Kevin O’Connell’s first game as an NFL coach could not have gotten much better.
The Vikings’ 23-7 victory over Green Bay on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium helped Minnesota climb from 23rd to 10th in ESPN’s NFL rankings and created excitement about an offense that featured star wide receiver Justin Jefferson, and a defense that looked much improved from the listless unit that ended last season under former coach Mike Zimmer.
So how good are these Vikings?
We should get an indication on Monday night when the Vikings play the Eagles in Philadelphia. The game will provide an excellent test for O’Connell’s team as it enters one of the NFL’s most hostile environments. It’s one thing for O’Connell (who is calling plays) and quarterback Kirk Cousins to have things go as smoothly as they did on Sunday in front of the home fans, but the noise at Lincoln Financial Field will be a challenge.
The Eagles, who beat the Lions 38-35 in Week 1, are coming off a 9-8 finish and a playoff appearance in 2021. Quarterback Jalen Hurts, a second-round pick in 2020, completed 18 of 32 passes for 243 yards and rushed for 90 yards on 17 carries (5.3 yard average) with a touchdown and six first downs against the Lions.
Hurts’ mobility will provide a challenge for a Vikings defense that had no such concerns against the no-longer-mobile Aaron Rodgers in its opener. The Vikings did surrender 111 yards on the ground to the Packers, and will have to worry about Hurts and running back Miles Sanders, who rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown against the Lions. Philadelphia ended up with four rushing touchdowns; wide receiver A.J. Brown, acquired in an offseason trade, caught nine passes for 155 yards.
The only wide receiver to surpass Brown’s production in Week 1 was Jefferson, who caught nine passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
The Vikings, who are 2.5-point underdogs, would be in great position for a very strong start with a victory. The Vikings will play host to the Lions in Week 3, face the Saints in London the following week and then play Chicago (at home) and Miami (on the road) before their bye week. The Vikings figure to be favored against the Lions and Bears, and it’s possible could be favored against the Saints in what will be a New Orleans home game. It’s likely the Dolphins will be given an edge by the oddsmakers.
As for calling plays for the first time in a regular-season game with the Vikings, O’Connell acknowledged there are some areas he has to improve, given he’s responsible for the entire operation.
“One of the things that I think I can do better moving forward is when the defense is out there, I’ve got to be in certain locations on the field to have an impact with the refs and timeouts and things like that,” O’Connell said. “I can’t just spend 10 minutes over there talking to Kirk or talking to Wes (Phillips, the Vikings’ offensive coordinator) and looking at the (tablet). I’ve got to really rely on all of our staff and rely on the ‘pick my spots’ to make sure I’m still being constantly available to do my job as the head coach. But having Wes is huge for me here, having Wes leading the charge for our offense throughout the week, making sure we’re right where we want to be in our lead-up to each and every game.”
- The fact the Gophers have outscored inferior opponents New Mexico State and Western Illinois 100-10 in opening the football season with a 2-0 record isn’t why the team’s fan base should excited. The best news is that the Big Ten West looks to be down and rivals Iowa (1-1) and Wisconsin (1-1) appear very ordinary. The Gophers are the only team in the Big Ten West without a loss and closing the regular season with a victories over the offensively challenged Hawkeyes and Badgers seems very realistic. If the Gophers are ever going to play in the Big Ten title game, and make a Rose Bowl appearance, this is the season.
- O’Connell became the fourth consecutive Vikings head coach to get a win in his first game. Brad Childress (2006 at Washington); Leslie Frazier (2010 at Washington); and Mike Zimmer (2014 at St. Louis) also won in their debuts. Frazier’s came as interim coach after Childress was fired. Overall, Vikings’ coaches are 6-4 in their first game. Norm Van Brocklin and Dennis Green won their first game, while Bud Grant (1967), Les Steckel (1984), Jerry Burns (1986) and Mike Tice (2001) lost.
- O’Connell was one of six coaches to win in his first game with a new team Sunday, joining Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles, New Orleans’ Dennis Allen, Miami’s Mike McDaniel, the Giants’ Brian Daboll and Chicago’s Matt Eberflus. Las Vegas’ Josh McDaniels, Denver’s Nathaniel Hackett and Jacksonville’s Doug Pederson lost and Houston’s Lovie Smith got a tie with Indianapolis.
- The Vikings interviewed Hackett for their head coaching job before hiring O’Connell and team officials had to feel fortunate on Monday night as Hackett’s game management was atrocious in a one-point loss at Seattle. Hackett, who had been the Packers’ offensive coordinator, let the clock run down and took the ball out of Russell Wilson’s hands on fourth-and-5 late in the final quarter in order to have Brandon McManus attempt a 64-yard field goal. Hackett admitted his mistake on Tuesday but former Vikings executive and Broncos general manager George Paton has to be concerned about Hackett’s decision-making abilities in the heat of the moment. The Broncos didn’t acquire Wilson and pay him all of that money to have an offensive-minded coach take the ball out of his hands.
- Considering the Twins have managed to collapse, and play in a terrible division, it will be interesting to see if the team’s brass attempts to blame everything on injuries, or takes a look at why their were so many injuries and also the decisions made by president of baseball operations Derek Falvey, general manager Thad Levine and manager Rocco Baldelli. Owner Jim Pohlad should at least want to know why Falvey and Levine have made trades for three pitchers (reliever Sam Dyson in 2019, starter Chris Paddack in 2022 and starter Tyler Mahle in 2022) who arrived as damaged goods. Mahle was acquired at the trade deadline to move into the top of the rotation and instead is out because of fatigue in his right (pitching) shoulder. It’s unclear if Mahle will return this season, but at the rate things are going don’t count on it.