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Final Thoughts: 'Urgency's There' but Vikings Seek Production to Match

EAGAN, Minn. — In the four previous seasons that U.S. Bank Stadium has hosted Vikings games, Minnesota has lost two straight home games just twice.

Both instances are candidates for asterisks. Minnesota lost to Dallas and Indianapolis in consecutive home games in 2016, but the Vikings were without Head Coach Mike Zimmer against the Cowboys.

Last season, Minnesota lost to Green Bay and Chicago but opted to rest most starters against the Bears in Week 17.

With kickoff for Week 3 less than 48 hours away, the Vikings are trying to avoid an 0-2 start at home, especially since a win would mean avoiding an 0-3 hole for the first time since 2013.

Kirk Cousins and the Vikings know that won't be easy against a 2-0 Titans team, as the quarterback noted this week that there is always the mindset that each NFL game feels momentous.

"I always have urgency, right? Going into Week 1, I feel it. Going into Week 2, I feel it," Cousins said. "And certainly now going into Week 3, I feel it. The urgency doesn't really go down but it also probably doesn't go up just because you only get 16 of these opportunities and all March, April, May I'm at my house training five, six days a week for only 16 opportunities.

"The urgency is there everywhere but what we certainly need to improve on, in addition to just having urgency, is to have production," Cousins added. "That's really where my focus is. The urgency's there but we need the production to go with it."

Through two weeks, Cousins' passer rating is a league-worst 61.9 among the 34 quarterbacks who have started at least one game in 2020. He'll be counted upon to help lead an offense that may need to pick up a defense that has been ravaged by injuries this year.

Linebacker Anthony Barr has been lost for the season, while starting cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Cameron Dantzler have been ruled out. Troy Dye is also on Injured Reserve.

That unit will be up against a tough Titans offense that features a workhorse running back in Derrick Henry and elite play by quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Plus, the Vikings will have to find their mojo at home in a venue without fans because of COVID-19.

"I think they understand the situation now, and what it's going to be like," Zimmer said of the lack of fans in attendance. "They have a lot better feeling for what it's like to play in empty stadiums."

View photos of the Vikings preparing to take on the Titans during practice at TCO Performance Center on Sept. 24.

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, as compiled by Eric Smith, Lindsey Young and Craig Peters of Vikings.com:

Stay on, and get off, the field | By @Eric_L_Smith

Of all the surprising Vikings offensive stats, this one might be the most frustrating.

Through two games, Minnesota has converted on just 33.3 percent on third downs, moving the chains just five times on 15 total opportunities. The Vikings are tied for 29th in that stat.

Against the Colts, the Vikings converted twice on nine tries, and were successful on their first and last third downs of the game. On the seven failed tries in between, Minnesota faced distances such as third-and-19 and third-and-27. Those were not successful.

And on those 15 total attempts, the average yards needed for a first down is 8.7. It's a stat Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak has reiterated to his players this week.

"Well, thanks for reminding me because that's what I told the players as well. We've been in some tough situations, and it's hard in this league," Kubiak said. "I think – well, y'all know the percentages – once you get past eight yards on third down in this league, they get pretty tough.

"Us staying in rhythm, getting our snaps, giving ourselves a chance to stay on the field for 70-75 plays instead of 50 football plays, I think, is going to make us a much better offensive football team and help our football team," Kubiak added. "That's a point of emphasis, and to do that, you've just got to play better. I've got to coach better, and we've got to do a better job. That's what we're trying to do."

That poor rate on third downs has greatly contributed to the Vikings ranking dead last in time of possession, at just 20 minutes and 10 seconds per game.

The defense has also played a part in that discrepancy, too. Although Minnesota ranks 11th in defensive third downs percentage at 40.9, the Vikings have only faced 22 third downs, which is tied for the fifth-fewest among all teams.

The Vikings have talked all week about getting back to the style of football that has made them successful in recent years.

If they want to leave U.S. Bank Stadium with their first win Sunday afternoon, it would benefit them to move the sticks when given the chance, and get off the field when it's third down for the opposing offense.

Breaking that safety streak | By @LindseyMNSports

Heading into Sunday's game, the Vikings will look to snap an unlikely streak. Dating back to the Week 17 game against Chicago last season, Minnesota's offense has given up a safety in three consecutive regular-season games – and all three have been in the second quarter.

Cousins was sacked in his own end zone in the second quarter of both the Packers and the Colts games.

Kubiak said he doesn't recall any of his previous teams having safeties in back-to-back games, and it's been a point of emphasis to make sure the costly play doesn't happen again.

"We've had our chances to throw it out of the end zone some. We've got to get the ball gone," Kubiak said. "Kirk, he knows that. I've got to try and help him so he's got somewhere to go with it quicker.

"We really put a big point of emphasis on that situation because, [heck], we've had it six times I think in the first two weeks, which is very unusual," Kubiak continued. "In football, you practice various segments of the game and you dedicate a certain amount of time to each segment. Normally, backed up is a segment that, percentage-wise, doesn't happen throughout the course of the year as much, and boy, has it happened to us the first two weeks. Something we've got to improve upon."

Team tackling paramount | By @pcraigers

In the environment of a shortened offseason and absence of training camp, it stands to reason that tackling success might take a hit early in the season.

Teams did their best to simulate tackling in camp practices but wanted to also reach the regular season as healthy as possible.

Through two weeks of 2020, the Vikings have missed 20 tackles (according to Sport Radar). That's the fifth-highest number of missed tackles in the NFL entering Week 3 and a major departure from the 67 (4.2 per game) assessed to Minnesota by Sport Radar in all of 2019.

Part of the reason why the stat is so high is the number of snaps (78 in Week 1 and 73 in Week 2) and imbalanced time of possession that is 8:50 less than the average time of possession by the 2019 Vikings squad that finished 24th in the NFL.

Still, the Vikings have a missed tackle percentage of 13.2 percent, which is more than double last year's rate of 6.5 percent and on track to exceed the previous high of 10.5 percent in 2015 and 2016.

That could be a bad set of circumstances when facing Henry. The powerful back with a potent stiff-arm has broken 97 tackles since his 2016 rookie season, which ranks second to Melvin Gordon's 122 (Gordon has 49 more carries in that time).

"He's big, he's powerful, he's strong. And then when he gets into the open field, he does have a second gear of speed," Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson said of Henry. "It's going to take all 11 of us to do our job and to get him under control. We'll have to do a great job of tackling. Gang tackling him is the most important thing."

Tennessee's defense has only been assessed 12 missed tackles in 2020, which is tied for seventh-fewest.

When asked about tackling across the league this year, Titans Head Coach and former linebacker Mike Vrabel said, "I can only focus on our football team."

"I don't think we've tackled poorly. I think it's been OK. It hasn't been great. But we try to spend some time on it and avoid those missed open field tackles," Vrabel said. "We had a few last week that cost us some extra yards, unfortunately. I think that's something we'll always continue to coach and harp on."

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Titans.

Notable Number: Minus-3

Through two games, the Vikings are tied for 30th with a turnover differential of minus-3.

That would be the worst mark in a season under Zimmer since he arrived in 2014. Here are the previous six full-season turnover differentials under Zimmer.

2014: minus-1 (7-9 record)

2015: plus-5 (11-5 record; made playoffs)

2016: plus-11 (8-8 record)

2017: plus-5 (13-3 record; made playoffs)

2018: even (8-7-1 record)

2019: plus-11 (10-6 record; made playoffs)

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