VikingBuzz BLOG

Brian Murphy (Kevin Brown/Viking Update)

This week's installment of news, notes, commentary and analysis with the regular season now underway.

Special teams improved

With the exception of the 67-yard punt return touchdown by Joshua Cribbs in the opener at Cleveland, the Vikings special teams units have been much-improved in all phases.

Against Detroit, the Lions picked up just 7 return yards on four punts fielded.

The week before, the Browns had a total of zero return yards on the other five punts from Vikings punter Chris Kluwe.

It's hard to know if new special teams coordinator Brian Murphy is truly a better coach than Paul Ferraro was a year ago, but he certainly has his units performing much better.

For one, he has better personnel. But he also seems to have all his units more committed and on board with the strategy.

Kluwe's personal statistics are not that impressive through a couple games. His gross average is just 40.0. But he's generally done a much more consistent job of pinning the opposing return man into the corner.

Likewise, kicker Ryan Longwell has not been booming the ball into the end zone, but he's done a very nice job of placing it between the numbers and the sideline.

On top of that, the cover teams have generally maintained containment and bottled up the opposing returns well so far this season.

The return of Heath Farwell (3 tackles) certainly helps. The addition of Kenny Onatolu (3 tackles), Karl Paymah (2 tackles) and Jasper Brinkley (2 tackles) has also improved the cover units.

The other noticeable area of improvement, based on the early returns (no pun intended), is the return game.

It appears likely that both Percy Harvin and Darius Reynaud will eventually take one to the house. Reynaud did in preseason. Through just two games, Harvin is averaging 29.7 on six kickoff returns. Reynaud has averaged 19.0 on four punt returns.

Harvin on the verge

There's no question that Harvin is on the verge of some true breakout plays, and opponents have already taken notice.

"Percy Harvin, he's just a weapon, period," Lions special-teams coordinator Stan Kwan said going into last weekend's game. "He's a playmaker. Anytime he touches the ball, he is a threat."

"He's a real talented athlete, so I'm sure, other than giving Peterson the ball, they're going to try to work him in the offense to create some mismatches and some misdirection," cornerback Anthony Henry said. "That's what they've been showing on film. I'm pretty sure they'll work some of that same stuff in against us."

"There's a lot of different packages they use him in, and each one would be a little bit different, the way that we react to it," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Some of them we're treating him like a wide receiver. Other ones you treat him like a running back. Other ones you treat him like a quarterback. So you can't put them all together in one box. That's one of the reasons it's going to be an effective package for them, one of the reasons they drafted him, because he can do all those roles."

As a receiver, Harvin has caught eight passes for a modest 77 yards (a 9.6-yard average) with two touchdowns. But he's just a step or two away from going the distance. It's just a matter of time.


Downfield passing will come

Early observations continue to indicate that opposing defenses are going to continue to be overly aggressive in blitzing the Vikings, both to stop Adrian Peterson but also to pressure Brett Favre. So until Favre and the receivers are able to make opponents pay, the in-the-box pressure is going to continue.

"Are we looking for balls up the field?," head coach Brad Childress said during Sunday's press conference. "We are, we just haven't had that many yet. We've had throws up the field, but those throws are long foul balls until they are completed down the field."

Favre has been extremely efficient to this point, completing 37 of 48 passes, 77.1%, but for a modest 265 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

For his own sake, Favre needs to begin syncing up with his receivers downfield more to discourage some of the all-out blitzes he's seen early on. It will come.

Blitzes

Backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson lining up on the punt coverage team gives opponents one more thing to think about. It wouldn't be surprising to snap him the ball in the right fourth-down punting situation at some point. The move also brings more defenders to the line, which limits the ability to set up a return. "Generally it's going to get you a fair catch and no return," Childress said.

A year ago, Childress was 0-2 and in the process of benching his starting quarterback, Jackson, and turning to Gus Frerotte. This year, he is 2-0 with Favre at the helm and Jackson and Sage Rosenfels behind him. A much better start.

Ex-Viking wide receiver Bobby Wade hit the ground running after being picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs last week. He had nine passes thrown his way in his debut and caught six passes for 72 yards. "Bobby did a great job today," Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel said. "He stepped up; he worked hard all week. He came in and really made a huge impact today. I was happy to see him step up. It was just one of those days that he was getting the ball a lot and he got open and we gave him the ball."

Former Vikings Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper is loving the system in New Orleans and added his third interception of the season, including a 97-yard touchdown return last Sunday in the Saints' 48-22 win against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Troy Williamson, a bust in Minnesota, appears to be done for the season in Jacksonville after sustaining a torn labrum on a catch near the sideline in the second quarter as he fumbled on the play Sunday. Williamson caught 12 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown during the preseason and appeared poised for redemption, starting opposite veteran Torry Holt. Instead, it appears he'll finish the year with three catches for 34 yards and finish out the year on injured reserve.

Ex-Viking Adam Goldberg finished the game at right tackle for the Rams last Sunday and may start there next week in place of No. 1 pick Jason Smith, who hurt his knee. Goldberg started six games at four offensive line positions last year and started at right tackle much of the preseason before Smith was elevated to first string.

Lions linebacker Ernie Sims suffered a "fairly significant" right shoulder injury and is likely to miss an extended period of time, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said Monday. Sims hurt the shoulder late in the fourth quarter attempting to make a tackle on Vikings running back Chester Taylor during a fourth-and-2 play along the sideline. Sims landed awkwardly and immediately grabbed the shoulder.



Kevin Brown has been providing personnel analysis and writing about the Vikings for more than 20 years with Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this and other topics on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

 

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