Kevin O’Connell Went P.J. Fleck on the Vikings

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

Playing on a national stage during Monday Night Football against the Chicago Bears, there was nothing less satisfying than what fans witnessed from the Minnesota Vikings. There is plenty of blame for the performance, but head coach Kevin O’Connell channeled his inner P.J. Fleck all night.

Kevin O’Connell Went P.J. Fleck on the Vikings

Kevin O’Connell has been a welcomed addition to the Minnesota Vikings sideline for most of his short coaching career. He is not the brazen grump that Mike Zimmer was, but he also avoids being the windbag the Minnesota Gophers employ. Unfortunately, when he finds ways to draw parallels with P.J. Fleck, it comes out as poor playcalling.

Fleck on
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

While Fleck’s slogans, mantras, and gimmicks are beyond obnoxious, you have to give him his flowers when it comes to recruiting. He seems to bring excitement to the program from players who will wear the uniform. For years, though, we have seen him fail to execute a gameplan on a weekly basis, and if handing the ball off to whatever back is going for 100 yards that week wasn’t an option, he wouldn’t know what to do.

On Monday night against the Chicago Bears, O’Connell looked as lost as the collegiate coach in town routinely does. Despite having a quarterback who creates opportunities with his legs, Josh Dobbs scrambled twice in the game and managed 11 yards. He wasn’t put in positions to roll out of the pocket, and nothing but traditional dropbacks were called all night long.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

In the passing game, the Chicago secondary could probably predict what was coming on a per-play basis. Despite Justin Fields having zero desire to throw the ball down the field, it was Dobbs who averaged a lesser 5.8 yards per attempt. While Fields relied on teammates for yards after the catch, Minnesota constantly called plays that allowed defenders to keep pass catchers in front of them, and after the game’s opening deep shot, little was done to actually push the football.

The running game has been something O’Connell has basically ignored since taking over as the Vikings head coach, and while Dalvin Cook saved him during his decline a season ago, it has been non-existent in 2023. Alexander Mattison finally had a few decent runs, but after drawing the game’s first carry, Ty Chandler got just three more opportunities.

A poor game from Jordan Addison didn’t lead to a more significant role for Brandon Powell, even though he made the two biggest catches of the night. O’Connell also never drew up anything to make the secondary think that Dobbs would go over the top, and the final totals from all of the pass catchers reflected that.

The most egregious misstep was with the game on the line and momentum in his favor. O’Connell had just watched Brian Flores’ defense get his offense the ball back with Justin Fields fumbling for a second time. With the ball on the Bears 43-yard line, the head coach flopped in every way possible.

Rather than looking to win the game, he coached to lose it. A first down or two would have put the contest on ice, and a score could have accomplished the same result. Instead, O’Connell had Mattison run into the back of the line twice for a combined one yard. Then, with an opportunity to at least salvage a field goal, the play call was a pass to Powell behind the line of scrimmage.

Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports.

Dobbs played poorly for almost four quarters Monday night, while the head coach had a poor game himself. With an opportunity to redeem themselves, they doubled down on the mistakes and went conservative to the point of giving up the game. Fleck himself might have blushed at the decision, but it’s one we are now growing too accustomed to seeing from Minnesota’s man in charge.

There are plenty of things to work out for the Raiders contest out of the bye, but O’Connell must look inward and stop allowing this to be a routine. If they want to hold onto playoff hopes, then figuring it out immediately must occur.

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.