The Rams Can Make the Vikings New Head Coach Look Even Better in the Super Bowl

Vikings New Head Coach Kevin O'Connell
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings Insider, The GM’s View

Eight new NFL head coaches have now been hired and the ninth is supposedly a formality once the Vikings are able to officially hire Kevin O’Connell post-Super Bowl. That’s as long as O’Connell doesn’t pull a Josh McDaniel move (when he agreed to coach the Colts in 2018, reneged after the Super Bowl and stayed in New England as offensive coordinator).

We’ll assume O’Connell is fully committed to Minnesota but as a former team exec, I’d still be a bit nervous until his hiring is signed, sealed and delivered next Monday. Especially after the dance with Jim Harbaugh unraveled, reportedly because the Vikings brass was more impressed with O’Connell and his potential as the next young offensive guru in the mold of this year’s Super Bowl coaches Sean McVay and Zac Taylor along with Packers head coach Matt LaFleur (and O’Connell, Taylor and LaFleur all come from the McVay coaching tree).

The presumed hiring of O’Connell means the Vikings will hitch their wagon to a first-time 40 year-old GM and first-time 36-year old head coach. It’s a risky move to two men with limited NFL experience and certainly a major change from the Rick Spielman-Mike Zimmer era but it will be interesting and exciting to see how things play out in the next several years.

This situation of having to wait until after the Super Bowl to officially sign O’Connell is so avoidable if the NFL would change their archaic rule that forces assistant coaches of the Super Bowl teams to be at a disadvantage in the interview process and not be allowed to sign with their new team until after the big game.

Is it really that big a deal for O’Connell to sign his Vikings contract while he coaches his final game as Rams offensive coordinator? With the Super Bowl game planning process completed this week, he surely is spending his post-practice and meeting time poring over the Vikings roster and the tape of the Rams 30-23 win over the Vikings on December 26. He’s on the phone with potential members of his coaching staff but again the Vikings are likely forced to wait before making offers and a few holdover assistants already have moved on (perhaps when O’Connell told them they weren’t in his plans and I hope some of the excellent assistant coaches such as Andre Patterson on defense are retained).

O’Connell has to like the offensive skill players he’s watching such as Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, Tyler Conklin and perhaps the player he coached in 2017 as Washington’s quarterbacks coach—Kirk Cousins. He’ll surely have plenty of concerns over the Vikings cornerbacks and a couple of offensive line spots.

It will be intriguing to watch Minnesota’s new football leaders—GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell—in action as the decision-making duo beginning next week. There’s a ton of work for them to do—support staffs to hire, free agency coming in March, salary cap management decisions, draft prep with the NFL Combine three weeks away and the draft in late April along with O’Connell putting his offensive and defensive systems in place.

Meanwhile, Vikings co-owners Zygi and Mark Wilf and Adofo-Mensah would love to see a great offensive performance from the Rams in Super Bowl LVI which would augment O’Connell’s resume (even though Head Coach Sean McVay is L.A.’s play caller, O’Connell is said to have a lot of influence on play designs and plays called).

Jeff’s Super Bowl preview and pick:

I’m excited for Super Bowl Sunday and the matchup between the Cinderella Bengals led by QB Joe Burrow and the favored Rams with their big names on both sides of the ball, led by QB Matthew Stafford, wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham and superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

The Rams have the benefit of playing in their home So-Fi Stadium but it won’t be a totally partisan Rams crowd. This is due to Super Bowl tickets being distributed evenly to the participating teams and a portion to the other 30 NFL teams along with league sponsors. An additional allotment goes to the home market so those tickets should wind up in the hands of Rams fans. But don’t discount the underdog factor with neutral fans aligning with Cincy who has turned it around after going 6-25-1 in the previous two seasons (but the mid-season loss of Burrow to an ACL tear doomed the Bengals in 2020).

I think the key matchup is the Bengals offensive line against the Rams defensive line and linebackers. Cincinnati was fortunate to beat Tennessee in the divisional round when Burrow was sacked nine times. The Bengals O-line was much better in allowing just one sack to the Chiefs in their AFC title win.

Cincinnati needs a strong run game led by running back Joe Mixon and a quick release by Burrow plus a solid screen game to slow down the Rams fierce pass rush. I expect Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd to present big problems for Burrow who can help his cause with some scrambling to either run for first downs or buy time to find his excellent receivers led by rookie star and Pro Bowler Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins (103 receiving yards vs. K.C. in the title game).

The Bengals defense has seven takeaways during their playoff run and is coming off a terrific performance against the Chiefs in which they limited Patrick Mahomes and his prolific offense to three points in the second half and OT. While Burrow is so poised, confident and fun to watch, Stafford is the big-armed vet who is easy to cheer for after 12 productive but mostly losing seasons in Detroit.

Stafford started this season strong, was inconsistent mid-season and has come on down the stretch. And the story of his wife Kelly’s battle to overcome a brain tumor is inspirational.

I think the Rams’ creative offense under McVay and O’Connell will find ways to get the ball to the NFL’s top receiver in Kupp (as Justin Jefferson pointed out this week in talking positively about O’Connell). Beckham also will be targeted often and he has played great this postseason. Cam Akers and Sony Michel are a good rushing duo for L.A. but their fine tight end Tyler Higbee is questionable with a knee sprain.

Both teams have outstanding kickers who have made game-winners this postseason—Cincinnati’s rookie Evan McPherson and Rams Pro Bowler Matt Gay.

My Super Bowl prediction: Rams 30& Bengals 23, with Donald winning MVP honors after his relentless pressure on Burrow that will produce a couple sacks and force a key turnover (as he did late in L.A.’s NFC title game win over the 49ers). Then the O’Connell era in Minnesota can finally commence next week.

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl

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