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Kevin O’Connell talks about Vikings QB situation

A day after the Minnesota Vikings lost to the Chicago Bears by a score of 12-10, there are a lot of questions with the team heading into the bye week.

The biggest question about this team for the rest of the year focuses on the quarterback position. Josh Dobbs struggled on Monday night and threw four interceptions, the first time a Vikings quarterback had done that since 2014.

During his normal day after press conference, Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell was asked extensively about that along with a few other topics.

Opening statement

“Good afternoon. Still kind of processing everything that went into last night. Our overall performance really does eat at you, knowing the opportunity we had and going into the bye week with a chance to get to some firm footing, stay undefeated in the division. A lot of things that we were looking forward
to did not happen. Not the performance we wanted as a team. There were some positives – specifically defensively – that helped us stay in the football game, but the facts are, we just didn’t do enough to win the game. In the end they made the plays they needed to to beat us, and we gave them the opportunities to do that by some poor execution in certain phases of our team that we must improve. Still need to find ways. This game, it was about turnovers via the pass, interceptions. Previously, it had been fumbles. We’ve got to find a way as an offense to move the ball consistently without being
susceptible to giving the football away. In addition to that, we will be activating Justin Jefferson to the roster later today. We’re still looking through what the corresponding moves will be, and we’ll keep you guys posted on that. Justin was close to having a chance to going last night, but the best thing for him and for our team moving forward was to get through the bye and ultimately have him at 100 percent coming out of the bye as we take on the Raiders on the road.”

When you looked back at the game, last night you talked a little bit about rhythm and timing; how much was it timing of the passing game, and how much was it something the Bears were doing defensively that threw that off?

“Yeah, it’s different things, you know. Footwork on a play just to make sure that the rhythm of the play not only helps with the decision making but also allowing Josh [Dobbs] and our receivers to be on the same page as far as timing – when we’re coming out of cuts, where we need to locate the football. Don’t think necessarily coverage-wise there was anything that really caused us issues. It was more just execution on our part. I did think they made a couple plays on the football – tips and overthrows and things like that. It’s a saying we use on defense to try to turn the ball over, and they were able to capitalize on three balls being deflected, for a variety of reasons. But ultimately, each and every one kind of has its own story, but in the end, the story was the turnovers – and really hurt our ability to sustain drives. And in addition to that, I thought the way the Bears started the game – kind of controlling the ball for nine minutes, and we take a shot on the first play, inevitably go three-and-out, and before you know it, the first quarter’s over.
As far as just the overall rhythm of the game, we didn’t do a lot of things to help with that with our execution. There were some missed opportunities there. Really, on first, second and third down early on in the game. I think we ended up with 22 official plays in the first half – just not enough volume and rhythm to eventually get to where we want to get to as an offense and try to get into that scoring zone. But I thought it was a lot of different things, all of which we will continue to try to correct and try to find a way to play our best football coming out of this bye into a critical, critical five-game stretch.”

What would be your process for deciding on a quarterback over the next week or so? Will you take it all the way up to the game? Do you want to have somebody in mind during the practice week? And will you look at both Nick [Mullens] and Jaren [Hall], as well as Josh [Dobbs], in that process?

“I think we’ll take the time over these next couple days to really evaluate, not only Monday night but the previous body of work, and just see where we’re at as an offense – knowing that we’ll get Justin [Jefferson] back in this offense to solidify our skill group to be the strong group we think that it is with Jordan [Addison] and T.J. [Hockenson] and K.J. [Osborn]. Brandon Powell’s done some nice things. Ty [Chandler] and Alex [Mattison] both had some real solid moments last night, as well. So, 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 – 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 we’ll have some dialogue as a staff, we’ll have some dialogue to ultimately figure out what we feel is best and then prepare accordingly.”

What has been the toughest part of trying to balance the identity of what you guys built with this offense with maybe the strengths of Josh [Dobbs] on the fly?

“Yeah, I think 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 to try to maximize our opportunities and then what’s the comfort level, not only from an X’s and O’s 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. There’s still a lot of things that are new for him, and just the margin of error when you’re talking about the NFL pass game can be razor thin sometimes and the difference between conversions
and chances for catch and runs versus a potential turnover for these plays, it’s such a small margin of error that 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, but overall, coming off this BYE, making sure we’re getting back to emphasizing as much as we can, the techniques and fundamentals of all of our guys, and it’s not just the quarterback position, details in the routes and in our passing game, spacing and understanding of the timing of the quarterback’s time clock, our protection being as sound as it can possibly be. How are we integrating all of our skill players with what they do well, as well, and knowing we’re going to get Justin [Jefferson] back, what does that look
like to try to attack coverages not only on third down and in the red zone, but some of those early down opportunities where we do want to stay aggressive with how we want to move the football and marry everything together, but definitely, it’s not the same as when you’re operating with Kirk [Cousins] and JJ [Justin Jefferson] out there full time, but by no means do we view that as a potential roadblock. I view that as something that it’s our responsibility, and specifically, my responsibility to help make that all go.”

On the 38-yarder on the last series with DJ Moore last night, what led to so much space open in the middle of the field for him to get through the zones there?

“I think we were kind of in a mugged-up look, kind of a disguised look, we’d been in several tmes and executed pretty efficiently throughout the night. They ended up kind of in that two-deep, kind of zoning look, you have what we call a middle runner who’s responsible for the middle of the field, they did, they kind of ran a player through there to try to clear out that player and they were able to do that to open up that window to execute in what was a critical, critical play, not only for getting them in the range, but also where the clock was in that moment, having run a significant amount of that clock, defense got, you know it was kind of some ebbs and flows there early on in that drive that really made that down even more critcal in kind of a “gotta have it” type down like that and they were able to make the play.”

With how much you’ve talked about turnovers this year, will that be the main determining factor with who you decide to start at quarterback coming out of the bye, or do you think the offense might just run better with Nick [Mullens] or Jaren [Hall] than potentially Josh [Dobbs]?

“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. 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. There were some turnover plays, if you look at the third down where we targeted Jordan [Addison] on that inbreaking route, if we’re able to just pitch and catch that, there’s a chance to possibly score on a catch and-run there. Flip it around, the ball gets deflected up into the air, the timing is just subtly off on the play, and it ends up not only being a turnover but not being the big, explosive gain that it could have been. There were examples of that throughout the night, some turnover plays but also on some other plays where maybe we just didn’t complete a ball or we just didn’t execute in those moments where there were
some opportunities out there, and that’s where we’ve got to find how do we operate and give ourselves a potential opportunity throughout the game, throughout drives to generate some of those explosives, which are very important to playing winning football. It’s hard to drive first, second, third down, first, second, third down over and over again all night long. You’re going to have to find some of those chunks in the passing game, 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. We’ll take a look, obviously, for sure, 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.”

As you reviewed the run game last night, what did you think of the way Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler ran the football, specifically Alex?

“Yeah, I thought we had some nice hits. Early on in the game we had some missed targets, some free hitters here and there. Alex was able to make a couple of those even go for some significant yardage. Other times we did handle movement well and had an all 11 feel to some hits there. Just one of those scenarios where I thought both of those guys showed what they bring to the table. We wanted to find ways to get Ty some extra touches on third down or potentially in the screen game. It didn’t always equal premier execution and/or significant gains, but we’re going to continue to allow both of those guys to have an impact on the football game and want to continue to build with both players as a significant 1-2 punch and guys we feel like we can move the football with running the ball.”

Do you think ultimately, one of your quarterbacks will be best suited to sort of maximize the way Justin [Jefferson] can impact a game and to what extent do you think that could impact your decision?

“Yeah, it’s definitely part of it. I think Justin’s role in our offense, really, from day one, since we arrived here has always been very, very significant. Now over the past seven to eight-plus weeks, we’ve, you know, kind of had to establish a little bit of a different identity in the passing game. I think Jordan [Addison] has done some really great things for us. You cannot talk enough about what T.J. Hockenson has brought to the table, really becoming a little bit more of a downfield threat for us as well as a chain moving option,
really on all downs. T.J. has been phenomenal for us during this stretch. So you really looked at it, what Justin’s walking back into, anytime you can infuse the best receiver in football back into your offense, there’s going to be ways to not only get Justin going and make sure he has a critical impact on the football game, but those other guys as well who have really kind of enhanced their roles in a time where we really needed it, and the quarterback position absolutely plays into that. Justin, depending on the type of coverage that we’re playing against, having the ability to clearly win one-on-ones, understands how to win versus double teams, where double teams are coming from, how those double teams may open up some windows, and matchups for some of the other guys on our offense. We’re going to make sure that
whoever’s playing quarterback is aware and understands the intent behind plays where either Justin is the primary or based upon coverage, based upon the defensive look, how to quickly and efficiently get to the right place to go with the football. Because in the end, that’s what the NFL passing game is about, rhythm, timing, understanding that the defense, can and will take some things away, but progressing that rhythm and trying to find the voids and vacancies, and zone or premiere matchups and man coverage. That’s what we try to do every snap really regardless of circumstance, whether we’re doing that via the play-pass, the movement game or in the drop back game.”

When Justin [Jefferson] has played as much of his career as he has with Kirk [Cousins], how do you go about the process of getting him on the same page with a new quarterback and then also getting that quarterback ready for some of the differences you might see in coverage where they do different things with Justin on the field than they otherwise would?

“As far as getting the quarterback ready, we’ve got quite a bit of inventory. Maybe not against our opponents the next couple of weeks, but we’ve got inventory of kind of tools that defenses can use with Justin. We will absolutely put together a plan that tries to maximize number 18. 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. One of the reasons why we wanted to open up Justin’s window and methodically get him work over the last couple of weeks was to start the process either early on as he worked his way back into it and most recently, pretty darn close, to full speed of getting some reps with Justin and routes on air, getting some team reps, and just making sure that coming off the bye won’t be the first time that Josh [Dobbs] Nick [Mullens] or Jaren [Hall] are
throwing the football to Justin. He happens to be an extremely friendly target with his catch radius, 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 lost and get our guys as comfortable as we possibly can.”

With Josh [Dobbs] specifically, I guess Atlanta's probably not the best example because that game the circumstances were so crazy, but the first half of New Orleans, I'm sure if you could botle that up you would. How do you think defenses have changed the way that they've defended Josh with more tape of him in in your system, or was that just never really a sustainable model for the way up the offense was going to function with him at the helm?

“I think that over the last couple games you’ve seen defenses be much more disciplined in their rush patterns. They’re really trying to keep him as much as they can in the pocket working through his progressions. When he has moved, the tendency has been to go backwards and out of the pocket as
opposed to up and out and not really having some of those voids to push up and out and remain a passer and apply pressure that way. They’ve done a good job trying to contain his ability to get out of the pocket and impact the game either with his legs or remaining a passer. When you look back at the Atlanta game, the New Orleans game, he was able to completely impact the game by doing just that. Defenses, as with any offense, any quarterback in the league, they get more inventory they start trying to do some things to
take away certain aspects of either a player’s game or your offense. Maybe play a litle bit more zone. Maybe play with more vision on the quarterback. Maybe play with a spy. Maybe the rush lanes being very disciplined to try to keep him in there, push the pocket and try to make him uncomfortable without leaving them susceptible to some of the scramble plays, all of which is part of the normal ebbs and flows of guys getting more work, getting more film out there for defenses to prepare for them. Then, ultimately, we’ve
got to be able to adjust and really execute from the pocket. Josh made some nice throws when we were able to kind of stack some plays there on our touchdown drive off the turnover the defense forced. There were some great examples, including that touchdown pass to T.J. [Hockenson] where Josh understands the intent of the play, footwork, rhythm and an accurate football up and over the underneath coverage there in a split safety zone. Really showed the potential, we just need to try to get to that place a litle bit
more consistently throughout the football game to try to sustain drives, stay ahead of the chains and allow our offense to truly be what we want it to be. Regardless of who’s playing quarterback, it’s a mater of trying to be efficient, throw completions. They have a negative effect on the defense for a lot of reasons, but it also gets us into a rhythm offensively where now plays can stack upon each other and before you know it, we can get down in that scoring zone and try to come away with seven when we get down there.
So, I think, once again you can’t take away from what Josh was able to accomplish early on, now we just need to assess. Can we sustain moving forward? Can we get him to a place where we can be a litle bit more consistent as an offense? Limit our turnovers. What that looks like, all conversations we’re going through you know at this very moment.”

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Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire