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Zimmer Focused on Winning Battles Inside 5-Yard Line

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and his staff have been hard at work over the past few weeks identifying areas to improve on from the 2016 season.

They haven't had to look hard for one of the biggest sore spots — Minnesota's play on both sides of the ball near the goal line.

"Inside the 5-yard line on both sides of the ball was not very good. We need to do a better job there," Zimmer said during an interview with's Mike Wobschall. "Obviously, getting more points offensively. I believe that's going to start with No. 1, the run game, and No. 2, protecting the quarterback."

The Vikings struggled inside the 5-yard line on both offense and defense, and statistics back up Zimmer's frustration in that area. 

Offensively, the Vikings had the ball 22 times inside an opponent's 5-yard line, and scored 14 touchdowns for a success rate of just 63.6 percent.

The Vikings, who used eight different starting offensive line combinations, also kicked four field goals, had a pair of turnovers on downs and turned the ball over twice despite being on the doorstep of the end zone.

Minnesota's touchdown rate inside the 5-yard line was actually worse in wins, as the Vikings went 6-for-10 in victories and 8-for-12 in losses.

Even when the Vikings did manage to score touchdowns, it often took two or three (or sometimes four) plays to punch it in from a few yards out. Other times, the Vikings made it hard on themselves by taking multiple penalties near the goal line, only to rally back for a touchdown.

One of the biggest culprits of frustration came in Jacksonville where the Vikings scored twice on their four tries inside the 5-yard line. Minnesota's two other drives ended at the 1-yard line with a turnover on downs and a fumble.

Minnesota's loss in Philadelphia, a home game against Detroit and a trip to Green Bay are also instances where the Vikings came up short with a chance to score. 

"It was literally one thing here, one thing there," Vikings fullback Zach Line said last week at Vikings Winterfest "At the goal line, you can have 22 yards in an 8-by-2 box. That's a mass of humanity right there, and you're trying to plunge a 6-inch hole with a running back. "If there's any lack of hearing the snap count right or guys hitting their blocks, things don't always work out like they do on paper, so I think it's execution, communication.

"I think we had the mindset, but we can't have the mindset that we're going to win and that's it. You've got to do your job and then win. It's not just who is the toughest at the goal line," Line added. "It's toughness, but you can't swing and err. We had some of that at the goal line. Then, penalties on the goal line killed us because we're moving back 5 yards, and we're getting back into a harder offense with us on a short field." 

The Vikings were also unsuccessful on a pair of 2-point conversions, a play that was highlighted by New England's recent Super Bowl comeback. The Patriots scored a pair of touchdowns inside the 5-yard line and converted a pair of 2-point conversions during their improbable rally.

"You get down there, and if you stop them, your (win) percentage is going to go through the roof," Zimmer said. "And offensively, we were down at the 1-yard line several times this past year and didn't get in. 

"We need to score more points, and that's part of it, but when we're in the red zone we need to convert," Zimmer added.

There were also trying moments for Minnesota's defense near the goal line.

The Vikings finished third in the NFL in yards allowed (314.9) and sixth in points allowed (19.2), but Minnesota had trouble keeping opponents out of the end zone as the Vikings allowed touchdowns on 17 of 18 trips inside the 5-yard line.

Minnesota's only stop came against the Eagles, forcing Philadelphia to kick a field goal with the 2-yard line as the line of scrimmage.

The Vikings started 5-0 but finished 8-8 in 2016. Four of the losses were by six or fewer points.

A successful trip inside the 5-yard line could possibly have made the difference in a trip to the postseason for the Vikings.

"We're not happy to be where we are," Zimmer said. "There's an old saying where the first step in going somewhere is deciding you're not going to stay where you're at.

"We feel like there were three or four games, maybe more, that we could have won this past season that we didn't get done," Zimmer added. "We're trying to figure out every possible way we can correct those mistakes."

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