Vikings Film Review: Kevin O’Connell is the offensive mind Minnesota needed

(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) Kevin O'Connell
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) Kevin O'Connell /

Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell should be the front runner for NFL coach of the year after calling an incredible game Sunday. 

I am a big-time football nerd and love doing film reviews of the Minnesota Vikings.

I loved watching film when I played in high school and even more so when I was blessed to be exposed to deeper aspects of the game when I played in college.

I love it just as much as being a fan today. It is such a beautiful sport, and the amount of work that goes into a football game from coaches, players, and everyone involved makes winning a football game one of the most rewarding experiences an athlete can have.

From all the film I have watched over the years, I have never enjoyed re-watching a game more than I did re-watching the Vikings beat the Buffalo Bills in the game of the year in Week 10. It was a pure heavyweight bout.

The best analogy I can come up with watching this game would be in “Rocky II” when Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed duke it out for 12 rounds, knock each other down with time winding down in the final round, and the movie starts moving in slow motion.

Two titans battled for four and a half quarters on a snowy day in Western New York, it was a masterpiece. All the highlights and chaos aside, there was one aspect of this game that stood out to me the most as I re-watched the game.

Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell should be the front-runner for NFL Coach of the Year

The young, offensive-minded head coach called an incredible game on Sunday. For his first year as a head coach, he has withstood moments of immense pressure and, just like he preaches, is at his best when his best is required.

O’Connell has been a steady hand in every one of the Vikings’ comeback victories this season and has completely changed the atmosphere of the team’s locker room. The impact of his leadership has been felt throughout the entire organization, both on and off the field.

O’Connell has put together incredible game plans and opening scripts for Minnesota this year, who have scored a touchdown on their opening drive in six of their nine games this season. One philosophy that O’Connell is repeating from successful Vikings offenses in the past is the amount of 50-50 balls the offense takes.

It helps to have a demigod like Justin Jefferson at receiver, but Minnesota fans are used to having a top receiver duo in the NFL. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen made secondaries look silly for the later half of the 2010s. 2022 is looking a lot like that magical 2017 season, where the offense continuously relied on its advantage on the perimeter to make plays.

In 2017, Diggs and Thielen were ranked first and sixth in the NFL in contested catch rate. The offense with Case Keenum was allowing them to go get balls and be the playmakers the team needed them to be – the “gotta have it” guys. As we saw on Sunday, O’Connell is all for letting the big dog eat and trusting his players to make plays when they need to be made.

Obviously, we all saw the greatest catch of all time on fourth and 18 when the Vikings absolutely needed a play to be made. They went to Justin Jefferson time and time again in crunch time, with Jefferson having five receptions for 89 yards on Minnesota’s last two drives of the game.

Throughout the game, there were intricate play designs that I thought O’Connell did a great job of setting up. One of the earlier ones that caught my eye was on a key third down in the second quarter. It seemed that earlier in the game, the Vikings attempted several lateral passes, such as swings and bubble screens, a strategy to combat a very physical Bills pass rush.

On first down from the Buffalo 22-yard line, Kirk Cousins‘ pass was batted down by A.J. Epenesa on a swing attempt to K.J. Osborn. Two plays later, the Vikings bluffed a tunnel screen to Thielen on third down. The Vikings aligned in a 3X1 “trips” formation to the field, with Thielen, Osborn, and Hockenson all split out left.

Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings /

With the Bills in press-man coverage, the screen was doomed if Osborn was unable to block the corner. However, Osborn faked the block to the corner, which sprung him open for a 20-yard gain. Unfortunately, the Vikings had to settle for a field goal even though they had first and goal from the two-yard line (hey, it all worked out, right?).

Another great wrinkle by O’Connell was on the Vikings’ first drive to start the second half, which ultimately ended in a head-scratching interception from Cousins. Part of the buzz surrounding O’Connell’s preseason in Minnesota was the commitment to getting Dalvin Cook more involved in the passing game. We saw a great example of what that can look like against Buffalo.

Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings /

On 3rd-and-5 from Minnesota’s 49-yard line, O’Connell dialed up a beautiful mesh concept for Cook, who was aligned in the slot in an empty formation.

The Bills once again played press-man coverage, and the Vikings meshed Cook with Thielen and Hockenson, forcing the linebacker covering Cook to go over the top of the mesh, leaving him wide open. The play was a great answer for the man coverage and set the Vikings up with a big first down in Bills territory.

Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings /

O’Connell’s best play call of the day was the C.J. Ham touchdown run on second and goal from the Bills’ three-yard line. The score capped off a monstrous 14-play drive that began the fourth quarter and cut Buffalo’s lead to just four points due to a missed extra point by kicker Greg Joseph.

Two reasons why I love this play are the design of it and the fact that O’Connell gave the ball to one of his captains on the goal line. The misdirection on second down was such a great call considering Cook had just ripped off an 81-yard touchdown run on the Vikings’ previous drive.

It seems like Minnesota has an infinite amount of red zone threats with Jefferson, Thielen, Hockenson, and Cook, but C.J. Ham is a player the Vikings have leaned on in previous seasons as well.

With the new offensive system and the heavy usage of 11-personnel, Ham has seen a diminished role within the offense, but he is still a reliable full-back in many blocking situations and as a runner in short-yardage situations.

Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings /

To set up the score, the Vikings ran Thielen in a jet motion and made it look like he was going to be the lead blocker for a boundary toss to Cook. The jet motion is a great design for the toss because it allows Thielen to get a head of steam as a lead blocker. It is also a great design for the counter run to Ham because it takes the linebackers’ eyes off of Ham and creates a flow going away from the play.

Because the Bills were in man coverage, Thielen’s man ran with him, and the linebackers were heavily influenced by the motion and toss action, which opened up a wide-open hole for Ham.

This was by no means a perfect game for the Vikings, but it was a game we will all remember for years to come. Winning in the NFL is incredibly difficult, so no wins should ever be discounted. This Vikings team is having fun and becoming more exciting to watch each and every week.

Minnesota is 8-1 now, and they still haven’t played their best football yet. A matchup with the Cowboys at home awaits next week.

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