Can The Vikings New Coach Bring Super Bowl Magic?

By Patrick Hayes   June 27, 2022 

Can The Vikings New Coach Bring Super Bowl Magic?

The Minnesota Vikings almost went in a very different direction with their coaching search.

University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who also led the 49ers to a Super Bowl prior to returning to college football, was Minnesota-bound and his hiring seemed like a formality, with many in Ann Arbor starting to make contingency plans in case he left. 

Instead, not everyone in the organization was sold on Harbaugh and he ultimately left Minnesota without an offer and decided to return to Michigan.

Minnesota then reached an agreement with Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, hiring him after the Super Bowl.

Harbaugh is certainly the bigger name, but O’Connell could prove to be the better fit. He has only been a coordinator since 2020, but he is young and played four seasons in the NFL. He worked with a star-studded offense in Los Angeles and the Vikings hope he’ll be able to take advantage of impressive weapons on their offense. Here are three questions O’Connell faces as he takes over.

Can the Vikings win with Kirk Cousins?

Kirk Cousins has been plagued throughout his career by an inability to win big games. He puts up fantastic stats, but has often played poorly against contending teams. In fact, since 2018, Cousins is just 7-26 against teams with winning records and he is just 1-3 in four playoff games in his career.

That description sounds vaguely familiar to a player O’Connell just won a Super Bowl with in Matthew Stafford. Prior to joining the Rams this season, Stafford was 0-3 in his career in the playoffs and was frequently criticized for playing poorly against winning teams. In just one playoff run, Stafford completely flipped his career narrative and led the Rams to a Super Bowl.

Jun 8, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell talks to wide receivers Adam Thielen (left) and Justin Jefferson (right) during mandatory mini camp at TCO Performance Center.
Jun 8, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell talks to wide receivers Adam Thielen (left) and Justin Jefferson (right) during mandatory mini camp at TCO Performance Center. Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Could O’Connell have a similar impact with Cousins? It’s conceivable, mainly because of the offensive talent he has to work with. Receiver Justin Jefferson is one of the best in the league, finishing last season with 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns. Adam Thielen also had 10 touchdowns in just 13 games.

Running back Dalvin Cook rushed for more than 1,100 yards and averaged nearly five yards per carry. He’s also a solid receiver out of the backfield. 

Cousins isn’t perfect, and neither was Stafford. But if O’Connell can harness his ability to make big plays and help limit some of his mistakes, the Vikings could easily return to the playoffs with the rest of their offensive talent. 

Despite all of the chaos of last season, it’s important to remember that the team finished 8-9 last season, had just a –1 point-differential, and only missed the playoffs by a game.

What about the defense?

Cousins was the lightning rod last season, but the biggest actual issue was the team’s defense. The secondary gave up the third-most yards in the league.

The position should be fairly easy to turn over. Starters Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander and safety Xavier Woods were free agents, and only Peterson was retained. Draft picks Lewis Kine and Andrew Booth Jr should both play immediate major roles in the secondary.

Many teams that struggle in the secondary do so in part because of a lack of ability to put pressure on quarterbacks. That wasn’t really a viable excuse for the Vikings, as they were second in the NFL with 51 sacks. If the secondary improves and the pass rush stays solid, Minnesota should see big improvement on its defense.

Linebacker Za’Darius Smith, added in free agency, should also make a big impact as well.

Assuming that O’Connell fixes or at least improves the offense, investing significantly in the defense could help the team have a big turnaround.

Can they get production at tight end?

Tyler Conklin left in free agency, and he was a reliable go-to security blanket for Cousins. Backup Irv Smith Jr will step into the starting role. He’s young, talented, and had 30 catches last season, but the Vikings will need him to find some consistency as Cousins relies heavily on his tight ends when he’s at his best. 

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