Kevin O’Connell Embracing Analytics, Specific Situation to Make Special Teams Decisions

Questions Answered: Something to Prove, Key to Victory in PHI, Odds to Cover
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

In his press conference, Kevin O’Connell took a few moments to discuss how he’ll handle difficult special teams decisions.

The specific question addressed whether Minnesota’s HC feels more inclined to consider long field goals given how well Joseph has been playing. The question prompted O’Connell to discuss Greg Joseph before pivoting into other components of special teams, such as punting to get better field position.

As you can hear, O’Connell expresses his desire to rely on advanced statistics to help him make decisions: “We’ll look at it from a, kind of an analytics standpoint every single week, of what the data tells us.”

That being said, we should keep an eye on how O’Connell communicates. When he continues discussing how the data may help, O’Connell is shrugging his shoulders as if to say, “The data may be telling me not to go for this, but Greg Joseph has been so excellent we may go for it anyhow.” In other words, there must be some willingness to go with a gut feeling, to adjust one’s approach depending on the situation.

Indeed, he follows his point about analytics and data by suggesting that the kicks sound “really good” when Joseph is kicking it. Joseph, Minnesota’s head coach explains, allows the team to be aggressive: “When you’ve got confidence in that guy like I do in Greg, I think we can be aggressive trying to put points on the board any time we really cross the 50.”

Now, I don’t need to remind purple fans about the perils of kicking for the Minnesota Vikings. We’ve seen many excellent kickers do less-than-excellent things when lining up for a field goal for this team. My mind instinctively drifts toward the Blair Walsh miss against Seattle, but different generations will have different memories that come to mind.

What I’ll say is that Greg Joseph is his own person. He need not bear the entire burden of the Vikings’ kicking heartbreak from yesteryear. It’s difficult enough to overcome one’s own mistakes, let alone the various shortcomings in a franchise’s history.

Last year, Joseph did a nice job in Minnesota. He completed nearly 87% of his field goals and 90% of his extra points. It’s the latter number that most needs improvement. It’s also notable that he finished first overall among kickers on PFF for his kickoffs. More than 80% of his kickoffs went for a touchback. Clearly, power isn’t a problem for Joseph.

The special teams will play a critical role in whether Kevin O’Connell succeeds or fails in Year 1 with the Vikings. Some of the most important decisions a coach can make are whether to be aggressive on special teams or opt for the safer route.

At the end of this week, we’ll begin to understand how O’Connell may approach these critical situations. The Packers play the Vikings on the opening Sunday of the regular season. The game is scheduled to begin at 3:25 CT.