Thursday, October 05, 2006

Grading the Vikings: Special Teams

It’s time for the second installment of “Grade the Vikings”. This time, we’ll be looking at the special teams.

Special Teams Overall: B

Field Goal: A

Punts: B-

Kickoffs: B

Kick Returns: C

Punt Returns: C

The Vikings’ special teams have been good this year, but, the lack of big returns and some miscues, prevent them from getting an A overall. The field goal unit has been superb so far this year, led by Ryan Longwell. Longwell has converted 10/12 field goals, and also threw for a touchdown on a fake. The two kicks he missed were both over 50 yards, but he has been perfect aside from that. When you consider he’s scored the majority of the teams’ points, and has two game winning field goals, he might just be the MVP of the season.

And Longwell rolls out...Touchdown Vikings!

Unlike Longwell, Chris Kluwe has not been performing as well as he should be. He currently ranks last in the NFL in punting average, and 29th in net yards. He also has a nine yard punt (I’m not going to go there). His off season surgery must have had an effect, since he was sixth in both categories last year. He has, however, been very good at landing his punts inside the twenty, which he has done eight times, with only two touchbacks, tying him for the third most in the league. Once he improves his length, however, the Vikings’ will be in even better shape, as their coverage squad has only allowed 5.8 yards a return, seventh best in the league. They also came up with a huge fumble recovery against Carolina that led to the Vikings’ sole touchdown.

The kick off coverage team has also done a good job so far, allowing 21 yards per return, good for 17th in the league. They've also prevented the big play, as the longest return they’ve given up was 39 yards. Longwell isn’t doing them any favors kicking off, either, only managing to cause two touchbacks with his kicks.

The Vikings’ return units have not done as well as the rest of the special team units, ranking in the middle of the pack on punt and kickoff returns. Neither Mewelde Moore nor Troy Williamson is very skilled at returns, and the blocking hasn’t necessarily been there. That being said, they’ve held onto the ball, which was something of a worry during the preseason.

Troy Williamson--not a kick returner

Overall, the Vikings’ special teams have done a good, but not great job, as expected. The field goal unit has been great, as have the coverage teams, but Kluwe has not performed that well, and Williamson and Moore are only returning kicks because the Vikings’ haven’t signed Jason Clark off of their practice squad yet. If the unit improves, it would be a huge bonus, but so far, it has been performing pretty much as expected.

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