Special teams the latest breakdown

The Vikings had much better success defending kickoffs when they sent it deep in Soldier Field, but the glaring special teams deficiencies were in turnovers that resulted in immediate touchdowns. See the stats that accompany the special teams in that game and the quotes to help explain the situation.

As Antoine Winfield well knows, the Vikings have found different ways to lose this year. For the first part of the season, much of the blame was put on the offense, but in a 48-41 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, it was a variety of factors.

"(The offense) did a great job. Putting up 41 points, there is no way you should expect to lose that game. But somehow, someway, we found a way to lose. It's just a tough one overall," Winfield said.

It was made exponentially tougher by the turnovers, two of which occurred on special teams plays that immediately became Bears touchdowns.

The first of those happened when Chris Kluwe dropped a punt snap, had the ensuing punt attempt blocked and then illegally kicked the ball a second time when it was on the ground. The ball bounded to Chicago's Garrett Wolfe, who returned it 17 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bears their first lead at 14-7.

"You have to remember that Chris is a holder as well. He's able to handle high snaps and get them down, balls that skip and get them down. If you want to say that's an anomaly, that doesn't happen very often. To surmise what was going on upstairs (in Kluwe's mind), I don't know. You'd have to ask Chris," head coach Brad Childress said.

Many believe Kluwe took his eye off the snap to get a last look at Chicago return man Devin Hester, who was talked about all week leading up to the game. Childress admitted that the punt was scheduled to go out of bounds to the left with a left to right wind, but he wasn't sure if Kluwe took his eye off the ball.

Either way, the play made the national highlight reels and ESPN's Chris Berman dubbed him Chris "No Cluey" when announcing the embarrassing highlight at halftime of Monday night's game.

The team's other special teams gaffe was defended by Childress. Punt returner Charles Gordon elected not to field a punt inside the 10-yard line and went to block Chicago gunner Zack Bowman in hopes the ball would bounce into the end zone for a touchback. It's been done many times before, but this time the ball bounced back and went off Gordon's arm and into the end zone, where Bowman recovered it for a touchdown to allow the Bears to regain the lead, 24-17.

"It's really a slippery slope from the standpoint that you typically put your punt-catcher's heels on the 10-yard line. Chuck knows enough about how the ball is coming down because he plays the flyer position on the outside to down punts inside the 10-yard line. He knows enough not to signal a fair catch," Childress said. "He knows enough that he's going to try to pry the gunner off the ball because he doesn't know on that field – Soldier Field (is) a little bit soft – whether the guy has a reverse spin on it or if it's going to hit and stick. He wants to give it every chance to get in the end zone. He knows he's right in that vicinity where it may hit and die or it may hit and go in. He's trying to keep that guy off it. I appreciate his effort. We don't necessarily get away from that ball. He was trying to do his job. The easy thing would have been to signal a fair catch and step away and not do anything and let the guy run to the ball. He's giving up his right to block then. I appreciate his effort. Obviously he's not happy with the result and I'm not happy with the result."

Another issue with the special teams was a coaching decision to not kick off deep and let Hester touch the ball early. On their first two kickoffs, the Vikings kicked short and Jason McKie returned the ball to the Bears' 46- and 48-yard lines. That led to a touchdown and a field goal.

Hester entered the game having a down season returning punts and kickoffs. He was averaging 5.4 yards on punt returns; the league average is 9.5. He was averaging 22.6 yards on kickoff returns; the league average is 22.7. But given Hester's previous years of success returning the ball against the Vikings in Soldier Field, Winfield wasn't surprised at the short kickoffs.

"Not at all. Hester is one of the best in the game. He's hurt us in the past a few times that we've played up there. He returned a few for touchdowns. So, no, to squib and kick away from him, we expected that," Winfield said.

However, there is no denying that the Bears held a huge advantage in field position. While the Vikings' average starting position was the 29-yard line, the Bears averaged the 42-yard line at the start of their drives, thanks to three short kickoffs that led to 13 points and two interceptions in Minnesota territory.

"The field position thing hurt," Winfield said. "When we're kicking to their 30 and they're returning to our 50 or their 45, which (is) a first down and field goal range and stuff like that, which kind of hurts. But we dealt with it and we didn't stop them defensively. They were going down the field and scoring touchdowns at will."

Childress defended the Vikings' special teams schemes.

"Schematically, I think we have a good scheme; we just need to operate it better," he said. "I will say, in an encouraging note, I think that the coverage teams have done a good job here in the last couple of weeks."

Against the Bears, those coverage teams weren't given much of an opportunity to defend in normal situations. The Bears didn't have a punt return the whole game, but when the Vikings decided to kick it deep in the second half, they did live up to an improved grade. With the Vikings' four second-half kickoffs, the Bears started on their own 20-, 21-, 23- and 20-yard lines. That resulted in three punts and a touchdown, which was better than the touchdown and two field goals that came after three short kickoffs in the first half.

After the loss Sunday night, Childress said it was his decision to keep the ball away from Hester. On Monday, Childress was asked if he would hold coordinator Paul Ferraro accountable for the problems on special teams – the Vikings have allowed three touchdowns via punt return, one on Kluwe's blocked punt and another on Gordon's fumbled return.

"It all comes back to me. I'm not going to pin it on a coach or a player," Childress said. "It all comes back to me. That's what it is. I'm the guy who has the wins and losses by my record. It's not the special teams guy. It will always all come back to me with wins and losses."

NOTES

  • The Vikings re-signed Erin Henderson to the 53-man roster and waived LB Rufus Alexander, who was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster last weekend and played in the Bears game Sunday. Alexander played on special teams but didn't register a tackle. He could be a candidate to re-join the practice squad if he clears waivers.

  • The Vikings have the 12th-ranked offense (10th rushing and 15th passing) and eight-ranked defense (third against the rush and 19th against the pass) after NFL Week 7.


  • Viking Update Top Stories