Dan Chisena is at the Center of the Vikings Special Teams Struggles

Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings won a sloppy 19-13 contest at Soldier Field where they out-gained the Bears 385-189. The only thing keeping the Bears in the game was special teams. A kickoff return touchdown, a botched extra point, and a ton of negative field position swings highlighted a dreadful night for Marwan Maalouf’s unit. These mistakes, more often than not, could be pinned on one guy: Dan Chisena.

Chisena was a surprising success story in training camp. As a wide receiver, he was at the bottom of the depth chart, but on special teams he excelled. He played more track and field than football in college, so neither his speed nor rawness were surprising. If the Vikings could hone his flashy skills as a punt gunner, he’d be worth a roster spot. In trying to move him to safety in August, they signaled their intent for Chisena to be a special teams-only player.

That means that to justify his place on the team, Chisena has to excel on special teams. That pressure, mixed with the headstrong nature of rookies in the NFL and the attention of a primetime game, combined for a catastrophic performance. Instead of the afterthought that a punt gunner is supposed to be, Chisena became a headline.

Early on in the game, Chisena failed to down a punt that could have pinned the Bears on the one yard-line.

It’s an unfortunate lack of spatial awareness from a player who has a lot to learn about the punt gunner position.

Teams put their most elusive players at the punt returner position, so it stands to reason that they’ll make a man or two miss. That’s why, instead of doing everything they can to get the tackle, gunners are instructed to break down. If they can get in the way, they can force a time-consuming juke. That way, their teammates have time to come in and clean up.

Here’s an example:

In the next example, the punt goes to Chisena’s opposite side. Anthony Miller is fast enough to beat any linebacker to the edge for a huge gain, so Chisena has to discourage that. He doesn’t necessarily have to make the tackle, he just has to plant himself in the cutback lane and encourage Miller to go upfield into the teeth of the coverage unit. Instead, he goes for the tackle, and puts his teammates in an impossible position.

The only touchdown the Bears could score in this game came at the beginning of the second half, when Cordarrelle Patterson scored his eighth career kickoff touchdown. Again, Chisena was baited into trying to make the play by himself. Patterson led Chisena to the outside and out of his lane, causing confusion between him and Ameer Abdullah. The result was a crease and a ton of broken angles, and Patterson was off to the races.

So where do we go from here? Should Chisena be cut? Should we look at Marwan Maalouf’s coaching? The answer is probably not that drastic. Chisena has some incredible speed and athleticism, which can be a potent weapon when properly utilized. A young, headstrong player trying to make plays is something a good coach can slow down. Here’s an example from the same game of what that can look like:

The Vikings will try, but the leash is short. Chisena will be someone to watch in the coming weeks, as much as we wish we didn’t have to.

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