Predictable Minnesota Vikings Will Have New Look Under O’Connell In 2022

Forbes 10 days ago
Los Angeles Rams v Green Bay Packers
New Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell brings creativity to the team's offensive attack. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Predictability is one of the biggest issues that was cited when describing the Minnesota Vikings offense the past two seasons. Fans were able to predict what they would see when the Vikings went to their running game with Dalvin Cook or the passing game when Kirk Cousins put the ball in the air.

Even though Cook is one of the most talented and motivated running backs in the NFL and while Cousins has put up some impressive passing numbers throughout his career, a certain dullness had crept into the Minnesota gameplan. If fans could see it while watching games on television or in person, it was also quite clear to opponents.

When a defense knows what is coming next, it is fairly clear that even the most talented offenses can be slowed down or completely stopped. That’s where new head coach Kevin O’Connell comes in and should have a brilliant impact.

O’Connell does not have the experience that will tell him what to do in all crucial situations that the Vikings will face in the 2022 season. That should work in the team’s favor when the Vikings have to come up with game-changing plays in the fourth quarter against top opponents.

Anyone who thinks they have a read on O’Connell because he served as the offensive coordinator for the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams needs to revisit that supposition. Yes, O’Connell had that lofty title, but he was not the man in charge of the offense.

The Rams were driven by head coach Sean McVay, a leader who is much more suited to putting together an offensive gameplan than he is on defense. O’Connell certainly had a front-row seat and had suggestions on what plays to run and how to attack, but the final decision came down to McVay’s knowledge and gut instincts.

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings
It won't be just zone reads for Dalvin Cook and the running game in the upcoming season. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Now, O’Connell has his own opportunity, and he brings far more options to the table than the team had under Mike Zimmer, Gary Kubiak and Klint Kubiak. Under the previous regime, the Vikings were a zone running team and every opponent knew it. The fact that Cook ran for 1,135, 1,557 and 1,159 yards in each of the past three seasons is testimony to his speed, skill and toughness. He may do significantly more damage in the upcoming season.

That’s because O’Connell is not married to a zone running scheme. He will employ it from time to time, but he will also use power running, gap running and most interestingly, traps and some off-the-wall type of options.

The conservative aspect that is often associated with the running game and certainly fit the description of the way the Vikings attacked does not apply any longer. It is not the way the team is planning to attack on the ground this season.

Similar predictable aspects of the passing game will also disappear in 2022. The Vikings liked to use the run to set up the pass, and play-action was one of the primary weapons employed. O’Connell has not been a big proponent of play-action in his career and the Vikings are likely to run far less of it in the future.

Instead of taking the time to employ play-action, O’Connell’s offense is far more likely to be about quick-hitting plays that require the quarterback to read the defense and make immediate decisions. Receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen give the Vikings an advantage in this set up, and tight end Irv Smith Jr. should also be an asset. However, will Cousins demonstrate the ability to pick up on this right away and demonstrate that he is an elite quarterback?

The numbers – yardage, completion percentage and TD-interception ratio – have regularly worked out in Cousins’ favor. However, when it comes to thinking and acting quickly and decisively, he has much to prove.

The previous regime did not put him in a position to prove himself in those areas. The new regime will demand that he does just that.

So, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The Vikings will change the tenor and tone of their offensive attack in multiple areas. However, the success will largely be determined by Cousins, a quarterback who has not always passed his test with flying colors.