Special teams again under scrutiny

McClatchy News Services

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress said his special-teams units were solid in their execution for "nine-tenths" of Sunday’s 28-27 victory against the Green Bay Packers. But the Vikings proved again that it takes only one busted play to change things.

Will Blackmon’s 65-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter gave the Packers a lead and moved the Vikings into the NFL record books for special-teams futility.


— The Vikings have given up six special-teams touchdowns, tying a single-season NFL record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 1980 Detroit Lions are the only other team to give up six touchdowns on special teams since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.


— The Vikings have allowed four punt returns for touchdowns in nine games — two by Blackmon and two by the New Orleans Saints’ Reggie Bush. That ties the NFL record for most punt returns allowed for touchdowns in a season, joining the New York Giants (1959) and Atlanta Falcons (1992).

— The Vikings rank last in the NFL in punt return yardage allowed at 18.1 yards per punt. That would rank second all-time in league history behind the 1949 Green Bay Packers, who allowed an average of 18.6 yards per punt. The 1977 Cleveland Browns have the highest average allowed since the merger at 18.0 yards.

The coaching staff has shuffled personnel and tweaked schemes in an effort to shore up problems in this area, but the Vikings continue to shoot themselves in the foot at critical times.

"It’s been one of those deals where nine or 10 guys are doing the right thing and one isn’t," special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro said last week. "You can’t do that in the return game because that’s all it takes."

Some of the mistakes have been downright bizarre. Punter Chris Kluwe dropped a snap against Chicago, igniting a chain of events that resulted in a Bears touchdown. The Bears scored another touchdown when the ball took a weird bounce on a punt, hit Vikings punt returner Charles Gordon on the arm while he was trying to block the gunner and was recovered in the end zone.

But the primary culprit has been big plays against the punt team. The Vikings have allowed 276 yards on the four punt returns for touchdowns (76, 71, 64 and 65 yards). That’s more than half of the total yards they have allowed on punts. They have allowed an average return of 9.2 yards on the other 23 punts.

Kluwe drew Childress’ ire when he failed to kick the ball out of bounds twice against the Saints, but the cover guys also have missed chances to tackle the returner.

That was the case on Blackmon’s touchdown Sunday. At least four Vikings were in position to tackle him as he weaved his way upfield through traffic, but they failed to bring him down. Childress said the coaches must continue to reinforce the importance of guys staying in their lanes and funneling the returner to the side.


"If you don’t make a guy go to the side, it’s easy (for him) to sidestep and start to come up the pipe with it," Childress said.

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