MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Joshua Dobbs’ arrival and sudden emergence as the Vikings quarterback helped save Minnesota’s season.
After a turnover-filled performance in Monday’s 12-10 loss to Chicago, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell will evaluate if Dobbs will be the starter coming out of the team’s upcoming bye week.
O’Connell said he considered pulling Dobbs from Monday’s game and inserting backup Nick Mullens for a spark. With a week to consider his options, O’Connell will weigh whether Dobbs, Mullens or rookie Jaren Hall will start at Las Vegas when the team plays on Dec. 10.
“When you’re looking at our skill group overall, I think the quarterback position needs to be evaluated to just figure out what we think gives us the best chance to win both in the individual skill sets of all three of those guys and take a look at that from the standpoint of what’s the best fit right now for our team,” O’Connell said Tuesday.
O’Connell’s consideration includes maximizing the return of All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson, who was activated from injured reserve on Tuesday after missing seven games with a strained hamstring.
Minnesota had just lost franchise quarterback Kirk Cousins for the season to an Achilles tendon tear when it traded for Dobbs from Arizona before the deadline. Hall started the next game but left early with a concussion, leading to Dobbs getting his chance and surprising many with clutch throws and timely runs.
The Vikings beat Atlanta on the road as Dobbs came off the bench for three combined touchdowns, and then he threw for a touchdown and ran for another score in a win against New Orleans. He had two turnovers in a loss at Denver before throwing four interceptions on Monday night.
“I’m frustrated with myself because it starts with me, as I said,” Dobbs said after the game. “I’ll be better from it. I’ll learn from every single one of them tonight and we’ll use it to build momentum into the next opportunity.”
But O’Connell now has options and time to consider them.
Hall, a fifth-round draft pick out of BYU, has returned to practice. Mullens, who has been Cousins’ backup the past two seasons, was activated from injured reserve after recovering from a back injury and has served as Dobbs’ backup the past two games.
“You’re going to have to find some of those chunks in the passing game, but you got to be able to do it without the risk of feeling like you’re going to turn the football over,” O’Connell said. “I think that’s what we’re going to have to look at.”
Minnesota sacked Justin Fields three times on Monday and now ranks 11th in the NFL in sacks with 32 this season. Danielle Hunter and his league-leading 13 1/2 sacks have played a big role, but D.J. Wonnum’s emergence as Hunter’s counterpart has been just as important.
Wonnum, in his fourth season, has six sacks this season and has been a vital piece of Brian Flores’ attacking defense.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
With a league-high 24 turnovers and a punting game that hasn’t pinned opponents deep, the Vikings have been at a disadvantage in field position this season. Minnesota opponents are starting at an average of the 30.8-yard line this season, fifth worst in the NFL.
Punter Ryan Wright, who was one of the league’s best in pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line last season, is 30th in that regard this season and his net punting average is 22nd. Wright’s 26-yard punt that went out of bounds at the 22-yard line helped set up Chicago’s game-winning drive on Monday.
The three-safety look has been a staple for Minnesota this season and Josh Metellus has been an impact player while becoming an every-snap player for the first time in his career. Metellus had nine tackles, a half sack and two forced fumbles on Monday night.
When Jefferson went down in Week 5, rookie Jordan Addison stepped forward as a playmaker for the Vikings’ offense. Opponents have noticed and have started to take away Addison.
Addison has nine combined catches for just 83 yards in the past two games and hasn’t scored in four games. He caught just six of 10 targets on Monday night for 39 yards and had a Dobbs pass go off his hands for an interception.
Jefferson will make his return when the team returns from the bye. He missed seven games, the first of his four-year career, with the hamstring injury.
Starting cornerback Akayleb Evans returned to full practice on Friday, but was held out of his second straight game with a calf injury.
8: As in minus-8; Minnesota’s turnover differential this season. It’s the worst turnover differential for the team since 2013 when it was minus-12.
A bye perhaps comes at a needed time for the Vikings. O’Connell and the staff will have time to evaluate the quarterback position. Jefferson, Evans and T.J. Hockenson, who has been playing through a rib injury, will have time to return to health.
Minnesota has lost two in a row and is 6-6 as it waits a week to travel to Las Vegas to face the Raiders. The Vikings currently hold a wild-card spot in NFC. But the closing stretch includes three road games and three division games, including two against NFC North-leading Detroit, to end the season.
TOP PHOTO: FILE – Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs (15) runs for a touchdown in front of New Orleans Saints cornerback Alontae Taylor (1) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)