Given how the imbalance of attention devoted to defense/offense over special teams, the number of special teams snaps in a given NFL game comes as a surprise to many. For instance, in the Vikings victory over Detroit on Sunday there were 28 special teams snaps. With that being the case, it’s easy to see why special teams has such a direct impact on the outcome of each NFL game.
Let’s take a look at several key moments for the Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer’s group in Sunday’s win…
Percy Harvin returns opening kickoff 105 yards for a TD: Percy Harvin has been an invaluable player for the Vikings offense in 2012. To open Sunday’s game against Detroit, he reminded everyone just how invaluable he is on special teams, too. Harvin fielded the opening kick 5 yards deep and started the return going to the left before veering quickly to the right. Setting up his blocks perfectly, which he does so well, Harvin gained the corner of the blocking scheme and outsprinted the Lions coverage group down the sideline.
Marcus Sherels weaves his way to 77-yard punt return TD: On the day he celebrated his 25th birthday, Marcus Sherels stood underneath a Detroit punt early in the 3rd quarter with the Lions coverage group bearing down on him. With teammate Percy Harvin having already registered a return TD of his own, Sherels would not be outdone. He caught the punt, immediately took a hit below the knees from a Lions defender, kept his balance and then began weaving his way up the gut of the Lions coverage team. After darting in and out several times and bouncing away from another defender, Sherels made one last cut to the left and sprinted down the Vikings sideline to register a 77-yard return that was ultimately the game-winning score.
Kluwe flips field position: The power of a punter. You wouldn’t think they have much, but because of their ability to flip the field position battle, they do. And Kluwe used his power judiciously against the Lions. There are two punts in particular that standout to me because they had the combination of result and timing that profoundly impacted the game. The first punt came at the end of the 2nd quarter, with the Vikings leading 13-6 and trying to get to the locker room with the lead. Kluwe booted the ball with around 29 seconds to play, plenty of time for Lions QB Matthew Stafford to put his team in position for a last-second FG. But Kluwe’s punt sailed 52 yards from the Vikings 26 to the Lions 22. On top of that, it had enough hang time for the Vikings coverage team to run down and tackle punt returner Stefan Logan for a loss of 1 yard. The Lions were then unable to try a last-second scoring attempt to close the half. The second standout punt came at the end of the game, with the Vikings leading 20-13 and 1:53 to go, again plenty of time for Stafford and Co. to drive down and score. Kluwe’s punt was high and 47 yards deep. It landed inside the 10, took a left-hand turn, and was downed by the Vikings coverage team at the 2. That made it tough for the Lions to dig out of their own territory, and ultimately Stafford ran out of time at the end of the game.
Touchbacks: Rookie K Blair Walsh had looked nothing like a rookie through his first three games, and his performance in Detroit fell in line as well. While he did miss a 46-yard try wide left, Walsh was 2 of 3 on the day and hit FGs of 49 and 27 yards to salvage scoring drives. Just as importantly, though, has been Walsh’s performance on kickoffs. That continued in Detroit as well. Walsh kicked off 5 times in the game, and all 5 resulted in touchbacks. Walsh now has 12 touchbacks on the season, an impressive number considering the Vikings had 19 in all of 2012.
Tags: Blair Walsh, Chris Kluwe, Marcus Sherels, Mike Priefer, Percy Harvin
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It had been a while since the Vikings won a game in the NFC North – September 26, 2010 – and it had been a while since the Vikings won a road game in the NFC North – November 1, 2009. But the Vikings checked both of those items off their to-do list on Sunday, topping the Detroit Lions 20-13 at Ford Field.
And now the Vikings are doing something else they haven’t done in a while – they’re a part of the football conversation on a national level, to some extent anyway. While entering into the national conversation is not the goal of this Vikings team, it will be a side effect to success. It began early Monday morning, with one of the franchise’s all-time best players paying compliments to his former team.
“Leslie Frazier has these kids playing with a lot of belief in the system,” Cris Carter said on ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning. “We know what they have in Adrian Peterson, and the story with him coming back. We thought that would be the only story in Minnesota. But they control the football, Christian Ponder has done a great job from Year One to Year Two as far as not turning the ball over, Percy Harvin is their most explosive player offensively and they use him everywhere. And when you get special teams help, which they’re doing with two returns for a touchdown (against Detroit), the Vikings are very, very solid after a quarter of a season.
“I love the Vikings, but I would say I’m surprised they’re 3-1.”
A lot of NFL analysts will say they’re surprised the Vikings began the season with three wins in their first four games. But if you talk to Frazier, any other Vikings coach or any Vikings player, you’ll discover that no one within the locker room is surprised the team is playing to this level. The key for the Vikings now is to handle the success well.
Frazier acknowledged that his team did not prepare well for Indianapolis after their season-opening win in Jacksonville. The result was a loss to the Colts. The following week’s preparation for the San Francisco 49ers was better, Frazier explained, and that’s why the Vikings head coach thought it was so important for his team to practice well in the week leading up to the Detroit game following an emotional win over the 49ers. So now, you can be sure Frazier will emphasize to his mostly-young team that preparing well for the Tennessee Titans – next Sunday’s opponent – should be priority #1 this week.
If Frazier can continue to get his players to put a laser focus on each upcoming opponent, the Vikings may be able to continue their winning ways. That’s something Carter, the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and total TDs, is excited to see.
“As you go through these quarters of the season, the first quarter with four games, they have to make sure that they don’t get flipped in one of the other quarters and end up being 1-3,” Carter explained. “These next two (quarters of the season), if they can go 2-2 and get one more quarter at 3-1, you’re looking like you might be able to win double-digits. I’m excited for the Purple.”
Tags: Cris Carter, Leslie Frazier
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