Kevin O’Connell Needs a Plan B


Sep 19, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell on the sidelines against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As the Vikings prepare to do battle with the Detroit Lions, the coaching staff no doubt has spent a great deal of time and emotional energy over the last six days rehashing what happened last week at Philadelphia and making the necessary adjustments. This despite the fact that making necessary adjustments did not prove to be a strong suit for Kevin O’Connell and company on Monday night.

O’Connell, of course, is a first-year head coach, and the great early-season irony is that the worst thing that could have happened to him was to blow out the arch-rival Packers convincingly in his Week 1 debut.

OK, maybe that wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened (and besides, it was great for the rest of us) but it didn’t set the table fairly for what lay ahead.

Time to Take a Step Back

As fans, we all took the bait and declared the Vikings on their way to great things including a likely romp into the postseason, based Justin Jefferson’s greatness, overachievements from the Minnesota defense and offensive line, and yes, the presence of a brand-new coach wearing a Super Bowl ring and a dazzling smile. In Coach O’Connell we had seen that, for one game, the Vikes were being the change we wanted to see.

Obviously, that all derailed pretty quickly in week 2. We have now convincingly vanquished a team with Super Bowl aspirations at home and been convincingly vanquished by another team with Super Bowl aspirations on the road. Fortunately, this week’s opponent has no realistic Super Bowl aspirations.

KOC Made Some Mistakes

KOC showed his inexperience late in the first half going into halftime on Monday. Down 21-7, with the Eagles content to let the clock run out for a halftime breather, O’Connell called a timeout. Somehow, he was convinced that his defense would stop the Eagles, and then his offense would march down the field in a half-minute’s time.

While I admire the aggressiveness, it showed no acknowledgement that Philadelphia thoroughly outplayed us at that point in time—what clearly needed to happen for the Vikings was a merciful end to the first half, followed by some halftime adjustments.

Instead, O’Connell took the timeout, the defense was unable to shut down Jalen Hurts, and Philadelphia wound up with a three-point gift and a 24-7 halftime lead. To compound the problem, O’Connell continued to have misguided faith in his status quo and made no successful offensive adjustments in the locker room ahead of a second half that would see the offense fizzle repeatedly in a dreary, scoreless second half.

O’Connell, to his credit, acknowledged this repeatedly in post-game interviews and his weekly show with KFAN’s Paul Allen, stating “I put this one on me,” and more pointedly, “I don’t think I did enough for our team in-game”.

He’s a rookie coach, and of course there will be a growth path for him, in the same way that there would be for any player. He’ll need to get better. His next test comes on Sunday against a hungry up-and-coming Lions club that would love nothing more than to steal a “W” at U.S. Bank.

Adjustments Must Be Made

How will O’Connell and company adjust to start the game? Or, as KOC referenced, in-game? That will be the big question. It seemed obvious that the Vikings game plan on Monday was to force-feed a heavy diet of Justin Jefferson on the Eagles, and who can blame them with the talent that young man possesses and the game he put together against the Packers on Opening Day? The problem was, they had no Plan B.

Darius Slay demonstrated why he’s one of the best Corners in football against the highest competition. He repeatedly shut down not just Jefferson, but the Minnesota coaching staff. If you could take one player from the Eagles’ roster and transfer him to the Vikings’ side and completely change the one-sided outcome from a  Vikings loss to the win, it was Slay.

The Eagles CB was the game-changer on Monday that Jefferson had been the week prior. Not coincidentally, the Packers had no options in the secondary remotely comparable to Slay in the previous week, and the results lulled us into a false sense of security.

In the end, the Vikings brain trust was unable to produce a viable Plan B. Seemingly, Irv Smith was the closest thing to a Plan B, getting several targets in key situations. That said, he had a crucial drop, and the Vikings best chance for a miracle comeback promptly fizzled. This happened in much the same way Christian Watson’s drop of a perfect Aaron Rodgers deep ball against the Vikings in Week 1.

Dalvin Cook Will Re-Appear

In order to win on Sunday, the Vikings need a plan B. The blueprints to that plan could revolve around Dalvin Cook.

On a team that still has one of the league’s best running backs in Cook, it’s surprising that there was not a steadier dose of touches for him. Perhaps the 24-7 halftime score felt too out of reach for a time-chewing ground-control approach later in the game. That’s why that field goal at the end of the first half hurt so much.

We all know (and most importantly, the Lions know) that Jefferson can win a game single-handedly when the stars align, but let’s not wait for stars to align. Let’s be sure that all of our formidable weapons are sharpened and ready for battle early in this game.

Expect Dalvin Cook to double his 6 carries from last week by halftime. Additionally, Thielen earns more targets early. And, with significantly less pressure expected from Detroit’s pass rush, expect fewer outlet passes to the running backs and tight ends, who received no less than 22 targets a week ago.

Fear not – Jefferson will still get his 10+ targets, but with more variety mixed in the Lions won’t be able to cheat, and they, like the Packers (and of course, like the Vikings) do not have a Darius Slay to stop Jefferson from piling up another 100+ yards by game’s end.

Final Thoughts

Las Vegas has given this game the highest points total of the week at 53.5, and it’s only partially out of respect for our offensive weapons and those of the Lions. It’s mostly an acknowledgement that neither club is likely to shut down the other side. So, as much as we all want to see the Minnesota offense back on track this week, perhaps the most important thing is whose defense will rise to the occasion and slow down—if not stop—the other side.

My money’s on the Vikes, and on Kevin O’Connell.


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