Too many steps backward

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2011 - 8:08 AM

Vikings penalities, often ill-timed, are too frequent and glaring to overlook as a key factor in an 0-3 start.

The average number of penalties per NFL team is 19.5 for 160 yards. Heck, the Vikings have 17 for 141 yards in the second half alone.

And that, players and coaches say, is high on the list of reasons the team is 0-3 despite having trailed for only 6 minutes, 51 seconds the entire season.

"It's just not being disciplined," nose tackle Remi Ayodele said. "Penalties will kill you. Personal fouls will kill you. Holding, jumping offsides, all that stuff kills you. If the offense is first-and-20, it kills you. If the other team starts at your 48-yard line because of a penalty ..."

It, um, kills you?

"Exactly," Ayodele said.

In one of the stranger NFL stats you'll ever see, the Vikings are plus-1 in second-half turnover ratio, yet they've been outscored 67-6 while blowing halftime leads of 10, 17 and 20 points.

"Yeah," said Ayodele, pondering the stat. "That is kind of weird now that you put it that way."

There's no delicate way to put it. The Vikings are an undisciplined team. Their 27 penalties rank behind only Oakland's 30. And their 222 penalty yards are fourth-worst in the league and 82 more than the Packers.

"We don't want to take away our players' aggressiveness, but we want to be smart about it, particularly when it comes to dead-ball penalties, whether it be a personal foul or an illegal procedure," coach Leslie Frazier said. "Those are the ones that really drive you crazy."

If that's true, consider Frazier driven to the brink three weeks into his first full season as an NFL head coach. Of the team's 17 second-half penalties, five have been personal fouls and eight have been either defensive offsides (five) or false starts on the offense (two) or special teams (one).

"It's a problem," Frazier said. "We've had some penalties that have been costly, particularly in the fourth quarter. Ones that could have changed the outcome of the game, possibly. It's something we're well aware of and have to get better at."

The Vikings have committed 12 fourth-quarter penalties for 115 yards. That's more penalties in one particular quarter than the Redskins have overall (10). That's also more penalty yards in one particular quarter than the Redskins (75), Saints (82), Colts (102) and Chargers (110) have overall.

"Some of them are aggressive penalties, so you can't back off being aggressive," cornerback Cedric Griffin said. "But some of them are discipline problems. We have to eliminate the dumb penalties. We've been playing dominant football but just coming up short because of dumb mistakes, especially dumb penalties."

Fourteen different players have committed the 17 second-half penalties. Right tackle Phil Loadholt has false-started twice on third-and-3, killing both drives. Defensive tackle Letroy Guion jumped offsides twice on the Chargers' game-clinching drive in Week 1. And receiver Michael Jenkins has been flagged twice in the second half, including a holding call that negated a 14-yard run by Adrian Peterson.

In Week 1, the Vikings gave the Chargers five first downs by penalty, including two on the drive that clinched the game. Defensive tackle Fred Evans capped the day off by jumping offsides on third-and-2 with 2 minutes left. The Chargers took a knee from that point on.

Last week, special-teamer Kenny Onatolu's late hit on a punt return gave the Vikings the ball at their 40-yard line with 11 seconds left and no timeouts in a tie game. Without the penalty, the Vikings would have been at the Detroit 45, needing at most 10 yards for a game-winning field-goal attempt.

Frazier said he'll "continue to harp on the importance of playing clean football but physical football." Whether that transfers to game day will have to play out Sunday at Kansas City (0-3).

"It's strange because we practice great in practice," Ayodele said. "We don't hold or jump offsides or do all those dumb things in practice. We just have to focus better in the game and really try to correct that because it would help us out tremendously."

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