Vikings Face Own Blueprint in Week 1
The Vikings went into the 2022 offseason with different paths available. After missing the playoffs in back-to-back years and having underwhelming results, the team opted to fire head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman.
The Packers faced similar questions in 2019. They missed the playoffs in 2017 and 2018. During the 2018 season, they fired long-time head coach Mike McCarthy in his 13th season with the team.
This year’s Vikings situation was comparable. The team didn’t play as well as it should have and has underwhelmed year after year. Instead of tearing down the roster and starting a total rebuild, the team let go of the head coach and hired a first-time HC. Matt LaFleur was the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans. The hiring was controversial, as his offense wasn’t particularly dynamic. Would superstar Aaron Rodgers even listen to a guy just a few years older than him without any experience as head coach?
During the first three years, the chosen path was a good one so far. The Packers have won 13 games in every season since and won the NFC North in three consecutive years.
The Vikings’ offseason could’ve gone in different directions. A considerable portion of media people thought the Vikings should trade away quarterback Kirk Cousins. Many fans agreed. Not only that, but the team also should trade away their aging stars like Harrison Smith, Dalvin Cook, and Danielle Hunter.
That would’ve undoubtedly resulted in a Bears-like season without much hope of winning anything meaningful in 2022 and years to come. The hope of such a rebuild is to luck into a superstar quarterback and pair him with a young and hungry roster.
The organization, especially the owners of the organization, didn’t want any part of that. Miserable years without a guarantee to become a better team after a few years wasn’t the desired choice.
Instead, the leadership replaced the head coach with first-time head coach Kevin O’Connell. He has some similarities with LaFleur, as they both worked as offensive coordinators for Sean McVay and are both young and charismatic. That by itself is a huge contrast to Mike McCarthy and Mike Zimmer.
The Vikings also added a new guy in the front office. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is an analytically driven decision-maker, even if he doesn’t like to hear that. The positive attitude of the two new faces of the franchise is a big reason for optimism in Minnesota.
They changed a few things on the roster. More than a third of the players are new compared to 2021. Anthony Barr and Michael Pierce are the big departures. Newcomers like Harrison Phillips, Za’Darius Smith, and Jordan Hicks have shown flashes during training camp. The defense should be improved, despite not having defensive genius Mike Zimmer onboard.
The offense, meanwhile, didn’t change by much. The right guard is new, and that’s it. Minnesota’s idea to improve the offensive unit is simply through the coaching change. More passes, more creativity, and more dynamic plays are the mantra of O’Connell’s offense. They very well could be a lot more dynamic by the scheme and the philosophy of the new coach.
The Vikings went 15-18 in the past couple of seasons without a trip to the postseason. They were close, however, and the new culture has to unlock a few things. The talent on the team is too good just to be average or even below that.
Green Bay is the blueprint. A team that could enter a rebuild but just changes coaches and brings in a new culture makes a few tweaks on the roster and enters a more successful period.
On Sunday, the blueprint meets the copycat. Zimmer had some epic battles with the Packers and went 7-8-1. Kevin O’Connell has to be able to split the series if he wants to have a shot at winning the division. In addition, it is imperative to start the new age of Vikings football with a positive result to keep the optimism in the building.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt
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