It’s certainly hard to call a season in which the Minnesota Vikings finished 13-4 anything but a resounding success. Knowing it came on the back of a year filled with turmoil and a sub .500 record, Kevin O’Connell’s work in Minnesota has to be off to a great start. Right?
When the Minnesota Vikings failed to defend homefield against the New York Giants during a Wild Card round playoff matchup, it felt deflating. The problem is, for the Vikings, this has been all too familiar even if it wasn’t previously Kevin O’Connell at the helm. Mike Zimmer is gone, and Minnesota seemingly had exorcised some demons from the locker room, but the finish really wasn’t any different than we have seen before.
Did the Vikings Succeed in O’Connell’s Year 1?
Thirteen wins are nothing to be disappointed in, but there is undoubtedly merit to the detractions consistently pointed at Minnesota. The Vikings teetered with a negative point differential all season. Despite Kirk Cousins consistently bringing Minnesota back late, O’Connell’s offense never overcame a defense that couldn’t keep opponents at bay.
The largest difference between Zimmer a season ago and O’Connell this year was how the Vikings handled close contests. Winning in the face of adversity is a testament to leadership, and from the coaching staff on down, this team certainly seemed to have that. Rather than being almost solely reliant on that fact, however, it would have been nice to see strides taken toward less stressful victories.
When the season began, online bookmaker Bovada had O’Connell as the favorite to win NFL Coach of the Year. Considering the weapons at his disposal and the aging Green Bay quarterback, that was a fair stance. More than a few teams performed better than the Vikings this season, but it’s also nitpicking to take away from what O’Connell brought to the table.
There were times down the stretch when O’Connell’s playcalling looked questionable. He struggled to make in-game adjustments against the Dallas Cowboys, and the utilization of weapons against the New York Giants left plenty to be desired. All things considered, it has to be seen as a step in the right direction.
A year from now, we should have learned plenty more about O’Connell. Knowing the Vikings are in line for some substantial levels of roster turnover, the depth chart could look dramatically different entering training camp next season. O’Connell will remain focused on highlighting his quarterback, Kirk Cousins, and looking to get superstar Justin Jefferson the ball, but many other faces may be swapped.
Without the benefit of having racked up wins in nailbiting fashion, we may see how a Vikings team needing production in different ways will perform. There will be an enhanced focus on the defense being better, and whatever decision-making process O’Connell utilizes to spearhead that will be worth watching. Finding a way to take another step forward on offense would be ideal, and that will likely require some new playmakers as well.
Although it ended in an unfortunate way, the season was one that O’Connell can use as a building block. The Vikings were not a juggernaut, no matter what their win total may say. Finding a way to substantiate the outcome a year from now is a must.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.