Mike Priefer isn’t being dissuaded by a kickoff return for a touchdown that erased the Minnesota Vikings’ only lead of last week’s game in 13 seconds.
The Vikings overcame numerous mistakes in the first quarter to take a 3-0 lead in the second quarter, only to have the ensuing kickoff returned 98 yards for a touchdown. The Philadelphia Eagles never looked back in a 21-10 win.
But, despite that lapse in coverage, Priefer, the Vikings’ special teams coordinator, wants to stay aggressive and not simply instruct kicker Blair Walsh to kick it deep for touchbacks and allow teams to start at their 25-yard line.
“We just didn’t execute. They blocked it very well. They executed it; we didn’t,” Priefer said of Josh Huff’s return for a touchdown. “It was a good kick, because we wanted to challenge our kickoff return team. If you noticed, they didn’t challenge ours. They kicked it out of the end zone. I guess they were worried about our kick return game, but at the end of the day, I don’t blame them. Maybe I’m too competitive.
“I don’t know if I’m cocky or arrogant or whatever, but I do believe in our kickoff team. I think we’re better than we showed last Sunday, and going forward, I don’t want to be the type of guy that’s just going to kick touchbacks all the time. So we’re going to challenge our guys to get better, to improve, and we need to move on from there.”
For the most part, that has served the Vikings well in the past.
Prior to their Week 7 lapse, the Vikings hadn’t allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown since 2013, when seven of them were returned for touchdowns (and Cordarrelle Patterson was responsible for two of those). In 2014, they were fourth-best in covering kicks, allowing an average of only 20.7 yards per kickoff return. But last year the average ballooned to 26.1 yards. This year, after giving up the 98-yarder, they are second-worst in the league with opponents now averaging 29.5 yards per return. Prior to that return, the average was a much more respectable 24.6 yards.
The week before playing Philadelphia, Priefer said he thought the Eagles had the best all-around special teams units the Vikings had faced to that point, but that didn’t stop him from being aggressive and trying to cover the only return team with a touchdown this year (the Eagles remain alone in that category, but now they have two returns for touchdowns).
“Anything negative that happens, you need to correct it quickly and then kind of move on,” Priefer said. “Although we’ve been talking about the mistake that we made, I think the guys have moved on from it, and when you game plan for your next opponent or you know that your opponent is watching that tape, you’ve got to prepare for the things that hurt you.”
Vikings fans will, of course, remember the nightmares they have experienced at Soldier Field with Devin Hester returning kickoff and punts on them. He averaged 31 yards per kickoff return against the Vikings with one touchdown, and averaged 13.8 yards per punt return against them with three touchdowns. Hester, however, hasn’t been with the Bears since 2013.
So far this year, Chicago is ranked 25th in the league by averaging only 20.3 yards per kickoff return with a long of only 32 yards.
“When we do kick if short, it’s obviously to get a tackle inside the 20,” Priefer said. “We’ve only had two of those this year. Now, we haven’t had a ton of opportunities, in terms of we have some kicks, some touchbacks, as well, but going forward, I think we want to be an aggressive football team and we are aggressive. We’re not going to coach scared, and I’ve never coached scared. I’m not going to do it, and if we don’t cover kicks better, then the head coach is going to say, ‘Hey, kick them out of the end zone when you can,’ and obviously I’ve got to do that, we’ve got to do that. But we’re an aggressive football team. We want to challenge people whenever we can, because I think we’re pretty good, but we can’t make mistakes like that and hurt our football team.”