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NFL insider notes: How Vikings went from the league’s worst to best in a single key metric, plus more from Week 6

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When Kevin O’Connell took over the Minnesota Vikings, he knew immediately where to focus his attention.

The primary-year head coach saw a Vikings team that was downright dreadful at situational football. The 2021 Vikings were the worst within the league that season. By some metrics cobbled together by the staff there, they were actually the worst in modern NFL history at situational ball.

The 2022 Minnesota Vikings are arguably one of the best situational football team within the NFL today. “Situational masters” are what O’Connell wants out of his team, and that is what he’s getting.

The 2021 Vikings had a minus-73 point differential in the ultimate 4 minutes of halves last season, by far the worst within the NFL. With two teams left to play in Week 6, the Vikings are the league’s best by the identical metric: a plus-33 differential.

What stood out Sunday was the ultimate 18 seconds of the primary half against the Dolphins. It was a situation O’Connell repped with the team dating back to the spring, because few moments in 2021 Vikings lore drove him crazier than what happened against San Francisco.

In Week 12 within the Bay, the Vikings were tied at 14-all after the Niners scored on an eight-minute drive within the second quarter. With 18 seconds left, the Vikings got a 30-yard kick return to their 40-yard line. With 12 seconds left, Dalvin Cook caught a 14-yarder to get across midfield, running out of bounds and leaving five seconds on the clock.

Minnesota, with all three timeouts, needed lower than 10 yards to get into field goal range for an end-of-half attempt. Kirk Cousins sat within the pocket, didn’t see anyone open and threw the ball out of bounds with zeroes on the clock. A wasted opportunity at three points. The Vikings lost the sport 34-26, one among 14 one-score games the Vikings endured that yr.

So on Sunday when the Vikings intercepted Teddy Bridgewater on the Miami 41 with 18 seconds left within the half, everyone was aware that they had a golden opportunity at three points. O’Connell had preserved one timeout, and Greg Joseph booted the sector goal as time expired on the half to extend the result in 10-3. The Vikings wound up winning 26-14.

“When those moments come up,” O’Connell told reporters last week, “there’s little or no considering that goes into it and more reacting and playing.”

More insider notes

  • The Houston Texans and Jack Easterby are going their separate ways. ESPN first reported the split and I can confirm Easterby, the chief vp of football operations, will not be with the team. Sources say head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Nick Caserio had frozen Easterby out dating back to the offseason. Sidelined by the highest football decision makers, Easterby and team owner Cal McNair agreed to part ways.
  • As I reported Sunday on The NFL Today, the Panthers will not be going to offer Christian McCaffrey away. Carolina will entertain inquiries that include a first-round pick or multiple picks (that may include a Day 2 pick.) The Panthers are also greater than comfortable to maintain McCaffrey. They will not take a lowball offer. The deadline is Nov. 1, so there’s still time to make a deal. Carolina also won’t simply cut McCaffrey next season, so teams shouldn’t wait on that. The Panthers recognize they’ve one among the league’s best weapons when healthy.
  • Carson Wentz is seeing a hand specialist Monday. If he cannot go this week, it’ll be Taylor Heinicke against the Packers. I’m told rookie Sam Howell “is not ready yet.” 
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