EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings are taking some extra baggage to London.
They don’t have any wins to pack with them, though — they’re just saddled with questions after their third straight loss to open the season. Now they get a home game overseas.
Minnesota is considered the host team at Wembley Stadium this Sunday against Pittsburgh for the NFL’s annual international showcase, requiring them to spend the balance of the week in Britain. There will be plenty of time for bonding, sightseeing and interacting with curious locals, and given the angst in Minnesota over their September performance so far this is as good of an opportunity to leave town as any.
“Getting away and seeing things in a bigger picture over there maybe will help,” linebacker Chad Greenway said.
The Steelers are one of the other five 0-3 teams in the league, so the Vikings will face another vulnerable opponent. That’s what Cleveland was supposed to be, however, and the Browns left the Metrodome with a 31-27 victory on Sunday.
“I feel like we have a mature bunch here,” running back Adrian Peterson said. “We’ve just got to stay confident. Stay confident and keep swinging, but swinging a lot better. I feel like we will approach it with that mindset and attitude, and we’ll be OK.”
Since his 78-yard touchdown run on Minnesota’s first snap, Peterson is averaging only 2.99 yards per attempt. The offensive line has had trouble protecting quarterback Christian Ponder, too; six of their 10 sacks allowed this year came by the Browns. Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton has returned to the active roster this week following his three-game suspension, so his presence ought to help. To make room for him, the Vikings placed rookie fullback Zach Line on injured reserve.
“Obviously it’s not just me coming back that’s going to make the running game do what it needs to do, but I definitely think I can help and contribute,” Felton said. “We don’t have time for it to take a few weeks. I’ve got to hit the ground running.”
The Vikings had three turnovers against the Browns to go with six three-and-out possessions. The defense has eight takeaways over the last two games, a wasted accomplishment. Ponder isn’t the only problem, but he has seven of the team’s 10 giveaways and a persistence of off-target throws on critical plays.
“You can’t turn the ball over at the rate that we’re turning it over and expect to win, unless — I’ve said this before — you’re so superior to your opponents,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “And we’re not.”
There are plenty of issues on the other side of the ball, too, beginning with the quiet pass rush from a defensive line that’s supposed to be one of the team’s true strengths. The biggest concern this week, though, is depth at defensive back.
Cornerbacks Chris Cook (groin) and A.J. Jefferson (ankle) and safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) were scheduled for MRI tests Monday. Their injuries thinned out the secondary that’s dearly missing cornerback Antoine Winfield, who was cut and later retired. Cook, the team’s best player in pass coverage, has not been able to stay healthy since he was drafted in the second round in 2010.
“He’s a guy we need on the field. He knows it. But if you’re injured, you’re injured. We’ll just get someone else ready to go,” Frazier said.
This is the state of a team leaving the country for a week.
“I do believe that we will get it corrected. I trust the people that make up our football team, and I kind of feel like we have an idea of what needs to happen. Easier said than done, but truly believe it can be done,” Frazier said, adding: “I don’t sense that guys are going to be walking around when we’re in London as if the season is done.”
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