Skip to main content

News | Minnesota Vikings –

Vikings Special Teams at Bye: Stats Explain 5-1 Start & Room to Improve

EAGAN, Minn. — From blocked kicks to fake punts, the Vikings special teams has impressed through the first six games of the 2022 season.

The unit is working under first-year Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels, who has brought an incredible energy and demeanor with him from Dallas, where he served as an assistant coordinator.

Minnesota has experienced special teams struggles over the past few seasons but so far is putting strong outings on tape.

Veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson blocked an Eagles field goal attempt in Week 2 that, although the Vikings suffered their lone loss in the Monday Night Football contest, showed the unit's grittiness and gave future kickers an element to worry about.

Perhaps one of the team's flashiest games was against the Saints in London Week 4.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell called a fake punt in the third quarter, and Daniels had his crew ready. Rookie punter Ryan Wright completed a pass to rookie receiver Jalen Nailor, the first NFL completion and catch for each, to give Minnesota a first down and keep alive a possession capped by a Greg Joseph field goal.

Joseph also shined in the international contest, making five field goals from distances of 28, 36, 24, 46 and 47. The final kick put Minnesota up 28-25 with 24 seconds remaining to defeat New Orleans.

Joseph earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for that performance, and Wright this week received the award after punting 10 times at Miami and booting one 73 yards.

Special teams tackling has been largely on point, and the unit has only been flagged for penalties five times.

One particularly interesting stat is that entering the bye, the Vikings special teams rank No. 2 in the NFL in Expected Points Added (EPA) with 20.23. The Texans are No. 1 with 21.56.

EPA is used to try and define how many points a player, unit or play is worth to a team. Every play is considered with context in mind, meaning down distance and field position are used to evaluate the amount of EPA compared to the actual result of the play.

Minnesota is one of only eight teams in the league who have double-digit special teams EPAs.

"I think special teams gives the other two [phases] energy and life coming onto the field because those guys are the first ones who start the game off, if it's kickoff return or kickoff coverage," Peterson said. "So those guys are tone setters, those guys have taken that to heart and you just see 11 wild guys just trying to get down there and get to the guy and destroy the guy who has the ball.

"As a defense, that just fires us up because that's what defense is all about, so we want to try to go out there and match that intensity they just provided for us coming onto the field," Peterson said. "Guys take pride in being on special teams because they understand it's a big part of this team's success."

2 special teams stats that explain why the Vikings are 5-1

1. Pinning 'em inside the 20

One of my favorite scenes in Disney's The Lion King is when Simba and Nala are playing as cubs, and Nala puts Simba in his place while wrestling: "Pinned ya!"

And then a few seconds later, "Pinned ya again!"

It's what comes to mind nearly every time Ryan Wright boots a beautiful punt and the coverage team pins an opponent team deep in its own territory.

Wright has 27 punts for Minnesota through six games; on 15 of them, he's dropped the ball inside an opponent's 20-yard line. That's tied with Broncos punter Corliss Waitman for the most punts inside the 20 this season. Waitman has punted 33 times.

Take it a step farther, and 10 of those punts have been inside an opponent's 15. Wright on four occasions has pinned a team inside its own 10.

Wright's ability to flip field position for Minnesota gives the Vikings defense a better shot at stopping the opponent from driving down and putting any points on the board.

View Week 6 action photos from the Vikings-Dolphins game at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 16.

2. Gaining ground on kickoff return

Similarly to the way Wright is helping Minnesota with field position defensively, the Vikings are having success on kickoff returns, allowing them to start drives with favorable field position.

Kene Nwangwu is in his second NFL season and – though he doesn't yet have a return touchdown this season – is once again playing at a high level.

The Vikings currently are averaging 23.6 yards per kick return, which ranks eighth in the NFL and second in the NFC North behind Detroit's 27.4. Baltimore is leading the way with a whopping 36.6 yards per return but only have five attempts to Minnesota's 13.

2 special teams stats that illustrate why the Vikings say they have room to improve

1. Looking for consistency on 50+

Joseph has been tremendously consistent for Minnesota on field goals of distances under 50 yards, but he has room for improvement on the 50-plus shots.

The Vikings are just 1-of-5 on field goals from 50 yards or more, although one of those misses includes a 51-yard field goal attempt blocked by the Bears and two others were from 56 yards.

Joseph is perfect so far on four attempts from 20-29 yards, two attempts from 30-39 and two attempts from 40-49. But the 20-percent success rate on the especially long attempts drops Minnesota's overall field goal percentage to 69.2, which is tied with New Orleans for second worst in the league.

O'Connell likes the potential range Joseph has shown, but a miss from 50-plus can yield great field position for the other team.

2. A chance to boost punt returns?

It's a good thing when one must reach a little bit to find a second area in which the Vikings special teams can improve.

But when looking at the numbers, there's room for growth at punt return.

Through the first six games, Minnesota ranks 16th in the league with an average of 8.3 yards per punt return.

The stat isn't shabby, but it's very mediocre.

The Vikings traded to get receiver/return specialist Jalen Reagor from the Eagles just prior to Week 1, and he's returned 11 punts thus far. His longest was a 25-yard return at Miami, which can be viewed here, last week.

Ball security is of the utmost importance, and Reagor has fumbled during two returns – against Detroit and against Chicago. He's fortunately recovered both fumbles, but the preference certainly is avoiding a loose ball all together.