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Is the Vikings' early season record indicative of significant improvement?

Vikings' Lewis Cine fractures leg, needs surgery
Vikings' Lewis Cine fractures leg, needs surgery 00:38

MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings have won three of four to begin the season. Last year through the first month, they had only one win in the first four.

It is the first time since 2016 that Minnesota has been three and one.

But should the early success be deemed as a sign of measurable improvement?

Fans point to Mike Zimmer's departure and Kevin O'Connell's arrival as a turning point, as the record through four weeks a season ago is the opposite of this year's.  

But is that a fair assessment through just four games?

Minnesota's point differential is plus six. They were plus two at this point in 2021.

A slight and misleading improvement.

The Vikings had every chance to be three and one last year, too.

Running back Dalvin Cook fumbled in overtime when Minnesota was nearing field goal range at Cincinnati in week one. The fumble resulted in a Bengals field goal to win it.

Vikings' kicker Greg Joseph missed a 37-yard field goal that would have won the ballgame at Arizona in week two.

Now, to this year.

Joseph's 47-yard make late in the fourth quarter in London - and the double doink for the Saints as time expired - was the difference in week four. In week three, Lions' coach Dan Campbell's precarious decision to attempt a 56-yard field goal instead of going for the win on 4th and short – or pinning the Vikings deep in their territory – might have saved the Vikings from a loss.

To have a successful season in the NFL, winning close games is a must.

Viking fans use the old cliché that "good teams find a way to win ballgames."

Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Wil Lutz #3 of the New Orleans Saints kicks a 60 yard field goal in the fourth quarter during the NFL match between Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on October 02, 2022 in London, England. Justin Setterfield / Getty Images

We will see if that holds because it is much too early to tell if this is a significantly improved team.

It would also be unfair to rule it out, but there are some alarming statistics hiding in the three and one sunlight.

Minnesota has been outscored 80-69 since the second half of week one.

The Vikings' defense – a bad unit a season ago – has not shown signs of notable improvement.

A few glaring statistics early on in 2022: Opponents are catching 75% of their targeted passes, the second highest rate across the league. Of those, 71% have come by receivers with 3 yards or more of separation at the time of the throw. That is the fourth-highest total in the league, per ESPN.

Ed Donatell's defensive scheme is a new look for Minnesota; assuredly, the scheme is not as aggressive as the Zimmer teams of yesteryear. However, Donatell would be the first to tell you those numbers aren't good.

Will quarterback Kirk Cousins' play improve under O'Connell? To be determined.

His performance through four weeks has not improved upon last season.

O'Connell and Vikings fans hoped the new coach could propel Cousins to a higher level of play. Again, it would be a mistake to issue an ultimatum, but the numbers do not suggest Cousins is taking a step up in class under O'Connell's lead.

It would be unfair to say he will not, but the numbers through the first month are much of the same.

Cousins' total quarterback rating at 46.1 is 20th in the league. His passer rating is 84.1, lower than he averaged from 2019-2021 at 105.0. Lastly, the Vikings are averaging 1.95 points per drive, compared to 2.03 in 2021, all courtesy of TheAthletic.

The Vikings will take wins in any form. 

By the same token, there isn't much on the field evidence to show that this team has significantly improved from last season.

So far, don't let the record speak for itself.

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