the field.
So what's the answer?
Well, it's not as if the Vikings can script the second-half offense while they're in the locker room. Most NFL teams script their opening drive to help the offense get into an early rhythm.
Zimmer was asked about Minnesota's second-half defensive adjustments Wednesday, and his answer likely applies to the offense, too.
"Well, honestly, we're making adjustments, like, all the time. If this happens, then we're on the sideline and we do that," Zimmer said. "At halftime, we come in and talk about it … but it's 12 minutes. I mean, it's not like you can write a book. It goes really, really fast."
Cousins said he meets face-to-face with both Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko at the break, and is in communication with both throughout the game. (Kubiak is up in the booth while Janocko is on the sidelines).
"I think it's been strong, I think we're on the same page," Cousins said. "You know, at halftime I see them both face-to-face there in the locker room. I can hop on the headset at any time to talk to Klint directly, and Andrew's done a great job communicating what's being said, not only from Klint but for the whole offensive staff.
"So, it's really constant communication when the defense is on the field, hearing from Andrew (about) where we're headed next and why and what I need to be ready to take on when we get the ball back," Cousins added.
Minnesota will need to be ready after halftime against a stout Carolina defense that ranks second overall with 255.8 yards allowed per game and is third in the league with 17.4 points allowed per game.
The Panthers defense has been good on the first possession of the second half, too, forcing three punts and recovering a fumble while allowing one touchdown in five games.
The Vikings, meanwhile, rank 28th in the league with 8.4 points per second half this season. (That's according to teamrankings.com and also factors in Vigil's score).
But Minnesota has been among the league's top teams to start games, as the Vikings have scored on their past four opening drives, with three touchdowns and a field goal.
The Vikings rank eighth in the league with an average of 14.2 points in the first half of games this season.
The hope is that Minnesota's offense can transfer some of that first-half success to after halftime, especially considering that the Vikings next five opponents all currently have a winning record.
"Certainly there has been good production early in games, so there's no reason to think you couldn't be that productive to start the second or in the second half," Cousins said. "We've got to find a way to make that happen."