There’s an old sports idiom known as ‘the eye test’ that refers to whether or not a player or team looks good to the naked eye. This inexact science is generally applied by determining if a player gets the job done and looks good doing it. For example, to most casual observers, Joe Burrow passes the eye test, while Kirk Cousins does not.
When it comes to the Minnesota Vikings play on the field through six weeks, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes this team passes the eye test. Many are calling their 5-1 start fraudulent and their success unsustainable.
But this team passes said test with flying colors when it comes to the intangibles of charisma, camaraderie, and discipline.
Those three adjectives are not often used to describe Minnesota Vikings teams of the recent past. The things that hold a group of men together over a long and grueling season seem to have been missing since Kirk Cousins arrived in 2018. Assign the blame wherever you want, but the intangibles were always sparse.
Things are different now, and one can’t help but credit the new men on the Minnesota Vikings.
So much of what is required to succeed in life and sports is being secure in knowing that you are cared for and that those around you have your best interest in mind. The last regime didn’t give off that vibe. A talented team that was underperforming needed a new voice and approach.
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell are the faces of what many hope is a new era of Vikings football. Adofo-Mensah wants everyone to chase dreams with him. His wide smile and down-to-earth approach make a former Wall Street trader relatable to a group of professional athletes. O’Connell’s calm and upbeat aura appears to have begun to heal a team that historically seemed to panic in big moments. He addresses player injuries honestly and immediately, focusing his and our attention on the well-being of his players before getting to Xs and Os. He holds himself accountable for his mistakes and vows to improve where he knows he needs to be.
What has flowed from the approach of the two young bosses couldn’t be more encouraging. Coaches are praising kickers. The quarterback lumps praise on a star receiver that needs none. Each side of the ball gives the other its due. The head coach fist-pumps and grins on the sideline after (and before) big plays. Kirk Cousins is wearing bling. Players are holding themselves accountable. Players are succeeding –- and failing –- together.
This team is having fun, and it shows. Of course, winning makes everything more fun, but the inverse is also true. When a team enjoys the game together, winning is more likely to follow.
A staple of Vikings teams of yore has been the tendency to melt down in critical situations. Even though the team’s overall record in one-score games from 2018-2021 was better than you think (17-18-1), high-leverage situations have never felt like the time when the Vikings shine .
It’s always felt like the offense would go three-and-out when it needed to score. Or even if the offense did its job, the defense would give up a game-winning drive. Or special teams would miss a key field goal.
With the NFL margin for error slimmer than a human hair, the difference between being 1-5 and 5-1 often comes down to discipline and focus in key situations. Although none have been flawless, all three units have stepped up at the right moments. Cousins has led three game-winning drives, and the defense has stood its ground this year. Even after missing an extra point that kept the window open for New Orleans in Week 4, Greg Joseph ensured Arizona 2.0 wouldn’t happen and drilled a game-winner.
Another key aspect of being situational masters is the ability to not beat oneself. No small part of the success for a team now 4-0 in one-score games is their discipline: through 6 weeks, the Vikings have a league-fewest 185 penalty yards on only 25 flags. In 2021, the Vikings had the fourth-most penalty yards in the NFL.
It feels different around here, and it’s not just because the Vikings are winning. The culture change behind closed doors has led to positive results outside of them. When it comes to the intangibles, this Minnesota team looks the part. Imagine how things may feel with consistent execution starts clicking.
Will is a husband, father of two, and earned an undergraduate degree in Economics (just like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah). Will’s favorite pastimes are water skiing, Minnesota sports, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. He is the co-host of the Load the Box Vikings Podcast with Jordan Hawthorn. Follow him on Twitter (@willbadlose) and find his other sports content at Twins Daily and his very own Bad Loser Blog.