Meet the new Vikings. Nearly the same as the old Vikings.
Rookie head coach Kevin O’Connell may have been the hot assistant after the Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl last season, but he is quickly learning it’s not so easy to transform a franchise just by bringing enthusiasm and a new playbook to the party.
After an impressive opening victory over the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings were anything but in their Week 2 Monday night road loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The visitors couldn’t come close to matching the fire and skill of their hosts at any part of their matchup.
The Vikings are dependent on their star players to lead the way in big games, but Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Danielle Hunter all fell short. In case your are keeping track, that’s $65 million-plus in salary for those four players this season. Collectively, they did little the current season that did little to combat a focused opponent.
The end result was a 24-7 defeat in front of a national audience, and it dropped Cousins’ record on Monday Night Football to 2-10. No quarterback in NFL history who has made 10 or more starts in the prime-time series has a worse record.
The quarterback clearly has his share of critics, and most of them point to his record both under the lights and against powerful opponents. Cousins made his share of mistakes with three interceptions, but he had plenty of help from his teammates Monday night.
The game could have been different if tight end Irv Smith Jr. had held on to a perfect pass in the second quarter with the Vikings trailing 21-7. Smith was running down the left sideline, and Cousins unleashed a throw that hit the tight end in stride. Instead of catching it and potentially taking it in for a score, Smith simply dropped the ball.
Jefferson also made a huge mistake on Minnesota’s first possession of the third quarter. The Vikings had marched down the field and had a 2nd-and-10 play from the Philadelphia 19. Jefferson failed to cut to the middle after Cousins released his pass, and that allowed cornerback Darius Slay to move in for an uncontested pick that blunted Minnesota’s comeback effort.
Cousins was 27-of-46 for 221 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. On the opposite side, Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts was nearly perfect as he completed 26-of-31 passes for 331 yards with one TD. He also rushed for 57 yards and two more scores.
The Vikings defense, which was so effective at limiting Aaron Rodgers in the first week of the season, was unable to do anything to diminish the Philadelphia game plan. The coverage was soft from start to finish, and while the Vikings came up with three sacks – one of them by Hunter – Hurts was allowed to sit in the pocket, survey the field and slice up the secondary.
The defense bore a great resemblance to the unit that regularly looked befuddled in the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The Vikings did not win the majority of the physical battles, and they were not as prepared for the confrontation as their hosts. The opponents were the hungrier team, something that often seemed the case under former head coach Mike Zimmer.
This time, there is no blaming of Zimmer for his cantankerous nature and single-minded approach. O’Connell was happy to deflect the blame from his underproducing players by crediting the Eagles.
“They kind of had body blows with their run game,” O’Connell said, “and when those explosive opportunities came, [Hurts] made a lot of those plays.”
Through two games of the season, the Vikings have come up with one surprising effort against the archrival Packers and a head-shaking display against the Eagles. Both games indicate the type of team Minnesota will become this season.
They were able to sustain a great start in the opener for 60 minutes, but they could not turn things around after a poor start the following week.
Adversity is a way of life for all teams in the NFL, and if the Vikings can only win when the breaks go their way early, it will be a disappointing season.
O’Connell is smart enough to come up with a winning gameplan most weeks. He is creative and technically savvy. However, will he be able to inspire his team to dig deep and turn things around when adversity hits? This may prove to be his greatest challenge as the 2022 season unfolds.