Special teams have been a dangerous component in the Minnesota Vikings’ game plan since the bye week. They have had Andrew Sendejo rush for 48 yards on a fake punt against the Chicago Bears in Week 11. The special teams were also able to block two punts against the Carolina Panthers in Week 12 and return them both for touchdowns.
The one aspect of special teams that they seem to be struggling with, and was one of the team’s bright spots last season, is the return game. The Vikings are currently middle-of-the-road for their kickoff return, and that is not where they want to be after leading the NFL in that category last year.
“I think (Cordarrelle Patterson) is 10th in the league in kickoff return average, which is OK,” said special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. “Not good enough for him, not good enough for us. Our expectations, and I know your expectations for him are so high, that sometimes when he doesn’t meet those, we all get a little bit frustrated.”
“We led the NFL last year,” Patterson said. “We take pride in that, so these last games we are just trying to finish off strong, you know, hope we can get in the top five or whatever. We are second in the league in starting offense – field position – because people aren’t kicking it deep. So when they do kick it deep we just got to take advantage of it.”
Teams have tape from all of last year to watch Patterson, so they know not to kick to him or how to cover him. Another reason, though, is because there has been a lot of turnover for the team and a lot of new players.
Plenty of players on special teams are young guys, even rookies. When first coming into the league or changing from one team to another, it can take a little while to learn the new scheme, and that showed at the beginning of the year when there were a lot of penalties and missed blocks on special teams in the first half of the season. Key components for special teams last year, like Joe Webb, Larry Dean and Toby Gerhart, are gone. Patterson has faith in the people blocking in front of him, though, and believes they are getting a lot better.
“Yeah, I feel like these last couple weeks I’ve been seeing the rookies, they step up, they’re holding their ground,” Patterson said. “First couple weeks they been missing some blocks. Coach Priefer got on them and they listen. We like guys like that, who going to listen to the coaches and do what they say. So those young guys, they stepped it up tremendously and I respect everything the kickoff return is doing blocking for me. Now’s my time to show them boys what I can do back there.”
Although there have been multiple occasions where a player missed a block, or did not hold there block long enough, Patterson puts a lot of the blame on himself. He says that there have been a couple of times where he would make the wrong decision and that he needs to improve in that area.
“I haven’t been making the right decisions I’ve supposed to make,” said Patterson. “They might block it up good, but I might take the wrong cut. I put all that on me, and Coach Priefer set me up pretty good, so I just need to get better in that.”
Priefer also understands that the threat Patterson presents has paid off in other ways, just like it did in the second half of Patterson’s rookie season. Either other people now have kickoff returns because teams will often kick short to avoid putting the ball in Patterson’s hands.
“I think Cordarelle gives us the best chance to score every time he’s back there,” Priefer said. “Like I told him, sometimes the way people have been kicking to us this year is that he can just stand underneath the goalpost and we’re going to get the ball at the 35 or 40-yard line because they’re not kicking to him. He’s always a threat and I understand that.”
Last year, Patterson averaged 32.4 yards per return with two touchdowns. This year he is averaging 21.9 yards with no touchdowns.
Even though the production from last season has not been there this season, you can tell that the players feels like they are almost there. Priefer still wants Patterson to take the ball out on most occasions and has complete faith in him as a returner. The kick returner says he is thankful for everything Priefer has done for him and wants to go out and prove to his coach why he is the one back there returning kicks.
“Me and Priefer just got that trust, we got that trust,” Patterson said. “He trusts me a lot, like he trust everybody else on the team. I respect everything he does for me, and I appreciate him day in and day out. That’s the kind of trust level you need with your return coach, and I feel like our chemistry is just getting better. And these last three weeks I got to prove to him that I’m back there for a reason, and I just got to take full advantage of these last three weeks.”
Patterson searching for that breakout return
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