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Vikings Win Streak Helped by Work to Become 'Situational Masters'

EAGAN, Minn. — One meeting each week at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center goes beyond Xs and Os.

Emphasis is placed on details — some hidden, some conspicuous — that swayed the previous week's games across the league.

The sessions are known as "situational masters" meetings. The audience is attentive, and the results have shown up during Minnesota's three-game win streak during late offensive drives and clutch defensive stops.

There are several building blocks that have aided the construction of the current streak, though.

The most recent was seen in the final minutes of Minnesota's game against Chicago on Sunday.

With the Vikings leading by a touchdown, Bears quarterback Justin Fields fired a pass to wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. The former Viking initially got past Dantzler with a stiff arm, but the cornerback kept up with the play and ripped the ball from Smith-Marsette.

Dantzler quickly ran 16 yards up the field. He could have easily made a move to get past Chicago wide receiver Darnell Mooney — the nearest Bears player after the turnover — and gain more yardage or possibly even score.

Instead, Dantzler slid to the U.S. Bank Stadium turf with 61 seconds left, ensuring that he hung onto the ball and sending the offense into victory formation to wrap a 29-22 win over the Bears.

The heads-up play by Dantzler is one of the many scenarios Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell is making sure his team is aware of each week.

O'Connell spent the past two seasons as the Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator alongside Head Coach Sean McVay. In his first year with Los Angeles, McVay emphasized numerous things, including the phrase situational masters.

McVay helped lead the Rams to an appearance in Super Bowl LIII in February 2019, with Los Angeles falling to New England 13-3.

Four years later, Cincinnati Head Coach Zac Taylor, an assistant wide receivers coach and then a quarterbacks coach for McVay from 2017-18, utilized situational masters during the Bengals run to Super Bowl LVI, where Taylor lost to McVay 23-20.

The phrase has become so much a part of the Rams, that the team's website uses it to entitle a video series.

Now, O'Connell is emphasizing the term for every phase of the game for the Vikings.

"We definitely wish we weren't getting so many reps at the situational masters side of things," O'Connell said Monday. "But we put a huge emphasis on it from day one. 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."

O'Connell credited Assistant Head Coach Mike Pettine and Pass Game Specialist/Game Management Coordinator Ryan Cordell for their leading of the weekly situational masters meetings.

"Everyone's in the room," cornerback Chandon Sullivan said. "It's not like [O'Connell is] just talking to the defense or the offense. We're all together, and we're all watching the same clips just across the league. It may be a situation where it's a last-play Hail Mary or a situation where a team needs to get down and spike the ball to kick a field goal. There's so many scenarios that can win or lose you a game. … You don't want to lose a game in those last seconds."

Sullivan added other situational master scenarios defensively include proper tackling techniques to keep an opponent in bounds and maintain a running clock or holding a team from gaining five yards to get into field-goal range.

Offensively, quarterback Kirk Cousins said Wednesday those situations put your instincts to the test when they arise.

Cousins brought up an example of opponents letting an offensive player score a touchdown with a one-point lead with a minute left to allow themselves to get the ball back.

"What you're coached to do normally, now because of a situation, it's the inverse," Cousins said. "So you have to be trained to know the situation, know that, 'Hey now we're in a different situation.' Dalvin [Cook], if you break through the line here, go down, do not score. You have to train that because it goes against your normal instincts."

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Dolphins.

Cousins noted there are some week's when Cordell "has too much material and he has to pare it down" because of how much happened in the previous week around the league.

"In coaching and in sports, you get what you emphasize. When you emphasize it enough over time, you expect to become a great football team situationally," Cousins added. "If you don't emphasize it, then now you're leaving it up to chance, and so I think that meeting is about, 'We believe what you get is what you emphasize, so let's emphasize it and expect to get it in the long run over and over.' "

Running back Alexander Mattison said the meetings further the goals of each team member and coach trying to "be the best that you can be."

"Being a master of that situational football is one of those things that is putting your team, putting everything on the line to be in the best position to win that game, Mattison said. "This game is a game of inches, so if we can make sure [we are] locked in to the situations … then we give ourselves an advantage."