Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell may be a coaching superstar
Analytics is a valuable asset, but stats can’t describe everything. How an elite coach can influence everything.
The biggest regression candidate we’ve ever seen was the Minnesota Vikings. They were 13-4 last season but the underlying numbers of a team that should be below .500. Basically, they won every close game, which is not sustainable.
But it wasn’t total dumb luck either. We may quickly find out that Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell is worth a few points in every game.
When the Vikings lost Justin Jefferson, everyone thought they should trade Kirk Cousins. When the Vikings lost Cousins, they looked ready. Instead, a team with serious roster deficiencies is right in the NFC playoff race, with a quarterback who was traded two weeks ago with the Arizona Cardinals, one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Coach of the Year is sometimes a strange award, but why not O’Connell?
Joshua Dobbs had a big game against the New Orleans Saints in a 27-19 win. In the first half Dobbs was 18-of-22 for 220 yards. That was without Jefferson, who should return soon from a hamstring injury, and KJ Osborn, who was held out after suffering a concussion last week.
New Orleans rallied in the second half and made it interesting after Jameis Winston replaced the injured Derek Carr, but the Vikings did what they had to do to hang on.
The Saints have more star players on the roster. That is almost certain. But the Vikings had a much better coach.
The Vikings are 6-4 and in good shape to clinch the final wild card spot in the NFC. That’s surprising considering the Vikings started 1-4 and lost their two most important players to injury.
Last week Dobbs got to play in the game just days after the Vikings traded for him. O’Connell was explaining plays to Dobbs in his headset after calling them in the huddle. The Vikings pulled off a road win against the Atlanta Falcons. That’s credit to Dobbs for processing it all, but that’s just what good coaching looks like. It was good for Dobbs to run a full offense Sunday, less than two weeks after the Vikings traded for him, too.
O’Connell led the Vikings to 13 wins as a rookie head coach and was dismissed mostly because everyone was talking about how lucky they were. NFL Coach of the Year went to Brian Daboll and his nine wins with the New York Giants, and that decision never gets old.
That might be fine. O’Connell could leave no doubt about that award this season.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 10 of the NFL season:
MVP CJ Stroud hopes: Seriously, why isn’t Stroud up for MVP?
Rookies don’t win NFL MVPs, but Stroud has been the best story in the league this season and added another chapter to what is shaping up to be a historic rookie year. The rookie Houston Texans fielded a team with several players out due to injury, including running back Dameon Pierce and receiver Nico Collins, and upset the Cincinnati Bengals 30-27 on the road.
Stroud threw a bad interception in the fourth quarter that helped the Bengals erase a 10-point deficit and tie the game, but in the final 1:33 Stroud led a drive that ended with field goal on the final play for the win. It was impressive to see him bounce back from a rare mistake.
It was one of the few big mistakes he made all season, throwing an interception in the final four minutes that set up the Bengals on the four-yard line. Cincinnati added that field goal to cut Houston’s lead to 27-24. The Bengals had a shot to take the lead after that, but Tyler Boyd dropped a pass in the end zone and the Bengals had to settle for a game-tying field goal. That opened the door for Stroud to put together a game-winning drive.
Stroud is having an outstanding rookie season. He threw for 356 yards Sunday and led an upset over a hot Bengals team. So, again, why isn’t Stroud up for MVP?
Purdy Brock: There were understandably concerns about Purdy following the San Francisco 49ers’ three-game losing streak. He made terrible decisions in those losses.
The bye week came at the right time, and everyone can relax about Purdy for a bit.
The 49ers had a big 34-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. Purdy was very good, with touchdown passes to Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. The pass to Kittle, who was thrown under pressure from the pocket for a 66-yard score, turned the game into a routine. Purdy added another touchdown pass in the second half, and finished with 296 yards.
The 49ers once again looked like one of the best teams in football. They, and their quarterback, are back on track.
Mike Evans: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have traded Evans before the deadline. But it would be great if he spent his entire Hall of Fame career with the Bucs.
Evans has been one of the best receivers of this generation, and he’s having another great season even after Tom Brady retires. Evans was a key player in the Buccaneers’ 20-6 win over the Tennessee Titans. The Buccaneers are 4-5 and well out of the race in the NFC South. Evans had six catches for 143 yards and a touchdown in a stellar performance. He was the best player on the field.
Evans is on his way to another 1,000-yard season, which would be his 10th in 10 NFL seasons. Many wondered if he would do it again at the age of 30 with Baker Mayfield throwing the ball this season. On Sunday he looked as dominant as ever.
Baltimore Ravens hype train: Can anyone in the NFL be great for more than a week or two at a time?
The Ravens got plenty of momentum as the best team in football after blowing out the Seattle Seahawks last week. They looked great blowing a 17-3 lead in the first quarter on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
Then the Ravens fell apart.
That sums up the NFL in 2023. Nobody is good for very long, even within a game.
The Browns clawed their way back into the game and then got a pick in the fourth quarter, though they missed the extra point and trailed 31-30. It’s nothing big. The Browns were forced to punt and Cleveland’s offense allowed them a game-winning field goal as time expired. The Browns are 6-3 after a 33-31 win and right in the mix for the AFC North title.
The Ravens have three losses and all of them came very late in the game. That doesn’t matter. Great teams find a way to win these games. And no team in the NFL this season is that good.
Packers losing streak in Pittsburgh: Amazingly enough, the Packers haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 1970. That streak would continue for a few more years.
The Packers had a shot, and Jordan Love had a chance to win a couple of times, but he threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter, including one on the final play, and the Pittsburgh Steelers escaped with a 23-19 win. .
Love was solid, with 289 yards. His first interception in the fourth quarter was a bad man into coverage. The latter came on a desperate throw to the end zone. Either way, he didn’t do enough for the Packers to win. He is one of the many Green Bay quarterbacks who have fallen short in Pittsburgh.
Mac Jones: You have to wonder if Jones’ time as the New England Patriots quarterback is up.
When the Patriots tackled Jones late in Sunday’s 10-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Germany, it was interesting. There were less than two minutes left and the Patriots trailed by just four points. Sending in Bailey Zappe was a desperate move and it didn’t seem like it would work out, and it didn’t. Zappe threw a terrible pick after a bit of a fake spike play to end the game.
That was the expected result, but the Patriots could no longer see Jones.
“I just thought it was time for a change,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said said after the game.
Belichick did not say who his quarterback would be in their next game as they enter the bye week. New England’s next game at the New York Giants is November 26.
Jones threw a miserable interception to end his day. He had Mike Gesicki open in the end zone but his (short) pass was very short and easily picked off by Julian Blackmon. It was for Jones; he was subsequently yanked even with the game still on the line.
The Patriots have stuck with Jones as their starter this season but after Jones was benched on Sunday, they seem willing to try anything else going forward .