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Monday Morning Mailbag: Vikings Defensive Dominance & Offensive Woes at Raiders

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Viva Las Vikings defense.

The group in its first season under Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores recorded Minnesota's first shutout victory since 2017 with a 3-0 showing Sunday in Week 14.

Whether it was getting a key pressure or sack early to halt the Raiders early momentum, forcing and recovering an absolutely critical fumble on the only trip to the red zone by Las Vegas or the interception with less than two minutes to go, the Vikings defense kept delivering on a day the offense struggled and the special teams rode a seesaw.

Most parts of the stat sheet are underwhelming, but the Vikings won the category that has been so important to winning games (turnover margin).

"We talked about it, we were going to win the turnover battle. It was a non-starter for us and maybe affected the way we did things at times, but to win the turnover battle just teaches you a lesson," O'Connell said. "It's not always going to be pretty, there's going to be a lot of things that are tough to deal with and execution that we've got to clean up. Certainly, we all can do better on offense, but if you win the turnover battle and your defense plays the way they did you've got a chance to win a football game in this league."

Being a faithful Viking fan from the age of 4 since 1968, seeing up and downs, watching this season is a mystery. First, we lost close games because of basic football rules: [not hanging] on to the ball. No one was immune — Cousins, Jefferson, Mattison and Hockenson — yet competitive, thanks to a vastly improved defense, but some were quick to criticize because they could not stop a drive. Another football rule: never give them the chance. Our defense gave us chances. Our play calling and execution and ball control did not dictate a victory. We still prefer nice-guy football and allow losses. Watching these past few games, offensive line's missed blocks, yet still a chance to throw, but thankfully we have a receiving corps that loves touching the ball but failing to secure the catch. Wonder with some of those drops as catches or a defender not in QB's face immediately off the snap would a QB need replacing? Tis getting near the season so after this fortunate weekend off the bye, however still injuries around, a gift from Green Bay a couple of weeks ago, and now Chicago this week we face a former QB. Hoping coaching works with a motivating factor and game plan (sometimes a quick passing game can open a running game (Greatest Show on Turf). Having faith that the Vikings believe in themselves to make the blocks, receiver to catch, a runner to run, players to hang on to the ball. Plays called to have convincing win, not afraid to keep playing the same style that builds leads not get away from them. Believe the Vikings team is still in the picture, believe they are good enough to compete, believe in the fans that they trust in the organization to put it all together now for the run. The talent is there. I believe in this defense. Just want the offense with same belief. Skol Viking Nation.

— Shawn Ederhoff

The pendulum swings in this season haven't reached Edgar Allan Poe status, but they've been quite wild.

Navigating an injury at the starting quarterback position and now multiple injuries to one of the most talented skill players in the league will prompt inconsistencies and inefficiencies.

I led with O'Connell's quote about ball security because that will be so important if Minnesota is able to offset mounting injuries on the offensive side of the ball. In addition to Justin Jefferson suffering a chest injury in his first game since suffering a hamstring injury in Week 5, the Vikings also lost right tackle Brian O'Neill and running back Alexander Mattison to ankle injuries on Sunday. The timelines for all three players are unknown.

The Vikings helped their own cause with another great performance by a defensive unit that has allowed one touchdown in three games and has gone the past two games without an opponent reaching the paint.

Four games remain, and Minnesota (7-6) currently holds the No. 6 seed in the NFC Playoffs. If the Vikings win out, they can win the NFC North, which will not be an easy task. Minnesota also still remains in control of getting a Wild Card spot. That's a testament to resiliency.

Hail to the defense. They played great. When was the last time the Vikings shut out a team? Just win Baby. We will take it.

Three starting offensive linemen were injured before or in this game. That is a hard mountain to climb. Continuity on your O-line is crucial to offensive success.

— Gerald Goblirsch

The Vikings and Raiders combined for the lowest-scoring NFL game since 2007 and the lowest-scoring indoor game in NFL history while recording their first shutout since a 16-0 win at Green Bay on Dec. 23, 2017, the week after Minnesota clinched the NFC North against Cincinnati.

Right guard Ed Ingram was announced as inactive after being added to the injury report Thursday with a hip injury. Ingram had played all 800 offensive snaps before the bye. Veteran backup Blake Brandel started in place of Ingram.

O'Neill also had played every offensive snap of the season before leaving the game on Minnesota's final offensive play of the first half. Veteran David Quessenberry, a sneaky good addition by the personnel department at the start of the season, relieved O'Neill. Left guard Dalton Risner also left the game Sunday but returned quickly after a few reps by Austin Schlottmann.

The only other active offensive lineman the Vikings had was veteran Chris Reed, who was active for the first time of 2023.

*Whew! All I can take from this game is, [Joshua] Dobbs didn't play that bad. Maybe receivers aren't used to throws that fast. Some were right in their hands, but yet didn't catch them. I still think [O'Connell] doesn't use Dobbs to his full potential. Wants him to adjust to his own play calls and system. In my humble opinion, GREAT coaches put in plays for their players that best uses their abilities and skills. I realize our offensive line is a mess right now, and it may only get worse, unless some come back healthy. If they don't, I believe with [Nick] Mullens as QB, it could only get worse. Thank heavens our defense has been awesome so many games lately. Oh well, a win is a win. But ugly as they come! *

— Jeff Wizner in Blackduck, Minnesota


**It seems like we make very little use of sprint out or moving pocket plays with [Dobbs] being a good runner. Why so?


— Best regards from Martin in Munich, Germany

Let's start with the stats, even though they seldom ever tell the whole story.

Dobbs was bottlenecked in the pocket again. He recorded five rushes for 21 yards with a long of 12. In the passing game, Dobbs finished 10-of-23 passing (multiple drops occurred) with 63 yards and a passer rating of 50.8. He also took all five sacks recorded by the Raiders, resulting in total losses of 47 yards.

Defenses can build their rush plans with an emphasis on making a quarterback stay in the pocket, so then it's up to the offense to have a counterpunch, perhaps with a combination of approaches suggested by Martin.

Mullens was 9-for-13 with 83 yards and a passer rating of 86.4. He was able to get the ball out with rhythm. O'Connell called a deep dropback pass with play-action on Mullens' first snap and it resulted in a 26-yard completion to T.J. Hockenson.

While Mullens does not pose the same threat as a runner that Dobbs does, he was able to convert multiple third downs, a result from his preparation and accumulated time on task within the system.

We'll continue to hear more from O'Connell this week on his evaluation of the game and how to best proceed going forward.

"I don't want to get into declaring anything for next week right now with the type of injuries and the way it's been on offense this season," O'Connell said. "We're a week-to-week offense at this point. We're going to find out who we're going to have available, figure out the best possible plan we can put together against a really good team at their place."

Do you think it is about time for [O'Connell] to throw away his offensive playbook? The most exciting games we played was when Dobbs came in and played backyard football. Now that Dobbs knows the playbook better, he seems to be working too hard to make a play. Plus, I think [O'Connell's] playbook is too complicated and takes too long for plays to develop, same problem [Kirk] Cousins had.

— Vikingjoe in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Time on task within a system is hard to substitute. Vikings coaches and players were intentional with trying to align Dobbs' skill set with that of the parts of O'Connell's system last week.

When it came time to implement that Sunday — against an impactful defense — it just didn't seem to click.

"There's probably plenty of guys in [the locker room] thinking back on a few plays that will tell you that they can make that play, when given the opportunity," O'Connell said. "And then just as the game went on, just a couple plays here and there that Josh would probably love to have back. I felt like they were going to make it tough for him to try to really get up and out and attack. He got us an early first down there with his legs, and then it kind of dried up from there."

Wasn't that a defenseless hit on Justin Jefferson? I think there should have been a flag on that hit!!?? What do you think? Also bad luck with all the other injuries as well. Ugly win, but they did it. Great defensive game.

— Derek in Western North Dakota

I initially asked your first question aloud to myself in the press box. After seeing the replay, I thought the hit by former Viking Marcus Epps was within the rules because he used his shoulder to make contact with Jefferson. The biggest problem on the play was the ball was high on a throw over the middle, which did not allow Jefferson to protect himself after securing the grab.

To his credit, Jefferson held on (like Sammy White did against the Raiders after a huge hit in Super Bowl XI) for an impressive catch. Unfortunately, he paid the price with the chest injury.

Another play, however, that I saw live and confirmed on replay could have been called a penalty.

Amik Robertson struck Jalen Nailor helmet-to-helmet to end a pass that gained 4 yards to the Las Vegas 42-yard line. Nailor was placed in concussion protocol after the hit. Minnesota was able to convert third-and-6 two plays later with a 20-yard completion to Jordan Addison on the way to the game's only points.

Easily the ugliest game offensively since last year against the Cowboys. Thank goodness we were playing against a rookie QB. Defense really stepped up! Huge defensive effort. Last week I said I thought Mullens gave us the best chance to win, and I basically spent the whole game waiting. Finally [O'Connell] makes the right call. Dobbs just can't read through progressions fast enough, and he holds the ball too long. Nick on the other hand gets it out quick. He seemed to find the open receiver faster. Or fast enough anyway. 7-6 after an ugly win, I'll take. Hopefully J.J. isn't hurt too bad and he'll be back next week. We'll need him.


— J.B. Brunet

It's highly likely that a good bit of the game plan was going to center on featuring Jefferson, who had three targets, two catches and 27 yards before leaving with 9:10 remaining in the first half.

Jefferson's ability to win matchups was just getting back off the ground at the time of his injury.

Mullens did a solid job under adverse circumstances.

How can any team possibly take a delay of game penalty after a timeout ... which was called after the other team called a timeout?

[O'Connell] has shown time and again to be terrible with his awareness and game management.

— Roman in Grand Forks

Roman's first question hinges on a unique series of events in the final 2:18 of the game.

On second-and-17, Mullens completed a 10-yard pass to Hockenson to set up a third-and-7 at the 19.

Las Vegas called a timeout (its second of the second half) to stop the clock with 2:13 remaining.

Minnesota then called a timeout (its first of the second half) and then took the delay of game penalty.

Guessing there was something that the Raiders were showing that Minnesota did not believe it had the best answer for coming out of the Las Vegas timeout, and then maybe that happened again.

There's quite a bit to manage within a game and tons of information to process in short amounts of time. If there's a belief that the play called would potentially lead to disastrous results (say a pressure forces a turnover or long penalty), then a less-worse outcome is a 5-yard delay of game penalty that doesn't move the team out of range for a field goal.

Ultimately, a run by Ty Chandler got back the penalty yardage and a little more to set up Greg Joseph's 36-yard field goal with 1:57 remaining.