School has started again, the weather is cooling down, and it’s time for NFL football. It’s a wonderful time of year in Minnesota, but there’s one thing missing: expectations. It’s a new front office, and no one is really sure what to expect.
At least with Mike Zimmer, I knew a few things every year. There’d be a lot of running plays, a bend-but-don’t-break defense, and some yelling on the sideline. But now? It might take a few games to get a sense of the team. However, there is one thing I don’t want to see in Week 1 that can set the tone for the entire season.
Let me set the scene. The Minnesota Vikings are relatively healthy, and you’re excited to see Justin Jefferson start his sophomore campaign. Your favorite team is about to face the Cincinnati Bengals – a team you think will be exciting, explosive, and also young and inexperienced. There’s no chance the Zimmer-led Vikings will lose because the team has high expectations. There’s even a pseudo-sibling rivalry going on between Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase.
The first play of the game is a false start. Then, a few plays later, there’s another. They’re both C.J. Ham, a normally flawless player who might just have the jitters. But it just doesn’t feel right. Something is off, and perhaps this season isn’t going to play out as predicted. I don’t want that to happen again.
Some people will be watching rookie Ed Ingram closely. Maybe it will be Kevin O’Connell‘s plays that he kept to himself in the preseason. Or maybe Jefferson will start his third season with a bang. Me? I’m looking for a disciplined football team.
There has been a lot of positive news flowing from the media about O’Connell. He’s a players’ coach and a burst of positive energy compared to Zimmer. But that also comes with some negatives. Sometimes the old curmudgeon is needed to control a locker room or keep a team in game shape all season long.
What if O’Connell’s team has an identity that isn’t a neat, flag-free, disciplined football team? Well, it’s certainly possible, and it’s the one thing I will be looking out for in Week 1.
Why am I so worried about this? It’s Week 1, and there’s no way you can extrapolate an entire season based on one game, right? But maybe you can if the team is undisciplined and sloppy. That’s not something you can disregard. It becomes the team’s identity; it can’t simply be coached away. That was the case last year.
It’s why the Vikings would have had a 14-3 record had they not given up points within the last two minutes of any half last season. This post was the origin of that stat. By the end of the season, they’d allowed 120 points in the final two minutes of every game.
Maybe it was a symptom of poor prevent defense, which I’m not convinced actually works in many situations. But it comes down to collapsing, AKA sloppy play. It’s almost as if the team couldn’t close out or hold a lead all season. Week 1 set the tone for all of it.
There’s plenty of reason for optimism about the new front office and the 2022 roster. Sure, I can tell you they will have a 3-4 defense and a more pass-happy offense, but what about the subtleties? That’s what I’m looking for on Sunday.