During last week’s barn-burner of a football game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, one play that may have been overlooked didn’t directly involve many of the oft-criticized names Viking fans are talking about.
After finally getting into the end zone on a TJ Hockenson reception, the Purple and Gold defense damn near sealed the game with a fumble recovery on the ensuing Chicago drive.
All the Vikings offense had to do to put it out of reach was score, especially against an inept Bears offense that ended the game without a trip to the end of the field. Had the Vikings kicked a field goal, it would have forced the Bears win by doing something they hadn’t done all game.
What would instead happen is that the Vikings would go -5 yards over three plays in a demoralizing set of downs. With a good punt though, the Vikings would maintain some semblance of hope and make things that much harder for the pitiful Bears.
Enter Ryan Wright.
His punt from the Bears’ 48 fell out of bounds at the Chicago 22, flipping the field by just 26 yards. While this loss was far from Wright’s fault, the bad punt gave the Bears some momentum that they took advantage of.
It was a very sad punt, continuing an overlooked but important legacy for the Vikings.
It’s not great for Wright, a second-year product out of Tulane, as he had an awesome rookie season.
He managed just one touchback over 73 punts in 2022, with a longest of 73 and 32 punts inside the 20 (6th best). The one stat that really jumps off the page though is that 43.8% of his punts pinned the opposition inside the 20. Wright also had just 7 punts go out of bounds in 2022.
In 2023, Wright has had only 23.7% of his 38 end within the 20, a clear regression from being one of the best punters in the NFL. He’s already kicked the ball out of bounds 5 times in just over half the punts of last season. Oh, and one last thing... He’s only pinned the ball inside the 20-yard Laine just 9 times... 6th worst in the NFL.
This is not to blame Wright about the way the season is going, but to give some food for thought on one of the quieter aspects of the game that is more important than one would think.
While Minnesota punts the ball less than most teams in the NFL this year, having a good punter can not only have a tangible effect on the game, but also provide a shot in the arm as the defense heads onto the field.
We had one last year, and I hope Wright can regain his rookie form.