EAGAN, Minn. — On paper, the early part of the Vikings 2022 schedule seemed daunting.
Minnesota faced all three of its division opponents at home and road matchups in a hostile environment, another country and an extremely hot and humid climate.
Offensively, the Vikings have battled through, rallying from fourth-quarter deficits in Weeks 3-5 to help fuel the team's current four-game win streak.
While Minnesota has earned a 5-1 record through the first six weeks and a two-game lead in the NFC North Division, the Vikings still seek consistency on offense.
Minnesota has averaged 23.2 points per game so far this season, which ranks 14th in the NFL. The Vikings are also 19th in total yards per game (339.8).
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said he's proud of what his team's been able to accomplish so far, but he knows there is more that can be improved.
"Very excited to be 5-1; our team has done a lot of things over these past six games to feel like we're in a really good place as a football team with a lot of room to continue to grow. [There's] a lot of exciting times ahead, and I think our guys are up for the challenges that will be ahead, adversity that we'll hit," O'Connell said Monday to Twin Cities reporters. "I know I can do a lot of things to help us, especially offensively. [It's] what I look forward to doing and [I'll be] spending some time this week really taking a look at what we've done and what we hope to do moving forward."
Here's a closer look at where Minnesota's offense has shined so far, and where it needs improvement going into the second half of the season.
2 offensive stats that explain why the Vikings are 5-1
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 14, 2023.
1. From worst to first in situational scenarios
Last season, the Vikings struggled in the final two minutes of each half. The ending result was Minnesota having 14 of its 17 games in 2021 decided by one score, including eight of its nine losses.
According to Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports, during the final two minutes of each half last season, the Vikings had a point differential of minus-73, the worst mark in the NFL.
This season has been a complete turnaround in that area so far. So much so that Minnesota ranks first in the NFL at a plus-33 mark through the first six games, according to Jones.
A big reason for that sudden flip has been the emphasis O'Connell has placed on the team by holding “situational masters” meetings each week.
"We put a huge emphasis on it from day one," O'Connell said last week. "Something we talk about every single week – different situations that not only come up for our football team but for everyone else around the league can be real learning opportunities for our team just so when those moments come up there is very little thinking that goes into it and more reacting and playing."
Offensively, those scenarios have paid off, with Minnesota scoring three touchdowns and four field goals in the final two minutes of halves this season.
The most recent example came on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. After an interception by safety Harrison Smith placed the Vikings at the Miami 41-yard line with 18 seconds left in the first half, Minnesota got down to the Dolphins 15-yard line thanks to a pass interference penalty and a 5-yard Dalvin Cook run.
O'Connell used his final timeout of the half with seven seconds left. Quarterback Kirk Cousins took one last look at the end zone, but safely threw the ball out-of-bounds after not finding an open target. With two seconds remaining, kicker Greg Joseph drilled a 34-yard field goal to give the Vikings a 10-3 lead going into halftime.
While not every situational play has been executed perfectly, the Vikings have been able to capitalize when they need to the most this season.
2. Justin Jefferson creating separation
With each game, Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson continues to set records.
After obtaining an NFL-record 3,016 receiving yards in his first two seasons, Jefferson has had a stellar start to his 2022 campaign.
In Week 1 against Green Bay, Jefferson posted a franchise-record 158 first-half yards before ending with a personal-best 184 on nine catches and two touchdowns.
Jefferson was then limited in Weeks 2 and 3, recording only nine catches for 62 yards combined. He's bounced back strong, though, hauling in at least six receptions for 100-plus yards (147 against New Orleans, 154 against Chicago and 107 against Miami) in the past three games.
Jefferson has 18 career games with at least 100 receiving yards, tying him with Jake Reed for fifth in team history. He's netted 654 receiving yards this season, the third-most in the NFL, and 46 receptions, which ranks fourth.
While that's certainly impressive, what's more astounding is Jefferson's ability to get open by defeating coverage or benefiting from schematic efforts.
Through six games, Jefferson has averaged 3.9 yards of separation according to NFL Next Gen Stats, tied for 12th in the league.
In Week 5 against the Bears, Jefferson created nearly five yards of separation, with a catch percentage of 92.3. He recorded 12 receptions, with nine of those being on open targets (3-plus yards of separation), which is tied for the second-most by a wide receiver in a game since 2016, according to Next Gen Stats.
Jefferson credited his success over the past few weeks to O'Connell continuing to move the wide receiver around in the offensive scheme.
"I think K.O. has been doing a great job of just motioning me around, giving the defense different looks," Jefferson said. "I think it's very hard for people to key on where I'm at when I'm motioning around before the play."
Simply put, as long as Jefferson gets open, the more success the Vikings offense has.
2 stats that illustrate why the Vikings say they have room to improve
1. Third-quarter scoring
Minnesota's two highest-scoring quarters so far this season have come as a result of its success at the end of halves and the game. The Vikings have scored 61 points in second quarters and 51 points in fourth quarters.
The Vikings have scored 21 points in first quarters, leaving the thirds as their lowest-scoring quarters, and it's not even close.
Through six games, Minnesota has scored just six points in third quarters, ranking second-to-last in the NFL. Denver is last with five points in third quarters.
The Vikings points have come on a pair of field goals from Joseph. The first was a career-long 56-yarder against Green Bay on Minnesota's first third-quarter possession of the season. The other was a 24-yarder against New Orleans in London.
In total, the Vikings have run 60 plays in third quarters, but they have only recorded 177 yards. Minnesota's average time of possession in third quarters (7:02) ranks 28th in the NFL.
Minnesota's scoring woes in the third have also allowed opponents to score 33 points in the quarter, tied for 22nd in the NFL.
View action photos from the Week 4 Vikings-Saints game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Oct. 2.
2. Lack of converting third downs
The Vikings have seen their ups and downs when it comes to third downs this season.
Minnesota was slow out of the gates early, converting 15 of its 48 third downs through its first four games.
The Vikings were able to get back on track in Week 5 against Chicago, succeeding on 80 percent (12-of-15) of their third downs on the afternoon, including five on Minnesota's final drive that resulted in a 1-yard QB sneak by Cousins.
But Minnesota got bumped from its path on Sunday in Miami. The Vikings went three-and-out 10 times against the Dolphins and only converted two third downs on the afternoon.
Minnesota has converted 29 of its 75 third downs through six games (38.7 percent), which ranks 17th in the NFL.
"Third-down conversions are such a big part of why you win or why you lose," Cousins said after the victory against the Bears. "They get a big emphasis every week in your preparation. You spend basically a whole day on Thursday trying to lock that in. Again, it goes back to so many pieces have to work. The design needs to be good. It's got to be well protected. Guys have got to get open and separate versus their coverage, and we've got to find it and throw it, and you've got to have a mix of run and pass."
As the Vikings move forward, Jefferson said the offense hasn't reached its ceiling yet.
"We still haven't played our best ball yet, honestly," Jefferson said on Sunday. "There's so many more things that we need to fix. The plays are there, we just have to execute them. I feel like the game that we will play our best ball in is still yet to come."