Some things have gone right for the Minnesota Vikings in their 2023 campaign but certainly not the record. 0-2 is no longer a death sentence to a season with the 17th game added and the extra playoff spot. Coming off a 13-4 season, expectations within the fanbase were high, but self-inflicted wounds have hurt the organization in their season start.
One Viking’s Season Has Been Remarkable
Among the things that have gone right is undoubtedly the passing attack. Kirk Cousins is firing from all cylinders, and the Thursday night game was undoubtedly one of his best-ever performances, although it resulted in a loss. His connection with wideouts Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison is perhaps the biggest reason for optimism for Vikings fans.
Part of that passing attack is the offensive line. The unit received harsh criticism for their play, and some of that is surely fair. However, one player has been lights out in the two games against a couple of strong defensive units. Right tackle Brian O’Neill has been nothing short of spectacular in the two contests.
The remarkable aspect is that O’Neill was recovering from a partially torn Achilles tendon all offseason. He suffered the injury in January’s game against the Green Bay Packers when he tried to chase down a defender on an interception return. The injury obviously ended his season, and he couldn’t participate in team drills for most of training camp but returned in mid-to-late August when the team slowly ramped up his workload.
Minnesota’s training staff took a cautious approach and formed a plan before camp opened, and they strictly stuck to it, no matter how much O’Neill wanted to participate in team drills or scrimmages. And it paid off big time.
The right tackle was ready for Week 1 and has played every snap in the two games. Prior to the Sunday games in Week 2, O’Neill was the highest-graded offensive tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He has allowed only one QB pressure in the two games combined. Despite the unit’s struggles to open holes for the rushers, the former Pittsburgh tackle has been the second-best graded tackle in the running game.
Of course, the sample size is still small, but his comeback was a total success, and he is the usual steady and always excellent tackle he has been for years. The Vikings rewarded his consistently decent play with a five-year $92.5 million contract extension in 2021.
O’Neill went to his only Pro Bowl after the conclusion of the 2021 season, but he has been consistent throughout his career and arguably deserved more than just one trip to the all-star event. He just turned 28, so he should have some more years left in the tank. The right tackle forms an elite tackle duo with Christian Darrisaw. Having them block up front is a dream for every quarterback, and Cousins is certainly happy to have the staple back in the lineup.
Oli Udoh stepped in for him after he went down last season and worked with the first-team offense in camp. He suffered a quad injury against the Eagles when he filled in for Christian Darrisaw and is out for the season. A big blow for the player but also the depth of the line.
O’Neill has been great, but the running game has not. The Vikings gained an embarrassing 69 rushing yards through two games, an unacceptable number, no matter the opponents or if the team was trailing and had to pass. That should be a big focus in the upcoming weeks for the offensive line.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt