EAGAN, Minn. – Jaren Hall spent this week preparing to start at quarterback for the Vikings in Atlanta.
Head Coach Kevin O'Connell noted Friday the fifth-round rookie is pouring everything he has into preparation and is ready to go.
"We're right there with him. [We] feel the team understands the importance of gravitating towards him, building him up," O'Connell said. "[We had] pretty lively practices. He made some really, really nice throws throughout the field, down in the red zone, and the guys were pretty fired up for him."
Hall will take the field Sunday against the Falcons and a defense led by first-year Defensive Coordinator Ryan Nielsen, whom O'Connell is familiar with. Under Nielsen, the Falcons defense is known for deploying a variety of coverages. O'Connell said the coaching staff is preparing Hall for everything but telling him to rely on his fundamentals each snap and to run when advantageous.
In three preseason games, Hall rushed eight times for 35 yards and a long run of 10 yards. He also completed 54.2 percent of passes on 56 drop-backs. O'Connell added that quarterback Joshua Dobbs will back up Hall. Minnesota traded for Dobbs on Tuesday, and he practiced for the first time Wednesday.
"I think [Hall] feels like the group's confident [in him]," O'Connell said. "His job, he knows, is just to go and continue his preparation the rest of today and tomorrow. And by the time we hit the field, he can go play fast with a quieted mind. [I'm] looking forward to seeing him play."
Matchup to Watch
Alexander Mattison (and) Cam Akers vs. Falcons Front
Collectively, running backs Alexander Mattison and Cam Akers could help alleviate some pressure off Hall by effectively rushing the ball.
Hall takes over for a Vikings offense that has attempted the most throws (315) and generated the second-most passing yards (2,354) and touchdowns (18) through eight games.
All those throws have contributed to a below-average running game over the past few weeks. Currently, the Vikings rank 27th in attempts and 28th in rushing yardage. Minnesota is tied for last in rushing touchdowns, notching its first rushing score last week via a 6-yard Cam Akers run.
But the Vikings offense can use this opportunity to re-establish its running game, which was effective earlier this season. Through Weeks 1 to 4, the Vikings ranked 10th in yards per rushing attempt (4.6).
However, the Falcons are a stout and re-made defense. Defensive linemen David Onyemata, Calais Campbell and Bud Dupree anchor a Falcons unit that ranks sixth in yards allowed. Atlanta lost star defensive tackle Grady Jarrett to an ACL injury last week at Tennessee. But the team traded for defensive tackle Kentavius Street, who is a fifth-year veteran and has appeared in eight games and recorded four tackles.
Atlanta is one of the better rush defenses in the league. According to Next Gen Stats, Falcons opponents have gained a first down on a league-low 18 percent of rush attempts this season. Atlanta has allowed just one rushing touchdown this year.
But O'Connell is finding creative ways to utilize Mattison and Akers. For example, in Week 7 against the 49ers, Akers caught a 30-yard screen pass, which O'Connell called directly into an oncoming San Francisco blitz. Two plays later, Kirk Cousins just missed receiver Jordan Addison in the back left end zone before Greg Joseph netted a 21-yard field goal.
Minnesota can keep creating extensions of the run game through screens and jet sweeps as well. Addison turned a line-of-scrimmage screen into a 20-yard gain early in the second quarter against Green Bay. And Brandon Powell converted a first-quarter third-and-one on a jet sweep around the left end.
Six Points: Memorable Week 9 Quotes
S Camryn Bynum on 'moving forward' without Kirk Cousins:
"With somebody like Kirk, even with the adversity he's facing now, he's probably still going to be in here, still going to be at the game as soon as he's able to be cleared by the doctors to stand up and be on the sideline, I guarantee we're going to seek Kirk. I wouldn't doubt if he has his helmet on on the sideline with his boot on. Somebody like him is going to give us some more energy and really inspire us to do better because that's exactly the teammate he was before the injury, and I know nothing is going to change out of him. We're all excited. Like I said, it hurts, and we feel for him and are all praying for him, but at the end of the day, we still have to continue to push and win these games because you never know. Anybody can go out and do their thing and carry the season on. Everybody is capable in this locker room."
QB Joshua Dobbs on joining the Vikings from Arizona via trade:
"It's always unique when it happens, especially in the middle of the year. Just uprooting and moving across the country – especially twice in the past four months. But sometimes it's just part of your journey, and I'm excited to be here. Excited to get to know everyone, get the offense under my belt as quickly as possible and help this team win however I can."
General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah on whether the team traded for Dobbs to eventually start or as an 'insurance policy':
"That position, and honestly like any position, you try and upgrade the talent in the room. So, liked what he had in terms of what I've seen from him on film. We also really like Jaren Hall; we like Nick Mullens. This is not to say anything about our quarterback room. Just with Nick coming back from his injury, there's a little uncertainty there, so I don't to say 'insurance' and then he ends up playing and, 'Well, Kwesi didn't know.' You always try to upgrade the talent in the room with whatever chance and opportunity to do so."
QB Jaren Hall on calm demeanor ahead of first NFL start:
"I think I'm a very chill individual. But when it comes to the game of football and just being prepared, I think it's taking it little by little. You know, I've said it before – just relying on my coaches and my teammates. It's all about them, and they have a great plan for us every day. Again, just little by little. Take the small things until you build up to game day, and I think that's where confidence and the calmness comes from."
Head Coach Kevin O'Connell on whether Dobbs will be "ready to go" as backup for Sunday's game:
"I think the goal as of right now is to get him to a place where the game plan that we'll have for our offense is one thing, and then with where he is at by the end of the week, using every moment, every minute we have to get him prepared. He doesn't need to have the whole call sheet, the whole plan, he just needs to have his plan if he were to go into the football game. Having done some of this stuff before with some guys, I think that is very much possible. We always have Sean Mannion who is as prepared as a quarterback I have been around. This guy is going to be an unbelievable coach one day. It is because of his preparation and being ready when called upon, so if we had to go that route, I would have a ton of confidence is Sean to be up and available. But, as of right now, I would really like to get Josh ready, and what that looks like will be determined by how the week goes."
S Josh Metellus on Minnesota's defense having fun and finding success:
"I think we're doing pretty good. Obviously you come out of the week wanting to do things better, and I think there's a lot we can do better. We could just keep going. We've got a good thing going, but if we just fix little things, we can be even better. That's the great part about it. I think also having a lot of fun. This is the most fun defense I've ever played in — not just the scheme but just the group of guys we have, going out there is just fun. You've got a guy you trust and have built a certain relationship with and are out there just playing football. That's one of our strengths, and we've just got to keep building."
Danielle Hunter has recorded at least one sack in seven of eight games this season, boosting his career total to 81 sacks, matching the number of games he's started (he's played in 119). Hunter passed Everson Griffen for seventh in franchise history last week (rankings include Vikings Legends who played before sacks becoming an official stat in 1982). He has already recorded his fifth season with 10 or more sacks and needs 4.5 to tie Jared Allen for sixth in team history.
Sorry for the delay to this section. We've had some pressing deadlines, and I was on assignment Friday. Trying to speed through a bunch of comments. Appreciate everyone. — Craig
I think it is time the media just shuts up about all these other defensive players that are "dominant." Danielle Hunter is the best pass rusher/defensive player in the league and has been for the bulk of his career. His absence from the defensive lineup while he was injured was the biggest issue on the whole team. While I understand the front office is committed to being careful about how they spend their money, they need to pay this guy whatever it takes for him to retire a Viking. He is just that good.
— Gary Lipsey in Orlando, Florida
I've appreciated Danielle tremendously for years. After his promising rookie campaign, I was on the VEN crew that went to Texas and combined content captures of him and Adrian Peterson working out together. Seeing his offseason workout and hearing other things about the way he brought such a learner's mentality to soak up everything he could in the classroom were encouraging — and his approach and execution have yielded impressive results.
There was probably some curiosity as to how well he'd fare in a new defense, but eight games is a large enough sample size to show his effectiveness in this system. He remains a great teammate.
Shameless promotion: We will have an in-depth feature on Hunter scheduled for next week as our cover story of the Playbook for the Saints game.
Not giving up on this year but…
Kwesi, please sign Kirk. What more can you want? Odds are against an improvement.
Kirk, please give the Vikings a reasonable deal so you can have a cast around you and go get a Super Bowl!
— Mark (50 years + Vikings fan)
In the same sense of what we've seen a good sample size of Hunter in Flores' system, we've also seen what half of a second year in O'Connell's system looked like for Cousins.
Top notch quarterbacking that was continuing to ascend, and I personally think would have continued past "Kirktober."
Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell both were highly complimentary of Cousins' play this week, but if you are wanting a resolution before this season ends, then I'd have a distraction at the ready.
Both parties must focus their attention on other matters between now and the end of the season, but it's great that Cousins will be around the club as much as possible for a few reasons. Relationships can continue to be strengthened; the Vikings will provide support and encouragement; and Kirk will be able to offer a wealth of experience and guidance to teammates.
It was a great October for Kirk. It seems to me that he has had other great Octobers. What is his overall record in October as a Viking?
— Craig in Boston, Massachusetts
You are spot on. Kirk is 18-6 as a starter with the Vikings in October games since 2018. That's the most wins by any starting QB in that time span (one ahead of Patrick Mahomes).
His stats have included a completion percentage of 70.4 (third among QBs who have started at least eight games), 3.1 passing touchdowns to interceptions and a passer rating of 103.3 (fourth among QBs who have started at least eight games).
At my Women's Bible Study group we all put in prayer requests. Mine was for Kirk Cousins. All of the ladies at Bible Study said, 'Yes, we will all pray for Kirk! Prayers are powerful, and all of us will pray for Kirk!
— Jennifer Ehrhart
I feel comfortable enough to speak for Kirk and say I'm sure he and his family appreciate this so much.
I cried for him because the season he was having and what could been for him and team and fans. He was having the best ever. I have so much respect for you.
We had just recorded a Dad Mode episode featuring Kirk's family with a special hosting assistance from C.J. Ham, so Kirk's family was pretty early in my thoughts after seeing the injury.
It was awesome to see them attend a trick-or-treat event at TCO Performance Center this week. I'm sure the kids will appreciate as they get older that their mom and dad made sure they could still attend the festivities, despite many things being more difficult logistically.
I wasn't planning on writing to MMM this week, but this doom and gloom talk has got to stop. I refuse to buy into the media's narrative of the Vikings season being over. It made me sick reading about all the QBs that the team could go after. Talk about your junk yard. I think Josh Dobbs is a good get under the circumstances. Now with JD and JH, teams will have to start planning for a mobile QB. Maybe [O'Connell] will draw up some run/pass options to help the running game. I think it will add a whole new dimension to the offense. Losing Kirk is a huge gut punch but after the initial shock to the team, I think the players will rally around whoever is behind the center. It's going to suck winning the Super Bowl without Kirk. Stay positive.
— Al in Denmark, Wisconsin
It definitely was a gut punch, to be honest, but this team already has handled other adversity. Many were expecting the 0-3/1-4 start to snowball, but the Vikings rallied to 4-4.
There's many ways to win football games, and I'm curiously optimistic to see what Hall and the team do with Sunday's opportunity. I thought Jaren really took some nice steps in the preseason in adjusting to a different offensive system than the one he played in at BYU.
One game at a time.
Well, it would seem that the Vikes did the best they could [before Tuesday's trade deadline]. By sending Erza [Cleveland] to the Jags for a sixth-round pick and then getting a solid QB in Dobbs and a conditional seventh in exchange for a sixth, we've in effect moved draft picks and helped our team. KUDOS to Adofo-Mensah for orchestrating this deal. We know what Dalton Risner brings to the table, and I'm excited to see Dobbs in purple when and if he's needed. Plus, we already have [Nick] Mullens. Feeling better about the loss of Captain Kirk. The future is now.
— Nicholas Balkou
I think this was another example of Adofo-Mensah, his staff and the football staff working together in a short timeframe to accomplish sensible objectives based on realities of situations. Risner's play, plus the team's view of Blake Brandel and the progress Chris Reed is making from his non-football injury enabled the Vikings to part with Cleveland and yield a return that offset the cost of acquiring Dobbs.
Do I dare say this is as snakebitten as we have been this season? JOSH METELLUS for the PRO BOWL!
— David Winger
Metellus has been impressive in taking on such a varied and impactful role in Minnesota's defense. Maybe others will take notice as well, although the fact that he does line up at different spots on defense might impact him on the ballot. Or, it could help him when it comes time for teams and coaches to cast their votes.