The Vikings special teams were awful last year, especially in coverage of kicks and punts. Change was promised and, if Friday's 13-3 win over the Colts is any indication, the change has been profound.
One of the biggest killers for the Vikings in 2008 was special-teams coverage. It has been discussed at length during training camp, as new special teams coach Brian Murphy promised change to the league's worst coverage unit a year ago.
If Friday's 13-3 win over the Colts was any indication, so far so good. The Vikings consistently pinned the Colts in coverage, staying in their lanes and making plays.
On the first kick of the game for the Vikings following the opening score, Eric Frampton
made a tackle after a 12-yard return, putting the Colts in business on their own 22-yard line. After going up 10-0, Frampton made another special-teams tackle on the ensuing kickoff, bringing down returner Chad Simpson
on the 18-yard line after just a 13-yard return.
The first punt of the game didn't come until the middle of the second quarter and Chris Kluwe
bombed a 58-yard kick. It was returned 14 yards, but still a 44-yard net gain. That would be the last coverage moment of the first half for the Vikings.
The opening kick of the second half, handled by Taylor Mehlhaff
, went 4 yards deep into the end zone. Simpson returned it just 18 yards to the 14-yard line before being tackled by rookie fifth-round pick Jasper Brinkey. The next time the special teams would take the field got everyone's attention.
The coverage teams had been very effective, but free-agent signee Glenn Holt
took it to another level on a punt with 11 minutes to play in the third quarter. Colts return man T.J. Rushing
took the 52-yard punt on the 16-yard line and was drilled by Holt. Rushing fumbled the ball, but it went out of bounds.
The Vikings would close out the game with Kluwe punting once into the end zone and having his other two punts fair caught by the Colts.
It would be difficult for the Vikings' special teams to get any worse than they were a year ago. For one night anyway, the special teams were just that – and could do no wrong.
The Vikings' dominance was evident in the starting field position for the game. The average Vikings' starting position was the M-28, M-8, M-31, M-44, M-19, M-48, M-28, M-19, M-40 and I-43. The Colts started their drives on the I-22, I-18, I-18, I-27, I-14, I-18, I-20, I-41, I-20 and I-11.
Of the Vikings' 10 completed drives of the game, eight of them got to midfield or beyond. Only three of the Colts' 10 drives got past midfield.
The domination of the stats was just as telling. The Vikings held the ball for 38:59 of the game, outgained the Colts 351-142 and didn't turn the ball over.
The first offensive drive of the game was close to perfection for the Vikings. Sage Rosenfels completed all five of his passes for 42 yards and Adrian Peterson ran four times for 20 yards on an 11-play, 72-yard drive that took 6:18 off the clock to start the game.
The Vikings showed some gutsiness on the opening drive, going twice on fourth down and converting both – a fourth-and-1 from the Colts 48 with a 5-yard run by Peterson and, four plays later, a 17-yard pass to Visanthe Shiancoe on a fourth-and-2 from the 35-yard line.
The first-team defense had just one series, sacking Peyton Manning three times in five plays – one each by Ray Edwards, Jared Allen and E.J. Henderson.
Veteran defensive tackle Pat Williams was given the night off. Fred Evans started in his place.
Percy Harvin suffered a shoulder injury in Wednesday's practice and didn't start the game as a return man. Darius Reynaud got the nod at kick returner, with Jaymar Johnson starting out on punt returns.
On their second offensive drive of the game, the Vikings went a couple of plays out of the no-huddle offense when they recognized some mismatch potential with the Colts defensive lineup.
The Vikings dominated the first quarter. They held the ball for 12 minutes, 46 seconds and had a huge statistical edge. The Vikings outgained the Colts 137 yards to zero. The Vikings had 78 yards passing and 56 yards rushing, while the Colts, thanks to the three sacks, had 14 yards rushing and minus-6 yards passing.
Individually in the first quarter, Rosenfels completed nine of 10 passes for 78 yards. Chester Taylor had four carries for 31 yards and a touchdown, followed by Peterson with four rushes for 20 yards. Sis players had receptions, but Shiancoe was the only one with more than one – catching four passes for 55 yards. Manning completed one of two passes for 6 yards in his only series. Joseph Addai had one carry for 14 yards and Pierre Garcon had the only reception for 6 yards.
Late in the first quarter, Bernard Berrian was taken off the field on a cart after injuring his hamstring. Childress declined to comment on the severity during a halftime television interview.
One concern the Vikings might have was how they handle the running game. Joseph Addai had two carries and gained 13 yards and Donald Brown gained 58 yards on just five carries in the first half.
Tarvaris Jackson's night didn't excite fans or coaches. His first pass was an incompletion he tried to pull back, but the ball fell out of his hand. At one point, he was just 2 of 7 passing and had multiple overthrows. He finished the game completing 7 of 15 passes for just 39 yards.
New offensive line starters Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan played the entire first half, while the other starters were done after the first quarter.
The Vikings had eight different players with a reception in the first half. They finished the game with a whopping 13 different players catching passes.
There were six penalties in the first half – three false starts and three offside penalties – all penalties that are obvious to the naked eye pre-snap. There wasn't an in-play infraction until a low block penalty on Holt in the third quarter.
Tight end Garrett Mills was the only Viking who was inactive.
The Colts had 11 players inactive, including six starters, among them being all four starters in the secondary.
Taylor Mehlhaaf made a 46-yard field goal in the second half, but it was nullified by a penalty. He missed the ensuing attempt from 51 yards.
Running back Albert Young had 14 carries for 58 yards and showed a lot of patience in trying to pick up extra yardage when he was surrounded.
Ryan Cook's problems continue. Not only has been demoted as a starter, but he had two false-start penalties on the same drive in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings finished the game with six sacks by six different players.
The TV crew of Ari Wolfe, Mike Mayock and Ann Carroll began their third year of local Twin Cities coverage of the Vikings preseason game.