Can Kevin O’Connell Do the Right Thing?

Can Set a Season
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When the Minnesota Vikings take the field on Sunday against the Detroit Lions, they will do so needing every win they can muster in order to make the playoffs. Putting the best team on the field means getting every position right, and at running back, that means starting Ty Chandler.

Can Kevin O’Connell Do the Right Thing?

Last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, Ty Chandler finally had the training wheels taken off, and he rewarded Minnesota with their best rushing performance in more than a year. Unfortunately for head coach Kevin O’Connell, not too much credit could be taken with starter Alexander Mattison inactive due to an injury.

Given a full load of carries as the unrivaled back, Chandler turned in 132 yards on 23 carries. He averaged nearly six yards per carry and ripped off a long of 30 yards. He also hauled in three catches for another 25 yards. From a running back position that has left plenty to be desired for Minnesota this season, Chandler showed out in a big way.

do the right thing
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It could be determined for O’Connell how the running back position goes if Mattison is once again unable to take the field. His injury status remains up in the air, and while it would be beneficial for the Vikings to have all of their talent available, that shouldn’t come as a detriment to the since-emerged Chandler.

Expecting a breakout game on a weekly basis isn’t a fair bar for Chandler to clear, but it has been wildly apparent all year that he is, in fact, the better back. He has looked more explosive and displays an elusiveness that Mattison has never brought to the table.

Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) eyes the goal line on a touchdown run in the first quarter of a Week 15 NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati.

When the Vikings brought Mattison back after Dalvin Cook was sent packing this offseason, he was to be the starting back. Unfortunately, he was given that runway and did very little to establish a hold on the role. It took an injury for O’Connell actually to make a change, and whether stubborn or simply deferring to his veteran, the change should have come much sooner.

Detroit possesses a much better defense than they employed a season ago, and the Lions are the clear cream of the crop in the NFC North. However, they have been beaten by both the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in recent weeks. If the Vikings want to add their name to that list at least once, they must continue establishing a running game alongside their unfortunate quarterback situation.

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Chandler should have plenty of opportunity to establish himself as the unquestioned starter both the rest of the way and into next year. Regardless of Mattison being available, it should be clear who the lead back is, and splitting carries with a lesser talent makes very little sense. O’Connell has struggled to generate consistent production from the running game as head coach, and a young back like Chandler allows him to flip that script.

Both on Sunday and going forward, it has to be Chandler toting the rock if the Vikings are going to make a necessary change.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.