It was clear coming into the tilt against the Detroit Lions that the Minnesota Vikings intended to play the long game. Despite being in a position to wrap up the NFC North division with a win, their focus looks to be on health for the playoffs. Still, head coach Kevin O’Connell failed in multiple situations where his team would have provided pressure.
Before kickoff, the Vikings opted to keep Christian Darrisaw and Harrison Smith out of the contest despite their questionable designation. The Minnesota offensive line was also without starting center Garrett Bradbury, and a win as underdogs would require flawless execution and a total team effort.
Ed Donatell’s defense flopped as it has all season, but head coach Kevin O’Connell looked like a rookie fish out of water in more than one critical situation.
Early in the game, the Vikings faced a 4th and 1 situation on their side of the 50-yard line. It was the right move to go for the first down, given the positioning gained through a punt, but the playcall that came in was a head-scratcher. Dalvin Cook ran straight up the middle, behind backup center Austin Schlottmann, and was hit behind the line. He continued to push forward and ultimately wound up short. The first of O’Connell’s missteps had been made.
Down 21-7 and looking to mount a comeback despite having traditionally been a terrible 3rd quarter team this season, Kirk Cousins connected with Adam Thielen for a 23-yard touchdown on 4th and 4. It was a potential momentum-shifting play, but then O’Connell promptly snuffed it out.
While analytics lean towards it being beneficial that a road team converts a two-point conversion rather than play for the tie, there was zero reason for the first touchdown to be where the attempt occurred. A predictable and slow-developing wide receiver bubble screen to Thielen was snuffed out, and he was stopped short of the end zone. Now down eight, any comeback by the Vikings would require a two-point conversion solely for the tie.
And, of course, like the game against the Dallas Cowboys, O’Connell looked inept regarding in-game adjustments until it no longer mattered. Cook was handed the ball 14 times in the first half while failing to accumulate even a yard per carry. Despite knowing that he was playing with an incomplete offensive line, the Vikings head coach opted to avoid the passing game.
Justin Jefferson went off, largely working from behind, and T.J. Hockenson found himself open plenty. The Lions defense is not a good one, but Minnesota chose never to challenge them, rather looking to keep slamming Cook into no man’s land hoping for a miracle.
Then, there was also the decision to kick the ball onside with a one-score game at hand. The Vikings defense was and is terrible, but a stop on the negative side of the 50-yard line would end the game. Ultimately, Minnesota held the Lions, but a 49-yard field goal was in play for Michael Badgley, and it ended the game. Had Greg Joseph been able to kick it deep, the result of the same scenario would have been a punt.
We have seen O’Connell make week-to-week adjustments, but this is the second key spot where he’s proved horrible when it comes to tweaking things on the fly. The Lions kept saying they couldn’t defend the pass, and Minnesota’s head coach let him off the hook.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.