Stars Out Of The Spotlight: Chris Kluwe

Posted Feb 16, 2010

Vikings K Ryan Longwell has been an outstanding player at his position over the course of his 13-year NFL career and he’s been perhaps at his best since joining the Vikings in 2005. Longwell’s success in recent seasons, especially his ability to convert FGs of 50 yards and FGs with the game on the line, has put him appropriately in the spotlight.

But the Vikings have another specialist who has been just as solid over his Vikings career – P Chris Kluwe.

Just as Monday’s Star Out of the Spotlight – Chad Greenway – has progressed each season of his career, Kluwe has shown marked improvement every year in Minnesota. And 2009 was no exception.

If you take only a quick look at Kluwe’s 2009 statistics, you might fall into the trap of thinking he actually regressed. The stat often studied most closely as it relates to punters is (gross) punting average, and that number was down 3.7 yards in ‘09 for Kluwe. But punting isn’t about booming it as far as you can. Rather, it’s about limiting return yardage and improving field position.

In those 2 categories, Kluwe was a star in ‘09.

Consider these 3 important statistical categories: punts downed inside the 20-yardline, touchbacks and opponents fair catches. Kluwe had 24 punts downed inside the 20 compared to 23 last year, he had only 9 punts bound into the endzone for touchbacks this year after having 13 in 2008 and he forced opposing returners into 13 fair catches this season after forcing just 8 in ‘08.

Kluwe also improved his hang time this past season, a sure factor in his increased fair catches and punts downed inside the 20.

Ultimately, Kluwe’s improvement during the ‘09 season was an important one. The Vikings coverage units were able to cut their opponents’ average return from 14.9 (32nd in the league) in 2008 to just 7.9 (12th in the NFL) in 2009 and even though Kluwe had the same number of punts in 2008 as he did in 2009, Vikings opponents logged 9 fewer returns. That’s 9 fewer opportunities for opponents to increase field position.

With so much attention paid to total offensive yardage and gross punting average, many times it’s the hidden yardage – punt returns and touchbacks – that turn out to be crucial in winning the field position battle and winning games. Because of Kluwe’s improvement in the punting game, the Vikings kick coverage units also improved and the Vikings found the hidden yardage that was missing in 2008.

Previous 'Stars Out Of The Spotlight' Article

Monday, Feb. 15 - Chad Greenway