Coverages Catching On

The Vikings special teams coverages took a big step forward with their season-opening win. See the stats that make it impressive and the reaction from key players.

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."

Farwell agreed.

"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."

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