EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings have reached their bye — all the way in Week 13 — but in addition to trying to rest and recover from a long, grueling stretch, the team will be doing a reevaluation at the sport's most important position.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell spoke to media members Tuesday afternoon, not yet 24 hours removed from Minnesota's disappointing 12-10 loss to Chicago on Monday Night Football. The game included four interceptions by Joshua Dobbs.
Those picks (three were after deflected passes) gave Dobbs five interceptions in four games. He's also had six fumbles (three lost) since joining Minnesota via trade from Arizona on Oct. 31 and getting pressed into action in Week 9.
Dobbs is the latest Vikings offensive player to struggle to protect the football. It's been a drumbeat for O'Connell all season. He was asked how much the importance of avoiding turnovers may factor into his decision at QB going forward.
Nick Mullens, the team's original backup has returned from Injured Reserve, and Jaren Hall, who started at Atlanta in Week 9 after Kirk Cousins was lost for the season the previous week, has cleared concussion protocol. Hall left the Falcons game early, pressing Dobbs into action days after his acquisition.
"There's no question that the turnovers are a critical, critical reason, really all season long you can point to that as a major, major contributing factor — if not, the factor behind us not finding those Ws throughout the year and certainly over the last couple of weeks," O'Connell said. "Each one kind of tells its own story sometimes, but in the end, the most important thing, especially when your defense is playing as well as our defense last night, is to try to limit the self-inflicted wounds of turnovers, critical, critical plays.
"You're going to have to find some of those chunks in the passing game," he added, "but you've got to be able to do it without the risk of feeling like you're going to turn the football over. I think that's what we're going to have to look at."
Dobbs has played the past four games for the Vikings, starting the past three. He threw no interceptions at Atlanta or against New Orleans, and he was picked off once at Denver in Week 11 when he also lost a fumble after a hit that garnered Kareem Jackson a suspension.
O'Connell was asked about the challenge of blending Minnesota's offensive identity – prior to Cousins' injury – with Dobbs' natural skill set.
The head coach noted it's a balance.
"I think figuring out what Josh is most comfortable with while also schematically looking at what may present itself from a standpoint of how the defense plays coming into a game, how they're playing us during the game, and then maybe what we're able to get to try to maximize our opportunities," O'Connell explained. "And then what's the comfort level, not only from an Xs and Os standpoint, but then also the pitch and the catch, the rhythm, how footwork ties in, and just trying to make up for a lot of time on task that we just don't have logged with Josh to where he can have some things be second nature to him."
Dobbs continues to expand his understanding of the Vikings system, having been learning on the fly since arriving in Minnesota.
"There's still a lot of things that are new for him, and the margin of error when you're talking about the NFL pass game can be razor thin sometimes," O'Connell said. "That's what I'm trying to balance throughout the game, throughout our preparation, to make sure we do whatever we can to control what we can to put our players in the best possible situation. If that means molding and adapting more than we have, that's what we'll take a look at doing. If that means obviously trying to mix and match and figure out what's best personnel wise, we'll take a look at that, as well."
Mullens was acquired in a trade with Las Vegas in August 2022, so he's had the benefit of the most time around the system. Hall was selected in the fifth round and spent the entire preseason with Minnesota.
O'Connell hasn't decided on whether the team will stick with Dobbs or go with Mullens or Hall.
"We'll take a look," he said. "Nick, having been here the longest and the way he prepares week-in and week-out, getting him back healthy as an option gives us somebody we could potentially turn to who we know has great comfort in our offense, footwork, timing and the progression, the protection calls and all those things. But Jaren Hall, also in his limited work showed some real positives early on against Atlanta before getting knocked out of the game, and I do think what Josh Dobbs has been able to do, especially early on, getting out there and making plays at a significant level for us to win games there during a tough stretch without some of our best players in the huddle can't be discounted.
"So those are some of the things we're talking about – taking a look at what we could possibly do as coaches to enhance our offense and then ultimately looking at the personnel from the standpoint of what gives us the best chance to win," O'Connell added.
He and his coaching staff will take the next few days to evaluate Dobbs' full body of work. They also will keep in mind the offense is regaining star receiver Justin Jefferson, who was activated Tuesday to the 53-man roster after missing seven games with a hamstring injury.
"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 on individual skill sets of all three of those guys (Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson and K.J. Osborn) – and take a look at that for what's the best fit, right now, for our team? We're in the process of doing that. I don't think there's any particular timeline, but as a staff, we'll have some dialogue to ultimately figure out what we feel is best and then prepare accordingly."
O'Connell emphasized the importance of re-evaluating what attacks on third downs and red zone opportunities, as well as "early down opportunities where we want to stay aggressive," will look like when Jefferson is back on the field.
"It's not the same as when you're operating with Kirk and J.J. out there full time, but by no means do we view that as a potential roadblock," O'Connell said. "I view that as something that it's our responsibility, and specifically my responsibility, to help make that all go.
"We will absolutely put together a plan that tries to maximize No. 18," he later added. "Whether he's lined static in the formation, motioning, lined up with some of his other teammates in a bunch or stack and kind of go through what the potential scenarios are within the progression and try to give the quarterback as much information as we can to help them make the best possible decision."
The Vikings opened Jefferson's practice window to "methodically get him work" over the past couple weeks and start the process early of getting reps on air, as well as team reps.
"Just making sure that coming off the bike won't be the first time Josh, Nick or Jaren are throwing the football to Justin," O'Connell said. "He happens to be an extremely friendly target with his catch radius. And his ability to do, pretty dynamic things with the ball after the catch. So, we'll try to put together a plan that maximizes that and then use the extra preparation time when we get going next Monday with our guys back in the building to try to make up for some time and get our guys as comfortable as we possibly can."