Vikings must find way to win away from home

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — In their push for a new stadium, the Minnesota Vikings spoke often about the modern conveniences lacking at the Metrodome. The Teflon-covered dome has long been disparaged by fans and teams alike.

For all its quirks and inconveniences, though, the Metrodome has served the Vikings well through the years on the field. Minnesota has a 163-89 record under the white roof, old and new. That record includes a 6-1 2012 mark after Sunday’s 21-14 win against the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately, the team is 1-5 on the road.

The Vikings are left to wonder, specifically this season, why they haven’t been able to  transfer their success at home to road games.

“I don’t know; If we could just take the Metrodome name wherever we go and put it on other people’s stadiums,” receiver Michael Jenkins said. “We’ve got to find a way to play better on the road.”

If Minnesota (7-6) wants to complete its quest for the playoffs this season, road wins will be a must. The Vikings travel to St. Louis this weekend – at least in a dome – and Houston the following week before finishing the season back at the Metrodome against Green Bay.

Minnesota’s players aren’t sure why they’ve struggled on the road. Veterans like defensive end Jared Allen say they would fix the problem if they knew. But they are perplexed as well. Allen hopes this week at St. Louis can be the game to end the speculation.

“We’re not going to St. Louis this weekend to eat ribs and hang out,” Allen said after Sunday’s game. “We’re not going to Anheuser-Busch to take a tour. We’re going there to beat the Rams, and it’s got to be that way. That’s got to be the only thing guys are thinking about. I don’t know how it shows up, how we lose games on the road, but you don’t see it. You wouldn’t look around the hotel and say guys aren’t focused. Guys are pretty locked in. You’ve got to elevate your game even more. There’s a comfort level (at the Metrodome).”

Factoring in the one road win this year at Detroit, Minnesota is 0-5 outdoors this season. Even during last year’s 3-13 season, the Vikings somehow won more games on the road than they have this season, with victories at Carolina and Washington.

There’s no more shining example of Minnesota’s split personality than its two games against Chicago this season. The Bears dominated the Vikings in Chicago in a 28-10 win. Minnesota continually self-destructed, finishing minus-1 in turnover differential and dropping multiple passes.

Sunday, the script was flipped. The Vikings were plus-1 in turnover differential, including two key interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Chicago was the team dropping passes.

“I don’t think anybody can explain road struggles,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “It’s one of those deals when you look at it at the end of every year, and everybody’s like, ‘It’s hard to play on the road.’ And you’re like, ‘You don’t really know why it’s hard to play on the road.’ But it is. It’s hard to win road games in this league. If you want to go to the playoffs you have to win games on the road.”

So Minnesota is focused on changing its luck away from the comforts of the Metrodome, and coach Leslie Frazier believes it begins with turnover differential.

The Vikings are plus-1 in turnover differential at home, including minus-3 in the lone home loss to Tampa Bay. On the road, they are minus-6. In its one road win, Minnesota didn’t commit a turnover and was plus-1 in turnover differential.

As a result, the Vikings are outscoring opponents, 24.7-18.7, at home this season. Those numbers flip on the road, with Minnesota facing a 25.8-18.3 deficit.

“Our margin for error is not very big, and when (turnovers) happen it becomes very problematic for our football team,” Frazier said. “So I’d love to go on the road, play some clean football and see what the results would be. That’s kind of what happened in Detroit. I don’t think we had, if I can recall, any turnovers in that game. That’s the one win we’ve had on the road. And just see what happens from there.”

Frazier, who has said the Vikings own the best home-field advantage in the NFL, believes handling adverse situations on the road will come as his young team matures. 

“We had some inexperience, and maybe that’s why we struggled a little bit, but we’ve got to get it down,” linebacker Chad Greenway said after Sunday’s game. “That’s the next step for this team. That’s the next step. We know we can play well at home in front of our guys, our fans, who were extremely loud today and awesome. I think it’s just our next step, going on the road, and there’s no better time to do it than this week.”

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