The Minnesota Vikings were victorious against the Oakland Raiders in their first preseason contest on Friday night. While it is always nice to get a victory, there were some things that the team needs to improve upon and some other things that were executed very well.
I will break the game down into three separate sections to discuss them. The final installment is special teams. Here are some notable impressions on the special teams in the game played by the Vikings:
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh did a good job on kickoffs. Very few kickoffs were returnable and resulted in the Raiders getting the ball at the 20 yard line. Walsh’s kicks were only taken out of the end zone once. Not allowing long returns is a great way to limit your opponent’s starting field position and allow the defense more of a chance to stop the opposing offense. Walsh did a great job of this on Friday.
Punter Jeff Locke got some criticism for his play against the Raiders despite some beautiful punts. Most notably, Walsh had a great punt that should have been downed on or near the 1 yard line but was instead taken back out to the 20 because of illegal touching after being in the endzone. Locke punted 8 times for an average of 38.9 yards. Of the 3 punts that weren’t either a touchback or fair catch, Raiders return men had a total gain of -3 yards. That’s right, when they tried to advance the ball, they actually went backwards. A lot of this can be attributed to hangtime and allowing the coverage team to get down the field. While I’d love that average to be higher, I wasn’t really too disappointed with Locke’s punts.
Field Goals/Extra Points
Kicking accurately outdoors can be a difficult at times. However, Walsh showed a good leg when he connected on a 30 yard field goal and a 32 yard extra point. Walsh’s only miss came on a 53 yard attempt that sailed wide of the goalpost. In head coach Mike Zimmer’s post game conference, he stated that he “got greedy” in attempting the field goal and gave up good field position because of it. It’s hard not to expect Walsh to nail every long kick after his amazing rookie season where he went 10/10 from beyond 50 yards, but we have to remember that he is indeed human.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Vikings special teams was the coverage on kickoffs and punts. Minnesota allowed only 4 total returns in the game (1 kickoff return and 3 punt returns) and they resulted in a total of 18 yards. It was especially great to see a second quarter punt return by Oakland get absolutely stuffed by wide receiver Adam Thielen on a great individual effort. With Thielen making plays in so many different aspects of the game. If he can keep up this kind of motor, the Vikings will have no choice but to put him on the squad. Another player that made a big impression was Gerald Hodges. Not only was he solid as a linebacker but he played well on special teams where the rest of the line on special teams pushed the Raiders back and he got his hand on a field goal attempt, deflecting it.
The returns were one part of Minnesota’s game that is usually one of the best in the league, but were really pedestrian on Friday. Neither return man from last year (Marcus Sherels or Cordarrelle Patterson) had a return in this game. Instead, we saw Jerick McKinnon and Adam Thielen try their hand at the jobs. Aside from a very nice 26 yard punt return by Adam Thielen, there wasn’t really much to speak of. Head coach Mike Zimmer already said that he won’t be using McKinnon in returns again any time soon. McKinnon ended with 2 kickoff returns for 15 yards while Thielen ended with 3 punt returns for 52 yards.
The Minnesota Vikings special teams units were a mixed bag against the Raiders. While the punting and returns weren’t quite up to par, the kickoffs and coverage teams did an amazing job. However, when the regulars take back over on kick returns and Jeff Locke finds his groove punting, this team’s special teams grouping has the potential to be something special in the NFL.