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Do the Minnesota Vikings Need to Replace Chris Kluwe?

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A heads-up before I get to the main article here.  If you feel compelled to use racial terms to refer to people, such as. . .oh, I don't know. . .referring to Tarvaris Jackson as "tar baby," then don't be surprised to find that you've been banned the next time you're stupid enough to try to show your face here.  It's right in the community guidelines that you should take two or three seconds to read when you become a member of the site.

1) Racist and sexist speech and/or behavior will absolutely, positively not be tolerated

This is non-negotiable.  If I see a member referring to anyone in a racist or sexist manner, they're done here.  There will be no warnings, there will be no "strikes," and there will be no appeals.  I don't care if you're the newest member of DN or if you've been here since the beginning.  There's absolutely, positively no room for that sort of behavior on this website, and there never will be.

So there you go.  I've seen that sort of thing tolerated by the racist filth at Packer Report and other such places in the past. . .it won't be tolerated here.

Onward to the main thrust of today's missive.

While constructing Friday's post about the differences between the Chicago defense and the Minnesota defense. . .you know, the one that illustrates just how much better the Vikings' defense is. . .I wondered about exactly how much of this was the result of the Vikings' punt coverage in 2008 and how much was the result of the play of punter Chris Kluwe.

While I don't remember every single punt that Kluwe launched in 2008, I remember the four that opposing returners brought back for touchdowns.  They were all low, line drive kicks that went a pretty good distance, but gave the return specialists an ungodly amount of room between the time they caught the ball and the time anyone in purple appeared on the screen.  Throw in the dropped snap on a punt against the Bears in the first meeting between Minnesota and Chicago, and one could easily make the argument that Kluwe was single-handedly responsible for allowing more touchdowns than any single player on the Vikings' roster in 2008.

Kluwe was 6th in the NFL in gross punting average in 2008, averaging 47.5 yards per punt.  But what was truly gross was the difference between that number and his net average.  Kluwe's net punting average was 35.0, a discrepancy of 12.5 yards per attempt.  On average, that means opponents gained more than one first down every time the Vikings punted. . .and that number only got worse when opponents actually fielded the punt, as we'll see later.  That's one less first down that an opposing offense needs to get, and they're 12.5 yards closer to field goal range than they'd ordinarily be.  With a defense as good as Minnesota's is, that's huge.  Don't believe me?

-Only three defenses in the NFL gave up fewer first downs in 2008 than Minnesota. . .Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.

-Only two defenses in the NFL had a lower percentage of third down conversions allowed than Minnesota. . .Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.  Baltimore's 34% clip was the same as Minnesota's.

-Only four defenses, not counting TDs allowed on special teams or other situations where the defense wasn't actually on the field, allowed fewer touchdowns than Minnesota's 25. . .Pittsburgh (19), Baltimore (21), Tennessee (24), and Indianapolis (24).  That means that, in the NFC, no defense allowed fewer opposing touchdowns than the Vikings did.

As far as the rest of the NFC North in that category, Chicago's defense allowed 37 TDs, Green Bay allowed 42, and Detroit a whopping 56.  So, as pointed out the other day, not one defense in the NFC North is remotely close to being in the same league as the Vikings' defense.  No reason to expect this to change any time soon, either.

So, what can be done about this?  Frankly, the coverage needs to get better.  I think we can all agree on that.  However, the problem might lie more in the fact that the Chris Kluwe, more often than not, really doesn't give the return team much of a chance.  The Atlanta Falcons were really the gold standard for punt coverage in 2008, as they set an NFL record by only allowing 49 yards on punt returns all season long.  Let's do a comparison of the numbers between Kluwe and Atlanta's punter, Michael Koenen.

Punts Gross Net Out of Bounds Downed Touchbacks Fair Catches Returned Return Yards Average/Return
Chris Kluwe 73 47.5 35.0 5 5 13 8 42 624 14.9
Michael Koenen 63 40.7 37.5 4 8 4 27 20 49 2.5

You can see the huge difference between the Falcons' punt team and the Vikings' punt team.  Koenen doesn't necessarily launch the ball like Kluwe does, but he gives his coverage personnel a much better chance to cover the opposing returner than Kluwe does.  Opposing returners chose to return 58% of Kluwe's punts in 2008, compared to a 32% clip for Koenen.  The Vikings gave up at least four punt returns that covered more distance individually than the Falcons gave up in return yardage all season long.  In addition, eight punts out of 73 being fair caught is a ridiculously low number.  Koenen's 27, on the other hand, tied him for the NFL lead in that department.

Looking back, Kluwe has had this problem for most of his career.  His lowest discrepancy between his gross and net punting averages came in 2006, the year he tied for the second-most punts in the league, and that was still an almost seven yard difference.  For his career, he has a gross punting average of 44.5. . .and a net average of 36.0.  This absolutely, positively needs to change.  Of the three phases of football. . .offense, defense, and special teams. . .it was clearly the special teams, and more specifically the punting unit, that killed the Vikings more than any other in 2008.  If they can get that straightened around, they can be a truly elite team.

I'm a huge Chris Kluwe fan, in all honesty.  He was probably the team MVP as a rookie for the first half of 2005 when the rest of the team was a disaster and, hey, the guy's a Guitar Hero expert.  How can you not respect that?  But, honestly, if he can't improve significantly on these numbers next season, maybe it's time for the Beloved Purple to make a change at that position.