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Vikings Have Shown an Ability They'd Rather Not Need

EAGAN, Minn. — Consider it a case of having the ability but preferring not to need it.

Through three games this season, the Vikings have been assessed 10-yard offensive penalties a total of 10 times, including Minnesota's first snap of 2019.

The offense has been able to recover and score touchdowns after four such instances, have been forced to punt five times and let the clock run out at the end of the first half in Green Bay after another.

It didn't take long for the recovery on the first instance.

Facing a first-and-20 against Atlanta, Kirk Cousins completed a pass to Dalvin Cook for a gain of 8 and found Adam Thielen streaking across the field for what the receiver turned into a 23-yard touchdown.

The other instance against the Falcons created a first-and-20 at the Minnesota 32. A negative run play and a fumbled snap created a third-down-and-26, shifting the through process to get what you can and punt. Ameer Abdullah rushed for a gain of 6, and the Vikings flipped the field with a punt.

In Week 2, Minnesota suffered five such calls, including a questionable offensive pass interference against Cook that negated a touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs. It created a first-and-goal at the 13. A run for no gain, two incompletions and a field goal followed.

The Vikings managed to convert a third-and-13 later in the game with a 45-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to Diggs.

Last week, back at home against Oakland, the Vikings were flagged for 10-yard penalties on offense three times but managed to score touchdowns twice.

Cook caught a short pass and turned it into an 18-yard gain to move the chains on a third-and-18. He also gained 15 on a second-and-15 later in the game.

"I'm really just trying to get us in manageable yards," Cook said of his approach when tasked with erasing an unfavorable down-and-distance. "Penalties and stuff like that, that's something we have to clean up.

"Once we're in those situations, just take care of the football and live to see that next down," Cook continued. "We know the type of defense we've got … we've got a good defense … so try not to give other offense opportunities in our red zone and stuff like that. Take care of the football and give our QB a chance on manageable downs."

Cousins said mark-offs aren't enjoyable from a quarterback's perspective.

"I just hate having to back up and watch the chains move farther back," Cousins said. "It's hard enough on first-and-10. We have found a way to at least get back and move the ball and overcome that at times, but I don't think that's something that we can rely on going forward.

"If we're going to be in second-and-20, first-and-20 a lot, I think it's going to be a long day for us down the road, so we've got to avoid the penalties, stay in manageable down and distances," Cousins added. "When you can hit a screen on third-and-long, when you can hand the ball off to Dalvin on second-and-long, and he gets you back to third-and-manageable, it helps a great deal, but it's not something you can always rely on game-in and game-out."

Adverse down-and-distances can be even tougher when on the road because the situations can create more opportunities for opponents to rush the passer.

Visiting offenses often use silent counts to work around crowd noise, but defensive players might gain a step off the line because of the increased difficulty in communication.

With Minnesota (2-1) set to visit Chicago (2-1) at 3:25 p.m. Sunday, the Vikings want to lock in and fix the problems that have caused penalties, avoid negative plays and/or reduce the negatives within a play.

A sack by Khalil Mack might happen, but don't let it be a sack fumble.

A bad down-and-distance can be erased, but the cleanup efforts can be much more difficult after turnovers.

"We talk about getting in some of those situations, and we can overcome first-and-20, but we don't want to," Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski said. "We have to play with clean technique to stay out of those situations, but as an offense our mentality is, 'Whatever the situation we're presented with, let's overcome it.'

"Sometimes that's on a first-and-long, sometimes that's on a third-and-long," Stefanski added. "It's not a give-up down for us, so we kind of have a mentality as a group that we're trying to do anything it takes to get us back to a manageable third down when you're put in those scenarios."