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What We Learned: Vikings vs. Bills

The week of practice is over and the Vikings are set for their game this Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. Here's what we learned this week about the Vikings as they prepared for Week 7.

Greenway practiced all week, listed as questionableLB Chad Greenway (hand/rib) was a full participant in each of the Vikings three practices this week and is listed as questionable on the week's final injury report. His inclusion would be great news for the Vikings for the obvious reasons, but also because fellow LB Gerald Hodges (hamstring) has already been ruled out. Other notables from the Vikings final injury report include DT Sharrif Floyd (elbow/ankle) being listed as questionable, while veteran DE Corey Wootton is out due to a low back injury.

Priefer preaching penalty eliminationSpecial teams has been an area of strength for the Vikings under coordinator Mike Priefer. Different years have brought different areas of emphasis and different strengths. Last year, for example, the Vikings ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in kickoff return and punt return, respectively, This year, Blair Walsh is No. 2 in the NFL with an 85.2% touchback rate on kickoffs and he's No. 4 in total touchbacks with 23, Walsh is 11 of 13 on field goals, the Vikings have a blocked point extra point, and the Vikings are No. 5 in the NFL in average field position after a kickoff (23.8 yard line).

Currently, though, Priefer is preaching to his group about improving in one area – penalties.

"We are doing some really good things on special teams…but it's the penalties that are killing us," Priefer said on Thursday. "That's very unlike our team. Last year, we were penalized fourteen times the whole year, this year we've been penalized nine or ten times.

"That's where I think, I'm not going to speak for coach, but coach has mentioned to me that it's the penalties that hurt us. I think we are playing really well in certain areas, but if we eliminate penalties we will get even better."

Zimmer remains confident in AsiataJerick McKinnon got the start last week at running back and that led to questions from the media to Mike Zimmer about whether a change from McKinnon to Asiata had been made official. Zimmer is not one to get caught up in a public discussion about his starting lineup and the situation at running back was no different this week.

Asked on Monday if McKinnon was his starting running back, Zimmer said: "I thought Jerick did a good job this week, so we will just continue to see where it's at."

The Vikings have had their moments rushing the ball this season – they rank 13th in rushing yards per game and had 241 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns against Atlanta. But they also have three games with fewer than 70 team rushing yards, three games with no rushing touchdowns and they have 16 negative runs, tied for ninth-most in the NFL. Given McKinnon's quickness and speed and perhaps the fact that he flashed with a 55-yard run against the Falcons in Week 4, many have called for the Vikings to favor the rookie (McKinnon) over the veteran (Asiata).

On Wednesday, though, Zimmer reiterated his confidence in Asiata and expressed a desire to use both running backs.

"I just like Asiata. I think he's got some physicality," Zimmer said. "He's played well this year. He had that one fumble against Green Bay but that was after a 12-yard run. Matt is an extremely dependable guy and I anticipate that when he carries the ball that he's going to get some yardage and that's not a knock on [Jerick] McKinnon at all because I think McKinnon still has the explosiveness. I would just like to see us keep using them both."

Vikings defense, Orton save the best for lastThe Vikings slow starts but quick and strong adjustments on defense have been well-chronicled through the first six weeks of the season. The Vikings have surrendered 51 points in the 1st quarter, second-most in the NFL, but they have also surrendered just 20 points in the 4th quarter, which is second-lowest in the NFL.

The Bills have a similarly positive trend going in the 4th quarter, but theirs is on offense. QB Kyle Orton, inserted as the starter in Week 5, has a passer rating of 113.6 in the 4th quarter, which is fourth-highest in the NFL.  Orton has completed 20 of 30 passes (66.7%) for 243 yards with two touchdowns in the 4th quarter over the past two games.

Defense creating good trends on 3rd downs, 3-and-outsAfter allowing New Orleans to go nine of 13 (69%) and then Atlanta to go 10 of 15 (67%) on 3rd downs in consecutive weeks, you can be sure Zimmer and his defensive staff went to work on improving in that critical area of the game. They found some answers somewhere because Green Bay was just four of 11 (36%) and Detroit was an abysmal one of 13 (8%) on 3rd down.

Another area where the Vikings defense has created impressive results is opponent three-and-outs. The Vikings rank No. 4 in the NFL in forcing three-and-outs, doing so on 27.9% of their 68 series. Denver (31.7%), Detroit (30.6%) and the NY Jets (30.6%) entered Week 7 as the only teams ahead of the Vikings in that category.

College rivalry comes to the NFLCB Xavier Rhodes is in his second season with the Vikings out of Florida State. WR Sammy Watkins is in his first season with the Bills out of Clemson. Florida State and Clemson are ACC rivals, and on Sunday Rhodes and Watkins will carry their college rivalries to a NFL field.

"Sammy's a great rookie receiver," Rhodes said. "He was a great receiver in college. When you watch film on him, he's explosive, fast, comes out of his breaks really well, a powerful guy. I'm looking forward to going against him."

Florida State and Clemson split the two games that involved both Rhodes and Watkins. In the Clemson victory, Watkins had seven catches for 141 yards and two scores, but in the Florida State win it was Rhodes who stood out with five tackles and a pass defended while helping limit Watkins to just 24 yards receiving.

Sherels to return kickoffs if Patterson can'tCordarrelle Patterson has been dealing with a hip injury of late, and if that injury or any other factor keeps the Vikings from using their dynamic playmaker on kickoff returns, there is a solid backup plan in place.

"If he's healthy he will go, if he's not then we have Marcus (Sherels) waiting, ready to roll," Priefer said Thursday.

In a scenario in which Sherels becomes the primary returner, running backs Joe Banyard and Jerick McKinnon along with receiver Jarius Wright would be the backups.

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