Through four games, here is the identity of the 2022 Minnesota Vikings: a team that largely kept their roster from their previous season intact despite having a losing record with said roster, but decided to move off their longtime coach from their previous year and hire a brand new offensive-minded coach from the Sean McVay tree. To start off the first year under their new coach, the team is 3-1, but most of the wins have come in ugly fashion. And two of those wins have also come within the division.
What other NFC North squad sounds like this? The 2019 Green Bay Packers.
Today we are going to compare the 2022 Vikings to the 2019 Packers, two teams that might actually have more in common with one another than you think. It’s time to take a deep dive into this comparison.
Similarity No. 1: Both Teams Hired Offensive Coaches from the Sean McVay Tree After Moving Off Their Old-School Coaches
Both of these teams moved off their old-school style coaches and hired young offensive-minded coaches from the coaching tree of Sean McVay.
After the Packers fired their longtime coach Mike McCarthy during the 2018 season, they hired Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who had spent the 2017 season under McVay as the OC. LaFleur was hired by the Packers to bring new energy and a creative offense to a team and locker room that had severely lacked it under the previous regime.
That recipe has seemed to work for the Packers. Although they don’t always look the best and may not always show up when it counts, LaFleur has started his coaching career with three straight 13-win seasons, three NFC North titles, and currently has a career coaching record of 42-11. LaFleur’s offense has also seen the Packers offense become one of the best in the league at its peak and because of that, quarterback Aaron Rodgers won two NFL MVPs.
The Vikings are hoping to copy this same recipe. After a 2021 season that saw them go 8-9, they moved off old-school defensive coach Mike Zimmer. To replace him, they hired Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell. Just like LaFleur, O’Connell was hired to bring in new energy and a creative offense to a team that severely lacked it.
Through four games, although the Vikings have been winning ugly, they are 3-1. O’Connell has also brought in a new level of confidence to this team and you can see it in the way that they play. Last year under Zimmer, this team would quit when the going got tough. This year, however, they show no signs of giving up under O’Connell, and that’s a huge reason why they are 3-1 instead of 1-3. They wouldn’t have won the past two games against the Lions and Saints under Zimmer, because they wouldn’t have the confidence to make those comebacks.
Speaking of winning ugly…
Similarity No. 2: Both Teams Won Ugly In Their First Year Under The New Coach
The 2019 Packers went 13-3, but they are frequently called one of the worst 13-win teams ever, because of their propensity to win ugly. That Packers team won eight games by one score, and some of those one-score wins came against bad teams such as the Lions and Bears.
So far, the Vikings appear to be doing the same thing. Over the past two weeks, winning ugly is what has defined this team. They won in ugly fashion against the Lions in Week 3 when they overcame two double digit deficits, and against the Saints in Week 4 when Wil Lutz double-doinked a 61-yard field goal to give the Vikings the win. The Lions and Saints are both teams that the Vikings should have beaten by more.
I’m sure we will see a lot more ugly wins by the Vikings this year, especially against inferior competition.
It also should be noted that the 2019 Packers and 2022 Vikings got off to the same exact start to the year: 3-1 and first place in the NFC North with two key divisional wins, and the only loss has come in primetime to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Similarity No. 3: Za’Darius Smith Was A Key Addition To A Largely-Intact Roster
Both teams largely kept their previous year’s rosters intact, with the exception of a few additions in the free agency leading up to the first year under a new coach.
There was one notable addition to both teams: outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith.
Drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, Smith signed with the Packers in March 2019. Smith played three seasons with the Packers, but missed his final year with them due to a back injury. During his time with the team, Smith was a culture-changer in the locker room, and brought new energy to the defense. His presence was also felt on the field as well, as he recorded a combined 26 sacks, forced five fumbles, and recovered two fumbles during his two full seasons actually playing in a Packers uniform.
After being released by the Packers in 2022, Smith originally agreed to return to the Ravens on a multi-year deal, but reneged on the deal at the last minute and signed with the Vikings for more money.
So far, the beginning of Smith’s Viking tenure looks like his Packer tenure. He has brought new energy to the locker room, especially on his side of the ball, and his presence has been felt on the stat sheet as well. In four games as a Viking, Smith has made three sacks and has had many pressures and key tackles for loss.
Smith has made his presence on both teams felt as both of them have kicked off a coaching change and culture change.
Similarity No. 4: Two-Minute Defense Defines That Unit For Both Teams
As mentioned in my previous blog (which can be viewed on my profile as of right now), the strength of this year’s Vikings defense is their two-minute defense, in both halves. That can also be said for the case of the 2019 Packers.
That Packers team won several games that year because of their situational, late-game defense. These include early-season wins over the Bears and Vikings, and later-season wins over the Panthers, Bears, and Lions. Whether it was a key interception or key fumble recovery, the Packers’ situational defense won them a lot of games in 2019.
So far, through four games, the same can be said for this year’s Vikings squad.
In week 3 against the Lions and week 4 against the Saints, the Vikings forced their opponent into trying long field goals to either ice or tie the game. Both of them, with a little bit of luck, missed. As a result, the Vikings went on to win both of those games. Against the Saints and Lions at the end of the halves, the Vikings forced critical turnovers that swung the momentum of the game into their favor.
As mentioned frequently, both of these teams have won ugly. A big reason why they’ve won ugly has been their situational defense, which swung the momentum of the game into their favor.
Similarity No. 5: Fourth Quarter Offense Has Been A Problem
Despite their excellent situational defense, the 2019 Packers and 2022 Vikings share a common issue: fourth quarter offense.
Throughout the 2019 season, the Packers scored a grand total of 84 points in the fourth quarters of their 16 games. For the season, the Packers averaged five points in the fourth quarter. The Packers actually only had four games out of 16 all year where they scored double digits points in the fourth quarter. They also had five games where they were shut out offensively in the fourth quarter. This was a big reason why their games, even against inferior competition, were often close.
So far for the 2022 Vikings, fourth-quarter offense appears to be an issue as well.
Throughout their first four games, the Vikings have mustered a total of 29 points in the fourth quarter. The first two games against the Packers and Eagles saw them score a combined three points in the fourth quarter, but they then have bounced back with a combined 26 points in the past two games. The issue with this, however, is that they seem to be leaving a lot on the table.
Take the fourth quarter against the Saints. Rather than go for it more frequently, the Vikings settled for field goals. As a result, this allowed the Saints to take the lead in the quarter and forced Minnesota to make a small comeback that would have failed if not for another double doink. The same issue happened against the Lions in a key situation.
While it doesn’t appear that the Vikings’ fourth quarter offense is a problem now, it likely will be in later games, just like it was for that Packers team.
There you have it, folks. With these five similarities, hopefully you guys can now get a better grasp on this comparison. If you’re someone who watches the Packers and Vikings, you will see in due time how these Vikings are going to resemble that 2019 Packers squad. However, maybe that’s a good thing. I mean, the Packers did win 13 games that year. And maybe the Vikings can win 13 games this year, though it’s highly unlikely.
That’s all for today. Thank you for reading this blog, and I’ll see you guys in the next article!