After serious concerns about their kick coverage during the preseason, special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro’s unit fared much better with his “A” team in the regular-season opener against the Falcons.
Kickoffs and Kickoff Coverage
Ryan Longwell was strong with his kickoffs, coming down at the 1-, 1-, 3- and 4-yard line. He squibbed his final kickoff to the 11-yard line. Adam Jennings averaged 19.8 on those five returns with a long of 31 yards. The Falcons started at their 12-, 32-, 26-, 24- and 14-yard line. Charles Gordon, Naufahu Tahi, Antoine Winfield, Heath Farwell and Tank Williams made tackles on kickoff coverage. No serious breakdowns and no big missed tackles.
Punting and Punt Coverage
Modest stats for punter Chris Kluwe don’t tell the story about how effective he was. He punted 5 times for a 38.0 gross (37.8 net) average. But he pinned the Falcons inside their 20-yard-line all five times! The one and only time he was allowed to kick away, he banged a 52-yarder. Farwell and Ronyell Whitaker combined to track down Jennings for a one-yard loss near the goal line on one return. Farwell also tracked down Jennings on the 52-yarder for just a 2-yard runback. Snapper Cullen Loeffler was slightly high with one long snap, but he was also the first man downfield on the long one. Statistically, Jennings returned 2 punts for 1 yard, with a long return of just 2 yards. Two other punts forced a fair-catch and the other went out of bounds. After Kluwe punts, the Falcons started at the 11-, 10-, 3-, 19- and 12-yard line. Again, a 38.0-yard gross doesn’t at all reflect how effective the team’s punting game was.
Adrian Peterson returned the opening kickoff for 22 yards. The only other kickoff was fielded 8-yards deep by Troy Williamson for a touchback. So the Vikings started at the 25- and the 20-yard line.
Bobby Wade showed a little shake-and-bake on his first punt return, a 13-yard effort. He finished with a modest 6.7-yard average on 3 returns, with one fair catch and another punt downed. Atlanta’s punter did a solid job and Wade did what he could under the circumstances.
Longwell was very strong in connecting on his lone field goal attempt from 49 yards out. That kick would have been good from 55-plus. He was also dead-solid-perfect on all three extra point attempts. Loeffler was on the money with his snaps and the protection was sound.
Ferraro had to be happy to see the improvement with his coverage units, but it certainly helps to have more than scrubs to work with. His kickers in particular were very solid and coverage units were very good. There’s room for improvement in the return game but opportunities were limited in this game.