Toughness, effort, discipline, enthusiasm/passion – those are the words on the Minnesota Vikings special teams sign in their team meeting room. This year the Vikings special team units have been one of the most consistent parts of the team and it has been paying off in a big way during games.
Kicker Blair Walsh has hit game-winning field goals – one in regulation and one in overtime – the past two weeks, and Marcus Sherels has had two big punt returns, one for a touchdown and another to set up a game-winning field. Not only that, but they have consistently put the offense and defense in favorable situations for a majority of the games.
“Our special teams as a unit is playing really, really well,” Walsh said. “I know you saw Marcus’ return that set us up yesterday. And it’s the attention to detail we put on special teams. Not every team in the NFL cares about special teams as much as this organization does and I think it pays off.”
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer consistently talks about the importance of special teams and that has really sunk in with Vikings players. Not all head coaches put such an emphasis on special teams, which at times seems to be an overlooked part of the game.
That is not how Zimmer works, though. He knows the importance of special teams and the amount of attention he spends focusing on that area of the game resonates with the players.
“It’s great,” said wide receiver and special teams contributor Adam Thielen. “It’s a big part of the game, changing field position, winning those phases it usually has a big impact on the outcome of the game. We take pride in that and we want to make sure we come out on top.”
Field position is the big thing that Zimmer seems to focus on when it comes to special teams and on Sunday the offense and defense was put in good position for most of the game. The St. Louis Rams never started past their own 39-yard line and the Vikings offense started past their own 40-yard line four different times throughout the game.
When a team is starting that close to midfield so often, their chances of scoring is greatly increased. In fact, three of those four times where the Vikings started past their own 40-yard line led to points, including the game-winning field goal.
A big reason for the success on special teams is that the players have really bought into what the coaches are preaching, and they all have a desire to do well.
“It’s just we have a lot of guys that have a lot of want-to,” Thielen said. “We have great coaches putting us in great positions. It’s just a fun group and we have a lot of leaders; it’s not just one guy leading the group. We have multiple leaders, and you can see that in each game we have a different special teams captain because there is just a bunch of leaders in that group.”
This is not a new occurrence for the Vikings, though. Even though the special teams has been standing out a little more the last two weeks, they really have been playing at a high level all year long. It is a big part as to why they are 6-2 on the season and will likely continue to be a big part in whatever success they have down the road.
“I think all year long our guys have played well in special teams,” Zimmer said. “We finally got a decent kickoff return this week that we blocked better. The returner ran it in the right place and then the punt return has been good. But we’ve been playing good on special teams all along and I think that’s helped to change the field position, to create some positive yards for us as well.”