Vikings battle turnovers, not elements, outside

The Vikings are 0-5 outside this season, but they don't think the elements are the reason.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier pondered on Monday whether he would have his team practice outdoors this week in anticipation of Saturday's playoff game in Green Bay, where temperatures are expected to range from a high of 27 degrees to a low of 14 degrees.

By the time Frazier arrived at the team's Winter Park facilities Tuesday, the issue had been decided.

"It was minus-10 this morning," Frazier said. "Any thoughts I had about us going out there were kind of removed when I got out of my car this morning."

Minnesota, once proud of its standing as a cold-weather team while playing outdoors at Metropolitan Stadium, has become the consummate indoor team in recent decades. The Vikings play their home games at the Metrodome and take their late-season practices indoors when temperatures start to fall beneath 50 degrees daily.

Add in their once-a-year trip indoors to Ford Field in Detroit, and Minnesota doesn't often need to tackle the elements it will face Sunday in Green Bay. The Vikings prefer the warmth and comfort of the indoors, and it's suited them well. 

Minnesota is 10-1 indoors this season, including a win at Houston's Reliant Stadium when the retractable roof was closed. The Vikings are 0-5 in outdoor games, including the early-season loss at Indianapolis with the roof open.

"I don't know," fullback Jerome Felton said. "I feel like we're built to win outdoors, in the cold, if it's raining, snow, whatever the case may be. So we'll prepare this week and go try to get one."

Two weeks ago, in preparation for a game at Houston, Minnesota cranked up the heat in its field house to mimic the expected conditions in Reliant Stadium. Frazier is going to the other extreme this week.

The coach kept his team inside Tuesday but opened the large garage door and two other entrances to the facility to bring down the temperature and acclimate his team to colder weather at least a little. In the Vikings' 23-14 loss at Green Bay on Dec. 2, the gametime temperature was 45 degrees.

Even if Frazier wanted to practice outside, the likelihood of getting the team's field ready would be slim.

"The footing would be too treacherous," Frazier said. "It wouldn't be wise."

But the Vikings poor outdoor record seems to have less to do with the weather -- the worst weather they've faced outdoors this season was a partly cloudy 41-degree day in Chicago at the end of November -- and more to do with the turnovers that have plagued them in losses outdoors.

Minnesota has committed 11 turnovers while losing each of its five outdoor games. It had four total takeaways in those games and finished each loss with a negative turnover differential.

"Yeah, that's a tough one," Frazier. "I'm hoping this is the week we get past that. We definitely haven't played as well as we can play in an outdoor environment. But we'll get another chance at it this weekend, and we've got to play better. We know the importance of takeaways and giveaways, with the indoors, outdoors. It just so happens we haven't done very well when it comes to that stat outdoors. But we'll get another chance at it, so we've got to figure it out." 

Built around the running of Adrian Peterson, Minnesota would seemingly have the type of team to be successful in any environment. Turnovers, such as quarterback Christian Ponder's two interceptions at Lambeau Field in December, have been the problem. Ponder, who grew up in Texas and played at Florida State, hasn't faced the type of conditions he will on Sunday in the biggest game of his career.

"That's something you've just got to be prepared for mentally," Ponder said. "I don't know how well you can prepare for it. The good thing is when we're there, we'll have the hand warmers and stuff. I think the biggest thing in cold weather is your hands get dry and that makes the ball slick, but with the hand warmers and stuff that'll help."

Ponder will be paying extra attention to his grip on the football -- along with 12 interceptions this season, he has five lost fumbles -- and said a loose grip is needed. But when it comes to turnovers outdoors, Ponder doesn't believe the elements have been the cause.

"I think the biggest thing for me is decision-making," said Ponder, who didn't have interceptions in the season's final three games. "I don't think it has anything to do with how the grip is on the ball or anything weather-wise. I think it just comes down to decision-making, indoors or outdoors."
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