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Monday Morning Mailbag: Justin Jefferson's Return, Vikings Approach at Quarterback

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The Vikings are back from their Week 13 bye, and plenty discussions this week will center around the return of Justin Jefferson after the receiver missed seven full games because of a hamstring injury.

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, the medical team and receiver have exercised patience and the long play with the reigning Offensive Player of the Year, who is expected to provide help to an offense that struggled on its way into the bye week.

The bigger question encircling the Vikings is what O'Connell will opt to do at quarterback.

Judging by the inbox, everyone is well-aware of the team's status, but here is a brief recap.

Veteran backup Nick Mullens has returned from Injured Reserve, but he hasn't played since the preseason and played sparingly in 2022 after Minnesota traded to acquire him from Las Vegas (after facing him there in that preseason).

Rookie Jaren Hall is back from the concussion he suffered at Atlanta in Week 9. With Mullens on IR at that point, Hall made his first career start a week after Kirk Cousins his season-ending Achilles injury at Green Bay in Week 8.

Two days after the injury to Cousins, the Vikings acquired Joshua Dobbs from Arizona, and Dobbs was pressed into action after Hall was injured on the second possession. Dobbs led the Vikings to an improbable win over his hometown Falcons and followed with one of the best halves the Vikings have played in recent years (led New Orleans 24-3 at halftime in Week 10).

That, however, has been followed by a stretch of 33 points in the past 10 quarters, including the past two games started by Dobbs.

Complicating things has been a continued propensity by the Vikings to give the ball away. Seven turnovers in the past eight quarters have worsened the tally to 24 giveaways on the season, an average of two per game.

If that pace holds true, it will be the 11th time a Vikings squad has averaged two or more turnovers per game since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Five of the previous Minnesota squads (8-7-1 in 1978, 11-5 in 1992, 10-6 in 1994, 9-7 in 1996, 10-6 in 1999) posted winning records. The other five each maxed out at five or six wins (2001, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2013).

Regardless of who is in the game, the Vikings really could start helping themselves by protecting the football better.

I can only hope Jaren Hall gets the next start. Dobbs has absolutely no velocity on his ball, has no sense of ball security, and makes some really dumb decisions in his choices of where to throw the football.

Jaren Hall had one game and learned ball security and is just flat out a better QB in all areas. I can't watch Dobbs bumble, fumble, and stumble around anymore. He may be smart enough to launch a rocket, but I just don't think he will be able to successfully lead our team to the playoffs.

Let's see if Jaren Hall can be our QB of the future. It's too obvious Dobbs is not! If O'Connell goes with Dobbs, I will have lost all faith in him.

— Lloyd in Alaska (Viking fan since 1961, the beginning)

When the Vikings acquired Dobbs, I asked someone I appreciate the opinions of (who also happened to watch a lot of Tennessee Volunteers football) about him. First word said was "beloved." It was quickly followed by, I'm paraphrasing this part, even when he made mistakes.

We've all seen some endearing qualities as Dobbs quickly connected with coaches and teammates, as well as his charisma and approachability that have been conveyed through his media sessions.

We've seen him dazzle with spontaneous play-making ability, but we've also witnessed turnovers on an underthrown pass and a couple of deflections, as well as two fumbles at Denver (although one occurred on an illegal hit). I actually think one of the interceptions — the one that hit off Jordan Addison's hands — had a little too much mustard on it.

It was a small sample size, but Hall seemed to have an incredibly clean operation on Minnesota's first two possessions at Atlanta (showing nice growth since the preseason opener at Seattle). He showed good vision and accuracy with the football, even when throwing off-platform.

I wrote in a previous edition that I think his play would have positioned the Vikings to win against the Falcons.

I also think the case of Dobbs is still to be determined. It's incredibly difficult for a QB to come in midseason in a different offensive system the rest of the team has been learning and executing for months.

Let Dobbs be the runner he is. Don't keep him in the pocket. He is not a pocket quarterback. He would have done better if you let him be himself. Try it, and you will see!!! Also need to get people who will be strong offensive players to give the QB some time to throw.

— Lucille S.

Based on three-plus games in Purple, Dobbs has been most effective outside of the pocket. It seemed Chicago made it a point to bottleneck him, but the Bears didn't seem to sacrifice much/have to invest too many resources to do so.

He looked crisp in the 2-minute drill before the intentional grounding penalty on a play at the Chicago 13-yard line sideswiped the drive with under a minute to go in the first half. It seemed like Dobbs could have taken a checkdown to Alexander Mattison for a modest gain that would have allowed Mattison to get the ball out of bounds to stop the clock, but he held it, and despite Minnesota using extra players to block, the Bears got home with just four defenders on a six-man blocking scheme (seven if Mattison is included before releasing on his route).

There seemed to be a good bit of vocality throughout the game at the line of scrimmage in that game with "canning" the first play that was called and switching to the second.

Lots of comments on the game. One I think we need to consider is that the timing between Dobbs and the receivers is not there yet. Some teams spend their offseason working on it. We have had a couple weeks. Growing pains.

— Gerald Goblirsch

That's definitely a fair point worth keeping in mind. O'Connell spoke extensively last week about the rhythm and timing of the offensive system being off.

Bottom line is no matter who is in at quarterback the rest of the season, it's highly unlikely that anyone will have the rhythm and timing that Cousins was showing while playing as good as (better than many in the NFL) at the position this season.

Bye weeks usually afford teams a self-scouting opportunity, so it will be interesting to see how the Vikings try to prioritize the maximums of what any of the quarterbacks can do with respect to what O'Connell and coaches believe are the best options within the system.

Clearly the shine has worn off Mr. Dobbs. And all the reasons he's been on many teams and came to us with a 1-7 record from Arizona, have shown their ugly head. For a cerebral guy, he can't seem to read defenses quickly enough. And he forgets his legs, too. I think going forward Nick Mullens is the guy. And if Nick can't get it done, on to Jaren. Anything to win out. Staring at 6-6 when we EASILY should be 8-4 is tough to swallow. Especially during the bye. I hope we come out strong and don't look flat. If the defense can keep us in games, we shouldn't need too many points out of the offense. Five very winnable games ahead. Even the Lions in Detroit are vulnerable. We can win out!


— JB Brunet

Dobbs led the Cardinals to an upset over the Cowboys in Week 3, and Arizona's record on the season can't all fall on his shoulders.

What Mullens has lacked in on-field, in-game experience could be offset by his familiarity with the system and the attention to detail he's had in preparation for backing up Cousins the past two seasons.

The stinginess of Minnesota's defense should be an encouraging factor for the entire Vikings squad.

Will Jared "Sweet 16" Hall start next time Minny plays? I really like to see what he has to offer as a player on the field!

Thank you in advance!

— Corey Alexander in Richmond, Virginia

Guess we'll have to wait and find out this week regarding O'Connell's plan.

The Vikings are scheduled to have open locker room at 1 p.m. and a practice at 2 p.m. today. Minnesota's coordinators are scheduled to speak to media members on Tuesday, and O'Connell likely will have sessions scheduled for Wednesday and Friday.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 7, 2024.

I'd like to start off by saying in no way, shape or form do think I know how to run an NFL team (although it sure would be fun!). That being said, with all the talk regarding the QB position, I think it would be in the Vikings best interests to see what Jaren Hall has to offer. As much as I love Kirk Cousins and think Josh Dobbs has been doing an unbelievable job with limited time, the cost of paying them might not be ideal. Looking at what might happen next season at the position, they obviously like a lot of what they see from him, and if he's a viable starter would be perfect to allow some money go to keeping [Danielle] Hunter and adding to the defense, as well as using draft picks on other needs.


— Steven in Muskogee, Oklahoma


Just a short comment. I believe it's time to give the reins back to Hall. He knows OUR offense and is an accurate passer. Josh is a good backup/change for the rest of the season if needed.

— Tony Tracy in Kettle River, Minnesota

Combining these sentiments from Steven and Tony.

I can understand the line of thinking that wants to see what Hall has to offer in games, but I also think there's a decent projection that coaches can make from working with him for the past seven or so months.

That said, there's obviously no substitute for being able to assess a player within games.

The dialogue about what might happen at the position next year is going to continue long after this season ends, but the future could be greatly impacted by the next five games and if Minnesota makes the playoffs.

I think Dobbs is a good guy and has obvious athletic talent, but his four games have played out as expected given his history.

Against the Falcons, he was playing off sheer adrenaline against a defense that had prepared for someone else and had little idea what to expect. Add to that, [O'Connell] was truly the quarterback of that game as if by remote control. Dobbs looked like a franchise QB.

Against the Bears, he'd settled into himself again. Adrenaline was gone. The defense had studied him and knew exactly what he was going to do. Add to that, [O'Connell] was expecting him to play quarterback. Take a normal amount of input in the headset. Make his own decisions. And rightly so. It was [O'Connell] saying to him if he wants to be our starting QB, now's the time to show he can handle it. If a kid is going to learn to ride a bike, his dad can't continue to hold it upright. He looked like an emergency backup QB at best.

There was a smooth curve, virtually a straight line, through the Saints and Broncos connecting those two points. In the end, we gained two things from the experiment: two wins to keep our playoff hopes alive and the knowledge that we really need to do our QB research heading into the next draft.

I think it was a wise and necessary move by [O'Connell] for the long run. Unfortunately, it made for an ugly Monday night for fans.

— T. Ford

Love the phrasing here "as if by remote control." O'Connell did a great job of breaking down bits and pieces, and Dobbs did an excellent job of processing that information on the fly against the Falcons.

I don't think that's the first time a coach has guided a QB in that way, even in the NFL, but I do think the amount of success the duo enjoyed that day haven't been commonplace.

The two wins against Atlanta and New Orleans bought a little bit of breathing room, but that has now been sacrificed with back-to-back losses suffered in the final 63 seconds or less of the past two games.

It's kind of wild that the Vikings purposely kept three quarterbacks when they were reducing their roster to 53 and all three have been affected by injuries.

If Minnesota sticks with Dobbs, then they'll also have had time to do a deep assessment of the past four games to best position him for the final stretch of the season.

I've always been a very strong believer that success on offense starts with winning the line of scrimmage. Our O-line continues to be a liability, particularly the interior. The OL really struggled to begin the season but showed some improvement as the season progressed. Their performance against the Bears was an obvious regression. Dobbs rarely had a clean pocket, and our running backs rarely had open holes to run through. They were clearly dominated by Chicago's D-line. Considering how long this has gone on (it was the same last season) and the number of different players we've tried, one has to wonder if it's more of a coaching issue rather than a personnel issue. Either way, this needs to be addressed if we want genuine, long-term success. SKOL!

— Joe from Des Moines, Iowa

Chicago also added at the trade deadline when they added Montez Sweat through a trade with Washington. Sweat joined a long line of my fellow former Mississippi State Bulldogs to cause havoc in a game against the Vikings.

According to Next Gen Stats, he generated six pressures on 28 pass rushes. Four of those (and 1.5 sacks) were recorded on 21 matchups against right tackle Brian O'Neill.

That pressure rate of 19.0 percent by Sweat on O'Neill was significantly greater than the 7.4 percent rate O'Neill had allowed in Minnesota's first 11 games of the season.

Sweat seemed to elevate the rest of Chicago's front. NGS calculated a team pressure rate of 45.7 percent, the second-highest by the group in a game this season. Six of the 16 pressures Chicago recorded occurred in less than 2.5 seconds, and four of those six were against right guard Ed Ingram.

Ingram and O'Neill have played all 800 offensive snaps this season, so they probably stood to benefit from a week off. We'll see how they come back.

After some early injuries this season, the starting offensive line found a groove, but I'd venture to say they didn't love what they saw when reviewing Monday's game.

Attended the home opener against the Bucs and was thoroughly disappointed in the regression in Viking offensive unit. Defense was a definite early work in progress. Eleven weeks later, the defense has evolved into a unit that ranks in the top half of the league while playing with much of the same personnel as well as downgrades at some positions!

Conversely in that same time span, the offensive side of the ball looks disappointingly similar to Week 1. The ability to open running lanes is at best erratic, and for the most part is non-existent. Receivers are struggling to get separation in their routes individually, and getting multiple receivers open has been virtually impossible. Ball security and the ability to maintain possession of the football has regressed more with each consecutive game, whether it be players giving up a turnover, play calling or poor execution stalling a drive, resulting in a punt or turnover on downs.

Main point being, the defense is light years ahead of last season's performance in only half the year, while the offense has regressed in every phase of the game — save the offensive pass blocking. That improvement has been nullified by the huge regressions in every other aspect of offensive performance. It took a coaching and philosophy change to turn around the defense. What are the real reasons for the offensive decline?

Being a long-tenured fan, I've likely heard or read every football player/coach cliché statement made. One that comes to mind at this point of the season is "Everyone plays hurt; no one is 100% after Week 1." Yet, while a great many players prove that statement true, there is one case that it apparently does not apply in.

I fear that this case may be somewhat of a "big white elephant in the middle of the room" already and it could undermine the standards of accountability and consistency in football matters that have been groomed in this locker room. Just an observation. Trust building is a long, arduous procedure, and it's a fragile possession once obtained! The personnel decisions being made on defense need to be copied on the offensive side of the ball.

— Dale Kruse

I think some of this is in reference to Jefferson missing seven games after suffering a hamstring injury in Week 5 against Kansas City and what coaches and he have said about return timeline.

A hamstring injury can be one of the peskiest to timetable, and it's an important muscle for receivers, particularly when a player is as dynamic as Jefferson is.

It was a team and player approach, as mentioned earlier to play the long game with this one.

We'll see if the decision comes with a ripple effect of easing burdens elsewhere on the roster. Jefferson can help ease matchups for other receiving targets, as well as defeat double-teams by opponents. His catch radius can make quarterbacks right even if they're a bit off, and the attention he garners likely could help the run game find more consistency, as well.

ESPN's Kevin Seifert posted a great story Friday about how Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores' group has come together, particularly since Week 4.

I can also say the offensive system is designed to capitalize on Jefferson being in it and for good reasons. People thought the Vikings were going to get obliterated without him instead of stringing together a five-game win streak — and that was before Cousins' injury.

The offense has spent a significant chunk of its season without its Pro Bowl quarterback and receiver, so there's going to be some regression when that happens.