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O'Connell on Waiting to Announce Starting QB, Bouncing Back at Detroit

EAGAN, Minn – Minnesota VikingsHead Coach Kevin O'Connell said he knows who will start at quarterback Sunday at the Detroit Lions but is not ready to announce the team's Week 18 plans until after he meets with the team (players were off Monday).

O'Connell spoke to media members a day after Sunday's 33-10 loss to the Packers. O'Connell acknowledged that the Vikings New Year's Eve defeat was a disappointment, but said the team is eager to respond with a productive week of practice and preparation for its 2023 regular-season finale.

The Vikings still have a chance to reach the postseason by beating Detroit and receiving significant help around the league.

"I have made a decision on who's going to start at quarterback for us this week. I have not had a chance yet with the players being off today to go through our face-to-face communication to let those players know. So I'm not going to announce that today," O'Connell said. "[We have an] opportunity this week in the in the NFC North, going on the road against the division champions. Just played this team. We know them well."

Here are four takeaways from O'Connell's session.

1. Facing a familiar foe

The Vikings (7-9) are preparing for the Lions for the second time in three weeks. Detroit won its first division title since 1993 in Week 16 after beating Minnesota by six points at U.S. Bank Stadium on Dec. 24.

Both teams have plenty to play for in the regular-season finale. Minnesota must win – then have multiple other outcomes land its way – to reach the postseason. Detroit (currently the NFC's No. 3 seed) can still improve to the No. 2 spot with a win and losses by Dallas at Washington and Philadelphia at the New York Giants.

"For the sake of going out, we still do have, albeit a small chance, we still do have a chance at the postseason, but I think more importantly for our team, it's getting that bad taste out of our mouth from a performance we're certainly not proud of and is not to our expectation or standard," O'Connell said. "I imagine our guys will be ready to come back and get to work this week and see if we can put together a good game plan, have some good preparation and have it translate to what we do on the field Sunday in Detroit."

View game action photos from the Vikings vs. Packers Sunday Night Football Matchup in Week 17 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

2. Shoring up the offensive line

For several weeks, the Vikings have struggled to find consistency across their offensive line.

Right tackle Brian O'Neill returned to the lineup on Sunday after missing two games due to an ankle injury. He played all 53 offensive snaps and did not allow a sack. As a unit, however, the Vikings offensive line did not keep quarterbacks Jaren Hall and Nick Mullens clean against the Packers pass rush. Green Bay notched four sacks and 14 quarterback hits, disrupting the Vikings offense all night.

Guard Ed Ingram exited the game in the second half due to a shoulder injury and did not return. O'Connell said Ingram avoided a serious injury and is considered questionable heading into the week.

"We were inconsistent," O'Connell said. "There were some times when we were trying to give Jaren some 6, 7 or 8-man protection play-passes to try to push the ball down the field, which we took some losses on with the lack of execution inside and there were some times in the dropback phase, whether on third down, third-and-longer, or in the 2-minute where we had some chances at some chunks."

Left tackle Christian Darrisaw allowed only one sack, but it was costly. Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith defeated Darrisaw with a swim move and forced a strip-sack of Hall with 26 seconds remaining in the first half. The second-and-2 from the Minnesota 46 resulted in Green Bay taking over at the 37-yard line.

Green Bay capitalized – scoring an 25-yard touchdown from quarterback Jordan Love to rookie Jayden Reed – just three plays later. The score put the Packers up 20 points, and Hall was benched at halftime.

"We took a strip-sack fumble where our best player along the offensive line is Christian Darrisaw and we got beat on the play," O'Connell said. "I think Christian knows how we feel about him. We know the confidence that we have in him, and Preston just got him on a move there, and we gave up a play. That's going to happen from time-to-time. The critical factor in that is understanding was it technique, was it scheme, and if it is technique, how do we go about improving and just trying to strive for as much consistency across the board with the other 10 players in that huddle doing their jobs."

3. Continuing to develop Hall

Whether Jaren Hall starts again or not, O'Connell said he and the team still believe in the fifth-round rookie, despite his struggles on Sunday.

In his second career start, Hall finished 5-for-10 with 67 yards and a passer rating of 32.1 before Mullens relieved him in the second half. O'Connell reiterated that the team remains excited about Hall's potential going forward.

"The decision was made to go with Jaren for a lot of reasons, one of which was we were excited about what Jaren's potential is and we wanted to give him an opportunity," O'Connell said. "We've dealt with some turnovers at the quarterback position, and Jaren was healthy and could have a full week of preparation and had some good weeks of preparation leading in, and it just didn't translate to our offense having the kind of success we needed to have in a game where they were able to have some success, move the ball and score points."

4. O'Connell on Harrison Smith

There's been some speculation that 2012 first-round pick Harrison Smith's time with the team could be coming to a close at season's end.

Smith, who will turn 35 in early February, has recorded 90 tackles, six quarterback hits, three forced fumbles and 3.0 sacks this season while playing 1,060 defensive snaps (99 percent).

O'Connell was asked about Sunday potentially being the six-time Pro Bowler's last game with Minnesota. O'Connell made it clear he hopes that is not the case.

"Harrison Smith is one of my all-time favorite players I've had the chance to be around as a coach. I feel very fortunate to have been in the head coach position with a guy like Harrison," O'Connell said. "I could speak unlimited about what Harrison means to so much and so many people. I'm hoping it's not, I'm hoping that this is not the end for him just because I selfishly want him around our team and around our defense and around our program because I think he makes each and every part of what I just said better and that's what really defines great players in this league, and he certainly is one and has been one for a really long time."