The 2022 Minnesota Vikings were a sweet and salty bunch, led by first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell. The former Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator brought a platter of fresh offense-first ideas to Minneapolis, winning 13 games in his first campaign and the NFC North — the latter a feat not accomplished by the Vikings since 2017.
But the franchise fell short of their Super Bowl goal, losing to the New York Giants in the Wildcard Round 31-24 — at home — leaving fans to wonder “what went wrong.”
An Autopsy of the 2022 Vikings
With an equal assortment of good and bad, this is the Vikings 2022 autopsy.
1. 4th Quarter Gods
The Vikings finished O’Connell’s maiden voyage with 13 wins in 18 games because they closed out games like immortals. They ended the season ranked first in 4th Quarter Points Scored and second in 4th Quarter Offense EPA/Play.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins tied an NFL record for most game-winning drives in a season with eight. That doesn’t grow on trees, and if you’re looking for reasons to get excited about 2023, it’s that Cousins, with O’Connell, won games in the 4th Quarter at a ferocious clip.
Even the otherwise bad defense stiffened in the 4th Quarter, ranking sixth in 4th Quarter Defense EPA/Play. Ed Donatell’s defense was poor on the whole, but in the final period, it decided to get with the program.
Too bad the defense couldn’t do that in Quarters 1 through 3 — or in the postseason.
2. Low Penalties
The 2022 Vikings were disciplined. And believe it or not, the franchise was a low-penalized team from 2014 to 2020 under former skipper Mike Zimmer. Yet, in 2021, the penalties stockpiled. During Zimmer’s final hurrah, Minnesota ranked third-worst around the NFL in penalty yards.
Fast forward to O’Connell’s first year, and the Vikings flipped the script, finishing 2022 as the NFL’s fifth-least penalized team. Minnesota was flagged for an average of 38.94 penalty yards per game.
This is another reason the Vikings can be called fancy terms like “4th Quarter Gods.” They kept penalties low — an impressive mark for a rookie head coach.
3. Chunk Plays on Offense
Why, yes, this is a Justin Jefferson statistic. Well, it’s actually a Vikings stat, but you get the picture.
The Vikings ranked third in offensive gains of 10+ yards, fifth in 15+ yard gains, ninth in 50+ yard gains, and 10th in 40+ yard gains. While it often seemed like Cousins should “throw it up for Jefferson” more often, Minnesota adeptly completed large gains on offense.
They also did this in 2021, ranking first in the NFL in 25+ gains. O’Connell merely maintained a noteworthy pace of chunk gains.
The trick in 2023 is establishing a bonafide WR2. When teams double-cover Jefferson, the offense and game shouldn’t descend to Hell.
1. The Defense
Where to begin.
Minnesota finished 27th leaguewide in defensive DVOA, 28th in points allowed to opponents, 31st in Yards Allowed, and 31st in 15+ yard plays allowed. To its credit, the defense often forced turnovers, and in those games, the Vikings were nearly unbeatable.
The Vikings were 12-1 (.923) in the regular season when they forced at least one turnover. And 1-3 when they did not. They won 92% of the time when forcing a turnover, while the rest of the NFL won 58% of the time when forcing a turnover.
Of course, against the Giants, they forced zero turnovers and consequently watched the postseason’s Divisional Round from sofas.
The Vikings defense was mostly terrible in 2022, and the defensive coordinator was fired accordingly four days after their season ended.
2. Rushing Futility
One would think the team with one of the best running back stables in the world — Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Ty Chandler, and Kene Nwangwu — would be proficient at rushing the football.
The Vikings didn’t run much in 2022, and the output was rather lousy when they did. This examination will not preach “establish the run” or any of those uncouth slogans in the modern NFL, but a team must run the football effectively at times. It’s how good teams step on the throats of opponents. Virtually all of the Vikings wins in 2022 were barnburners, so no, Minnesota did not close out games via the run. They needed topsy-turvy thrillers.
Minnesota ran the ball third-least leaguewide this season. And per carry, O’Connell’s men ranked 26th in yards per rush — not a good mix.
A contemporary NFL coach like O’Connell can throw the ball all over the place — that is fine. However, situations arise where running the ball is necessary. The Vikings did not excel in such spots. This needs repair in 2023 — probably with a new stable of affordable ball carriers.
3. Time of Possession
Surprise, surprise — this one partners with the rushing futility.
O’Connell needs to figure this one out for next September. He loves to throw the ball — he’s a former quarterback; he’ll always prefer to throw the thing — but that stifles time of possession. And what happens when a team is totally underwater via time of possession? The defense gets tired and flounders.
Newsflash: The Vikings defense evidently got tired and floundered in 2022.
Minnesota ranked 26th in Time of Possession in 2022, and teams at the bottom of the NFL barrel rarely manifest serious Super Bowl pushes. Next year, the Vikings are welcomed to maintain an uptempo offense — O’Connell seems to love it — but losing the TOP battle every game has downfalls.
The rush and pass must be more balanced.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).