Vikings Learn Kevin O’Connell Has Plan For Future

The end of the season was clearly a disappointment for the Vikings, as a loss to the mediocre New York Giants at home in the Wild Card game was not the way Vikings fans wanted the season to end.

Even if they had won that game, the season almost certainly would have come to an end in the divisional playoffs against the 49ers. That team has demonstrated an ability to play defense, something the Vikings have avoided for multiple seasons.

But don’t take anything away from head coach Kevin O’Connell, because the team he inherited from Mike Zimmer was a disaster. The Vikings failed to make the playoffs in either of Zimmer’s last two seasons, and the locker room was fractured. O’Connell knew that when he took the job, and he did an outstanding job of building player confidence.

It started with Kirk Cousins, who was perceived by the fan base as a quarterback who would fail in the biggest moments. More than that, Zimmer had little belief in Cousins himself and when the head coach has questions about the starting quarterback, the locker room is sure to follow.

That’s just what happened, and O’Connell was able to change that quickly. He threw all his chips behind Cousins, as did general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, and when the quarterback got off to a sharp start, the fan base seemed to back him as well.

The previously buttoned down Cousins suddenly became fun loving Kirko Chainz, and the image of the quarterback wearing heavy neck jewelry on a flight home from the Nation’s Capital following a close win over the Washington Commanders brought a slew of smiles all over the state.

That may have been the most important thing that O’Connell was able to do, because there clearly had been a pall surrounding the team during the last two years of Zimmer’s regime. For O’Connell to have turned things around so quickly and dramatically indicates that he has the potential to be a great coach.

Justin Jefferson looked like one of the top receivers in the game before the start of the season, and he built on that reputation in 2022. Much of that was due to the receiver’s partnership with the head coach. O’Connell shifted the focus of the offense onto Jefferson’s shoulders, as the coach realized Jefferson could excel in multiple roles.

He can go deep, he can work from the slot and he can take short passes and turn them into home runs. Not only did O’Connell recognize Jefferson’s diverse talents, he knew the receiver wanted to do more than fill a role. He was prepared to make him a star.

O’Connell realized the correct strategic move was to give the receiver more responsibility and take some away from Dalvin Cook. Going into the season, Cook was recognized as one of the top three running backs in the league and the Vikings featured him significantly in each of the previous three seasons.

But leading with a dynamic running game was not getting the Vikings anywhere and O’Connell quickly concluded that he had to take advantage of a superstar like Jefferson. O’Connell made the passing game the team’s offensive priority.

That was clearly the smartest decision he could have made because the offense had been predictable. Suddenly, that was no longer the case. O’Connell also asserted himself as a play caller, something that goes hand in hand with designing a sharp passing offense. It was clearly something that helped turn the Vikings into one of the most exciting offensive teams in the league.

As a result of the strong game planning and play calling, the Vikings dominated in one-score games. They were 11-0 in those games during the regular season, and they didn’t fail in that situation until the 31-24 loss to the Giants in the Wild Card game.

There are key issues that the Vikings have to fix, and most of them are on the defensive side of the ball. But it was clear that O’Connell had a positive impact on the team in his first year, and there is every reason to believe that he will be the right leader for the Vikings for the foreseeable future.