Special teams, with the exception of place-kicking, had been an area of strength for the Vikings as they started the season with five straight wins. But two miscues, including a kickoff return for a touchdown for the Eagles, played a role in the 21-10 loss in Philadelphia last weekend.
This morning, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer talked about the need to learn from those mistakes then quickly put them in the past.
“Anything negative that happens, you need to correct it quickly and then kind of move one,” he said. “Although we’ve been talking about the mistake that we made, I think the guys have moved on from it, and when you game plan for your next opponent or you know that your opponent is watching that tape, you’ve got to prepare for the things that hurt you.”
So what hurt the Vikings on Josh Huff’s 98-yard touchdown on a kickoff return, the one that put the Eagles up, 8-3, in the second quarter?
“We just didn’t execute. They blocked it very well. They executed it. We didn’t,” Priefer said. “It was a good [kickoff by Blair Walsh], because we wanted to challenge our kickoff return team. … I don’t know if I’m too cocky or arrogant or whatever, but I do believe in our kickoff team. I think we’re better than we showed last Sunday, and going forward, I don’t want to be the type of guy that’s just going to kick touchbacks all the time.”
Priefer said the Vikings made the decision to kick it short on that kickoff, something they have done often this season in the hopes of getting a tackle inside the 20-yard line. While he pointed out that the Vikings only have done that twice this season, he vowed to remain aggressive there.
“We’re not going to coach scared, and I’ve never coached scared,” Priefer said. “I’m not going to do it, and if we don’t cover kicks better, then the head coach is going to say, ‘Hey, kick them out of the end zone when you can,’ and obviously, I’ve got to do that, we’ve got to do that.”
Seven weeks into the season, which ushered in a new rule change where touchbacks on kickoffs put the ball at the 25-yard line, there have only been two kickoff returns taken back for touchdowns, both by the Eagles.
The higher, directional kick toward the pylon did not work for the Vikings last weekend, but they appear to be making an impact league-wide.
“They affect everything. They affect the return. They affect how you block,” Priefer said. “It makes the coverage team more aggressive in terms of squeezing to the ball and kind of cuts the field in half.”