While the Vikings seemed to have all kinds of problems with their special teams during preseason, things took a dramatic turn for the better in their first regular-season game.
During the preseason, the normally reliable Ryan Longwell missed two field goals of less than 45 yards, a range from which he was perfect during the 2006 season. Against the Atlanta Falcons in the opener, Longwell connected on his only attempt – from 49 yards out.
But where Longwell may have made the biggest improvement from last year to this year is in his kickoffs.
"He's doing a great job. He's pinning them deep. He's given us a great opportunity to make some plays," said Heath Farwell, one of the leaders on special teams coverage units.
Following kickoffs, the Falcons started at their own 12-, 32-, 24- and 14- yard lines.
Special teams coach Paul Ferraro said Longwell's distance has improved from last year, as well as his hang time, probably by an average of two-tenths of a second per kickoff. Longwell is also benefitting from a team that places emphasis on strong coverage units, the main role for linebackers like Farwell and Vinny Ciurciu.
"It was a big help getting Vinny back," said Farwell. "He missed the last two (preseason) games."
While Ciurciu returned from a hand injury, the punt and kickoff coverage units also benefitted from the insertion of some defensive starters. Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, Darren Sharper, Dwight Smith and Cedric Griffin are defensive starters that regularly lend their tackling skills to special teams coverage units.
"I think we're starting to jell together. During the preseason, not everyone was there. Some other guys were in new positions and now everyone has jelled and actually we're a pretty good unit right now," said Ciurciu. "In the preseason there is about 80-something players and they're rotating every position and then you're trying to find out who belongs where.
"Now we've got our core guys. Obviously (Sunday) we did well and there's room for improvement. There are things to clean up on every aspect."
"It's preseason. You're out there running and you're trying to mix and match lineups and you're trying to get a final lineup out there," he said. "We played hard (Sunday) and it was just a good win for us."
Another assist goes to punter Chris Kluwe, who worked all last season on his directional punting in an effort to have more punts downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Never was that more successful than Sunday against Atlanta.
Kluwe's average suffered at 38 yards per punt, but all five of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line and only two of them were even attempted to be returned – for a combined 1 yard.
Kluwe's punts pinned the Falcons at their 11-, 10-, 3-, 19- and 12-yard lines throughout the game.
"They did a good job of pinning them back in deep field position. It's a field position game, and typically that happens when you're rolling 80 people through there and trying to get looks at people," Childress said. "It's kind of typewriterish – you have holes. You use word processors now; very few of you just use typewriters. But there's a little continuity here with the guys we had covering."
Said Farwell: "It's just a good start for the special teams unit and hopefully we get better every week."
Coverages Catching On
Viking Update Top Stories
Preview: Vikings facing aggressive EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings’ continued success on Sunday will be predicated on their ability to handle and exploit the aggressiveness of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:26 PM
Key matchup: Former teammates face offOnly time will tell who got the better of the Sam Bradford trade to the Minnesota Vikings, but he and Carson Wentz will face each other Sunday after the trade that surprised them…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:06 AM
Vikings podcast: Spielman, Bradford and moreThe Minnesota Vikings are showing the fruits of some solid roster building and coaching. Their record, their stats and their depth prove it, as a talk with Rick Spielman showed.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 6:17 AM
Vikings rush offense needs to improveThe Minnesota Vikings are the lone unbeaten team in the NFL, yet they are failing at one of the typical telltale signs of a winning team - being able to control the clock with a…
Viking UpdateFriday at 8:23 PM
Vikings turned 2010 postponement into partyThe 2010 Minnesota Vikings suffered through a decade's worth of twists and turns - almost all of them bad. The one exception? A really long weekend in Philadelphia, where it isn't…
Viking UpdateFriday at 4:55 PM