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Photo courtesy: Minnesota Vikings

First-year Minnesota coach Kevin O’Connell is working out the kinks, discovering the best mode of operation and settling into a rhythm as the play-caller for a Vikings offense that has oozed potential. 

On Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, O’Connell found his groove – well, somewhat. Minnesota totaled 344 yards, Kirk Cousins completed 65.8% of his throws and the Vikes moved the chains 23 times. 

The one problem? The Vikings sucked in the red zone, sputtering on the Saints doorstep and settling for field goals on three of five trips deep into New Orleans territory. That’ll need to be corrected. 

But other facets of Minnesota’s offense, such as its implementation of three-receiver sets, must be cloned. Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn sharing the field together creates mismatches.  

London was the latest example of the Vikings’ newly-inspired 11 personnel working in harmony. FYI, 11 personnel indicates there’s one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers in the game. 

Jefferson caught 10 of 13 balls thrown in his vicinity for 147 yards. He tyrannized Marshon Lattimore, grabbing seven of 10 targets for 93, including five of 10+ yards, with the Saints cornerback in coverage. 

Minnesota’s third-year superstar wasn’t the only Vikings pass catcher who thrived in Week 4.

Thielen corralled eight of his nine targets – with three receptions in the first quarter – for 72 yards. It was his third straight game racking up 50+ yards receiving, as well as playing 97% of the offensive snaps.

The third-wheel in Minnesota’s passing attack, Osborn, didn’t come close to replicating his 5-73-1 line from the Week 3 comeback vs. Detroit, despite seeing a 10% increase in his offensive snap share (85%). 

Osborn finished with a mere catch for six yards on just two targets – the 2020 fifth-rounder did, however, have a five-yard touchdown nullified by offensive pass interference on Minnesota’s game-opening drive. (Note: It was Jefferson, not Osborn, who was flagged for OPI after inadvertently setting a screen.)  

Common sense points to Osborn’s shortage of touches as a result of Jefferson’s monster individual effort. According to Pro Football Focus, Osborn’s chances to make an impact weren’t limited. He ran routes on 40 of his 61 snaps (65.6%) – Jefferson worked the route tree on 64.7% of his snaps and Thielen on 64.3%.    

Four games into the 2022 season, Minnesota’s offense seems like it’s most dangerous in 3x1 formations. 

How’s that for going against the grain of recent Vikings teams? 

It’s very anti-Mike Zimmer, that’s for sure – precisely what Minnesota wished for in hiring O’Connell.

Other notes from Sunday’s snap counts:

– Despite suffering a shoulder injury Week 3, it was business as usual in London for Dalvin Cook. “The Chef” garnered a 62% snap share on offense, which is only slightly down from his 69% share in Week 2 – Cook has yet to replicate his 77% Week 1 timeshare, but his volume in Vikings wins has been consistent. On Sunday, Cook toted the rock 20 times for 76 yards and caught two passes for 10. Fantasy managers probably winced when Alexander Mattison turned a screen into a touchdown, but the backup didn’t provide any substance in the run game – Mattison rushed three times for three yards – on 27 snaps.

– Irv Smith Jr. is back back. Like, ready to handle all Minnesota’s TE targets – and he should. The Alabama product had three receptions for 23 yards across the pond, finishing third on the team in each category while playing 46 snaps – 26 and 36 more than fellow tight ends Johnny Mundt and Ben Ellefson. Smith Jr.’s 64% share dwarfs his Week 1 offensive snap percentage of 31. Aside from his obvious ability and clean bill of health, Smith Jr.’s future opportunities likely were helped by Mundt’s drop on third-and-1 from the Saints 10-yard line. Granted, Smith Jr. had an equally bad gaffe a couple weeks ago vs. Philly.

– This might be the final time we mention Jalen Reagor here. The ex-Eagles wide receiver saw three snaps on offense and failed to bring in his lone target. Reagor did make his finest impact on special teams to date, returning a punt 23 yards close to midfield near the end of the first quarter – but people will remember that play for another reason (Lewis Cine’s grisly lower-leg fracture). In four games with the Vikes, Reagor has played a combined 14 snaps on offense, catching two of four targets for nine yards.

– Originally listed as questionable due to a knee injury, Vikings outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith wound up playing 24, or 40%, of the defensive snaps. Smith had just one tackle but recorded his third sack this season, rounding the corner and working the pocket to bring Andy Dalton down for a loss of four yards on a third-and-short in the first quarter, effectively ending the second drive of the game for New Orleans.

– Camryn Bynum and Patrick Peterson are the frontrunners through four weeks to win Minnesota’s defensive Iron Man award. The second-year safety and veteran cornerback are the only defenders on the roster to play all 272 snaps this season. Pro Football Focus gives Bynum a 59.7 defensive grade thus far, ranking 47th out of 81 safeties. Meanwhile, Peterson has a 55.5 grade, the No. 40 mark among 102 CBs.

– Third-year linebacker Troy Dye took his first defensive snaps of the year Sunday when Eric Kendricks exited the game early in the second quarter after a collision with Saints battering ram Taysom Hill. Dye was on the field for five plays and assisted on a tackle while Vikings medical staff double-checked that Kendricks’ nose was OK. Interestingly, Dye was the next man up over third-round rookie Brian Asamoah, who still awaits his first taste of defensive action in the NFL. Dye appeared on D in three games in 2021.

– After a valiant performance in Harrison Smith’s stead vs. Detroit, former sixth-round safety Josh Metellus was relegated to his usual special-teams role Sunday against New Orleans. Metellus played just four defensive snaps, third fewest among Vikings defenders, and finished with one total tackle.

Offense
PLAYER PLAYS (72) %
O'Neill 72 100%
Darrisaw 72 100%
Ingram 72 100%
Cleveland 72 100%
Bradbury 72 100%
Cousins 72 100%
Thielen 70 97%
Jefferson 68 94%
Osborn 61 85%
Smith 46 64%
Cook 45 62%
Mattison 27 38%
Mundt 20 28%
Ellefson 10 14%
Ham 9 12%
Reagor 3 4%
Nailor 1 1%
Defense
PLAYER PLAYS (60) %
Bynum 60 100%
Peterson 60 100%
H. Smith 58 97%
Kendricks 55 92%
Dantzler 54 90%
Hicks 53 88%
Hunter 51 85%
Sullivan 45 75%
Tomlinson 44 73%
Wonnum 42 70%
Phillips 40 67%
Z. Smith 24 40%
Bullard 17 28%
Lynch 16 27%
Jones 13 22%
Blacklock 11 18%
Dye 5 8%
Evans 5 8%
Metellus 4 7%
Boyd 2 3%
Cine 1 2%

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