Should We Be Concerned with Kevin O’Connell?

Dec 10, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell walks on the field before the start of a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Take yourself to the somber scene following a lifeless 33-10 loss to our border rivals.

Heads down, season seemingly over. The leader of our team, Kevin O’Connell shoulders the loss as he admits “I wasn’t enough for us today”. The team looked flat and admittedly pathetic yet again on the national stage.

It is a sight we fans are unfortunately all too familiar with. It seems as the season unwound for us down the final stretch, our 1-5 ending coincided perfectly with the quarterback carousel we all witnessed. Game in and game out we were looking for the right formula that would concoct the team a win. Yet, the only W we could draw up was an offensive 3-0 stinker in which we bailed on Dobbs for Mullens mid game. It begs us to ask the question, should we be a little concerned over O’Connell’s management?

Should We Be Concerned with Kevin O’Connell?

Kevin O'Connell
Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell reacts with wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) before the game against the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

As Vikings seasons usually are, this one has been quite the roller coaster. Our defense has outperformed expectations for most of the year, our receivers look A+ and the offensive line has been the best we’ve seen since 2017 team. Yet, we are meddling sub-500 ball club. Now I realize injuries play a massive factor, I would be stupid to write this article and not mention Kirk Cousins along with the platoon of downed Skoldiers. For the sake of this argument though, let’s throw that aside and focus on the coaching. Because injuries and all, doesn’t it feel like this team was good enough to flip of few of those L’s into W’s?

Let’s start with late decision in game management. I don’t think it is necessarily a hot take when I say conservative play calling has cost us several games this year. Take the Denver game for example. Yet another prime-time game, up 17-15 on Denver’s 12-yard line and round 5ish minutes to go. What do we do? Run for 0, run for 0, behind the sticks against a blitz, throw up a lousy incompletion and kick a field goal. Russell Wilson and the Broncos succinctly gallop down afterwards and win the game.

Fast forward a week later, we are seemingly in the same position against Justin Fields and the subpar (at the time) Chicago Bears. Up yet gain, 10-9 on Chicago’s own 43-yard line with about 3:30ish left on the clock.

After the TD, Anthony Barr fumble recovery and being at home, all the momentum was on our side.  Would you believe me if I told you we next ran it twice and threw and a screen pass to lose yardage? Yep, we then punted the ball away for Fields to march down for the win. I get it, in either game it’s not like we had Tom Brady back there, but at some point, you must trust in your quarterback to make a play. Even with Kirk Cousins, the play calling felt scared in losses against the Chargers and Buccaneers. Both teams I believe are under us.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Minnesota Vikings
Sep 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell takes the field before the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

On a more macro scale, I think it is safe to say the quarterback situation has been mishandled. Now, I am not in the practices or assessing quarterbacks, but it felt almost as KOC was trying to pinpoint who had the hot hand at the time of his decisions.

All quarterbacks on our “carousel” have at some point during this season caught fire. And at other times, looked like a floating turd. It may be easier said than done, but it almost feels like KOC has been sifting through QBs, trying to find that one who will catch fire next. Which rarely translates to winning football as we have seen. This Sunday we will be trotting out Nick Mullens yet again in what will most likely be the season finale. This will be 4 of the past 5 weeks starting a quarterback who did not start the week prior. 

Okay, well now that all of that is out of my system, let me clarify – I am actually a fan of Kevin O’Connell, and I very much believe he is the man for job in Minnesota. KOC has set a culture and cohesiveness vastly different than what we witnessed with Mike Zimmer.

Not to say that was a poor locker room, but O’Connell promotes and encourages the (offensive) players in a way Zimmer could not. The shining example of this is our own pro bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins. Look at all the fun we saw him having in the last two seasons, and how players like Jefferson and Hockenson look up to him as a leader.

Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) during the first quarter against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

I truly believe that starts with O’Connell. Not to mention the 29 touchdown passes Kirk through last year, which ranked 5th in the league. I realize, this article was somewhat trashing play-calling, but a quarterback doesn’t just stumble across 29 TD passes (not to mention 18 in the 8 games this year) without great play calling and a suitable offensive scheme.

In my opinion, I think Kevin O’Connell is the right leader at the helm of this Viking ship about to sail into the waters of the offseason. It would be wild to call for his job this early. However, as a young play caller, we’d like to see some changes heading into 2024 (this might be a personal note, but can we stop the TE screen? It does not work).

All being said, I think the fans should be at a 5/10 concern level with these mismanagement issues. I also believe without the injuries, our upgraded personal should resolve most of these mistakes. Hopefully, the aforementioned mistakes are something we can leave in 2023. As for now, let’s trot Mullens out there Sunday and hope for the best. Skol.