Tuesday Reflections: Minnesota’s Return on Their Special Teams Investment

The Dallas Cowboys game doesn’t get any prettier when you go back and re-watch it. It was a winnable game. For a variety of reasons — lack of pressure, blown coverage assignments, refusing to tackle, lackluster special teams — the Minnesota Vikings found a way to lose. As a result, the Vikings’ playoff chances have dropped to 20%. With that said, we hop into our three Tuesday Reflections.

The Investment on Special Teams

As we’ve previously noted, the Minnesota Vikings have allocated an unusual amount of resources toward special teams. No one can argue that Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer haven’t made it a priority. Take a look at the draft capital they’ve used solely on special teams over the past three years:

Currently, all four are looking pretty bad (though we’re still, stubbornly, encouraging patience with Osborn). Keep in mind we’ve also spent big money on extensions for Dan Bailey and Britton Colquitt. In other words, Minnesota has made a big investment on special teams. They haven’t been rewarded.

Moving forward, the Vikings need to reevaluate how they approach special teams. It still needs to be a priority, but Minnesota has done a poor job of getting a return on their investment on special teams. Zimmer continually preaches about the importance of complementary football. The basic idea is that each phase of the game impacts the other. If the kickoff team has a great return, then things are easier for the offense. If the punt team has great coverage, then things are easier for the defense. More than halfway through the season, the special teams has consistently made life more difficult for the offense and defense.

Per Pro Football Reference, the Vikings have thirteen punt return yards for the entire season. Our average kickoff return goes for 20.9 yards. It’s been ugly.

The Defensive Line’s Underwhelming Game

Over the past several weeks, the d-line has performed admirably. Sunday was the exception.

No one should be expecting miracles from this group. All the headlines last week centered on the fact that the d-line doesn’t have anyone picked higher than the fourth round. Their performance, given this context, has been laudable. Against Dallas, though, there was definitely room for improvement. If the Vikings have any chance of snagging that final Wild Card spot, Zimmer and Andre Patterson will need to find ways of getting production out of the linemen. When Danielle Hunter is out there, the coaches would be wise to just get out of the way and let a magnificent player do magnificent things. With these linemen, Zim and Patterson will need to use stunts, slants, and blitzes to get production.

The Playoff Chances

As we noted at the beginning, the Vikings now have a 20% chance of getting into the playoffs. The road will be difficult.

The next two games are at home against subpar teams: the Panthers and then the Jaguars. As we learned on Sunday, home field against bad teams doesn’t mean too much at this point. Nevertheless, a win in these two games would equal a 6-6 record as the Vikings head into the final quarter of the season, which is where things get tricky.

The final four games consist of two divisional games (at Detroit, vs. Chicago) and two games against top NFC teams (at Tompa Bay, at New Orleans). The path forward, then, involves winning the games they ought to win (which they haven’t done this year) and then stealing wins from superior teams (which they’ve done at least once). No one can think this is a desirable approach, but it’s where we find ourselves.

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