We spent most of the 2021 season and the better part of this past offseason beating the drum about just how awful the Minnesota Vikings were at the end of halves in 2021. They weren’t just bad. . .they were historically bad. That was a big part of the reason why they finished under .500 and wound up showing Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman the door the day after the regular season ended.
This season, things have gone just about as far in the other direction as they can under new head coach Kevin O’Connell. According to Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports, the Vikings have gone from a season that saw them as the worst end-of-half/game defense in a quarter of a century to being the best in the NFL in that metric through the first six games of this season.
The 2021 Vikings had a minus-73 point differential in the final four minutes of halves last season, by far the worst in the NFL. With two teams left to play in Week 6, the Vikings are the league’s best by the same metric: a plus-33 differential.
Now, I’m not going to say that this is all the doing of O’Connell and the coaching staff, but he and his staff obviously play a huge role in it. The players on both sides of the ball are executing much better than they did in similar situations last season and the team isn’t going into a shell in late-game situations through the first six games of this season. That’s a reflection on the staff and the way they’ve prepared their charges here in the early going.
This could be the biggest difference between last year’s Vikings and this year’s team. As the team continues to perform well in these situations, it could definitely help to instill the sort of mindset in the team where they expect to do well. Hopefully this is something that O’Connell and company can sustain going forward.