The Vikings Can Improve with One Easy Fix

5 Vikings Players Who
Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) reacts after being short of yardage against Chicago Bears during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports.

In 2022, when the Minnesota Vikings rattled off 13 wins and just four losses, Kevin O’Connell’s team scored early.

His team ranked ninth leaguewide in 1st Quarter points scored, putting 4.7 per game points on the scoreboard in Quarter No. 1.

The Vikings Can Improve with One Easy Fix

Then, through four games of 2023, it all went bad. The Vikings don’t score — at all — anymore in the 1st Quarter and, in fact, have not scored a 1st Quarter point in 2023.

Improve with One Easy
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) prepares to snap the ball to quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) during the first quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

They simply stopped and now prefer the sometimes friendly confines of other quarters to get cooking. It doesn’t really make sense. Through Week 4, the Vikings and New York Jets are the only NFL teams sans a 1st Quarter point. In a bad way, they’re pitching a shutout — like the cross-neighborhood Minnesota Twins, a team doing it the right way to the tune of an ALDS appearance.

Last year, and even during the Mike Zimmer era, Minnesota was a 1st Quarter hero, usually putting points in the box score early and taking a foot off the pedal thereafter. But now the O’Connell Vikings do the opposite, at least out of the gate in 2023.

Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell takes the field before a game against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

From 2014 to 2022, the entirety of the Mike Zimmer era plus O’Connell’s first year, the Vikings ranked fourth leaguewide in touchdowns scored (83 in nine seasons), only trailing the Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, and New England Patriots. Minnesota was next to elite in the metric but has decided to stop all 1st Quarter scoring — including field goals — in 2023.

Therefore, the Vikings constantly play from behind, and while they make every game competitive, perhaps scoring in the 1st Quarter would be the elixir.

A New Wrinkle
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) dives for the end zone as New York Giants cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (22) defends during the first quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. The call on the field was a touchdown but was changed after review. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Why don’t the Vikings score? It’s as plain as day. Heading into Week 5, the purple team has accrued 4 fumbles and 1 interception in the 1st Quarter of games, a deadly mark that would damage any team, not just the Vikings. Put simply, Minnesota moves the ball with relative ease to start games and then coughs it up, handing momentum to the opposition and dampening the rest-of-game outlook.

Veteran safety Harrison Smith acknowledged his team’s turnover gaffes this week. He joined ESPN’s The Pat McAfee Show to discuss Minnesota’s 1-3 season and was predictably asked about the difference between the 13-4 Vikings from 2022 and this year’s 1-3 group.

Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) warms up before the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

“I’d say the main difference is the turnover differential. Not making enough on defense. Not holding onto it as well as we should in those early games, special teams and offense. We’re working to correct that,” Smith replied.

So, the mission is straightforward if the Vikings want to begin a win streak before or after this weekend’s showdown with the Chiefs. Don’t gift-wrap the ball to the other team in Quarter 1, score some early points, and perhaps the losses will cease.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by