Vikings look to improve ST
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The low moment of Minnesota’s most recent game at Chicago came at the opening of the second half, when former Vikings return ace Cordarrelle Patterson took the kickoff 104 yards for a Bears touchdown that triggered a sideline eruption by coach Mike Zimmer.
The recipient of the unvarnished feedback was special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf, who could be forgiven if he’s been feeling stress lately. His units have been struggling, an issue that would be more pressing had the Vikings not played well enough on both offense and defense to win their last three games.
No matter the source, all of Maalouf’s units could use a boost entering the game on Sunday against Dallas. Patterson’s game-changing return, which the Vikings overcame for a 19-13 victory, was the most glaring mistake.
Minnesota also botched an extra point try on a grounder from long snapper Austin Cutting and allowed a 32-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. Punter Britton Colquitt had two touchbacks. One came in the second quarter when rookie Dan Chisena lost his balance and failed to down the ball at the 1-yard line. The other was with about one minute left in the game when the defense could have used some extra cushion.
The week before against Detroit, Colquitt had two punts blocked.
The Vikings rank 23rd in the league in coverage of both punts and kickoffs, with averages allowed of 10.3 yards and 23.6 yards, respectively.
The Vikings have had little help from their return units, either. They’re last in the NFL with an average of 1.7 yards per punt return and 17th in the league with an average of 20.9 yards per kickoff return.
The Vikings under Zimmer have frequently done well at finding under-the-radar players, using them effectively on special teams and eventually turning them into starters. Wide receiver Adam Thielen, safety Anthony Harris and linebacker Eric Wilson are prime examples.
Since general manager Rick Spielman was promoted to his post in 2012 with full authority over the roster, the Vikings have used four draft picks on specialists, including Cutting in the seventh round in 2019. They also parted with a draft pick in an ill-fated trade for kicker/punter Kaare Vedvik, who was cut less than three weeks later. Chisena, a track star in college who switched to football halfway through his time at Penn State to became a wide receiver, staked out a roster spot this year solely for special teams.
Add it all up, and the Vikings aren’t getting what they need.