Friday Mailbag: Freakout seems to be setting in
Vikings fans are restless after an ugly loss to the Chicago Bears and questions about who will start at QB the rest of the way
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By Matthew Coller
Welcome to the bye week. We made it… not without a lot of bumps and bruises along the way but we’re here and there’s lots of questions to be answered about the final stretch of the season. Also, I think the first question sets the record for my longest mailbag answer ever so let’s get right into it…
Garrett… Inexperience!!! Despite the crazy highs we’ve experienced over the last two years, the reality of the lows seem to because of one reason. The inexperience of our head coach and GM. Right? Everything from not drafting Hamilton or Davis to terrible play calling at the worst time reeks of a newbie fantasy or madden player trying to be too cute out the gates. And for god sakes why hasn’t this team had a go to 3rd and short pass play in like 10 years???? You can’t send four guys on quick slants to keep a drive going? Noooo let’s throw a fade or run up the gut. How bout we let the 165lb wr be the lead blocker on an sweep!!
Nobody wants to hear this after losing to the Bears but Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell have been fantastic hires following the wreckage of Zimmer/Spielman and nothing about the last two weeks is going to change my mind about that. This team just went 5-2 without Justin Jefferson and 2-2 without Kirk Cousins. Overall they are 19-10 and have an overall roster that’s very stable going into the future. They have overhauled a roster that was a mess and completely turned around the culture of a building that was burning to the ground.
People who obsess over the two good players they didn’t draft in 2022 might also want to mention that Jordan Addison has been way better than Jameson Williams or Jahan Dotson or Treylon Burks or that Jordan Davis has only been on the field for 331 plays this year — that’s almost 100 less than Jonathan Bullard. He also doesn’t rush the passer at all and the Vikings are an elite run-stuffing team. How would that draft pick have done anything for them? Sometimes teams miss on picks. I don’t understand the freakout with 2022 when the bigger picture is that they have developed a bunch of players like Cam Bynum, Josh Metellus, DJ Wonnum etc. By the way, is Metellus not doing exactly what Kyle Hamilton is doing? Once upon a time the Vikings went to the NFC Championship despite a bad 2016 draft. Crazy stuff.
Maybe another thing to point out is that Akayleb Evans has turned into a legit starting corner, Ed Ingram has made big improvements, Mekhi Blackmon is the third highest graded rookie corner and Ivan Pace Jr. is the highest graded rookie linebacker.
Personally, I don’t give a rat’s tail about where players are drafted. I never cared that Stefon Diggs became good and not Laquon Treadwell. They didn’t take the Minneapolis Miracle away because he was a fifth-round pick and Rick Spielman missed on the first-round receiver. The goal is to build a complete roster and they have made significant progress toward that.
On the coaching point, we are all play calling geniuses on our couches or in press boxes — and I’ve had my issues with some things like the short yardage approach, run scheme, gimmick plays and downfield passing overload — but overall since KOC took over the Vikings are 8th in points. I supposed if Jordan Addison didn’t miss a block on that one play it would be better but I’m not sure you could have asked for anything more when KOC took over for this team to be in that spot offensively after 29 regular season games post-Zimmer.
KOC feels very Alex Smith era Andy Reid-ish to me. He’s doing enough to raise expectations but when the margin for error is small with the QBs then mistakes are amplified.
We can live in a place where we have questions about the gameplan and adjustment to Dobbs coming out of the Chicago game and wonder about the in-game management without starting to throw around wild takes about this regime.
A lot of people have been watching Kirk Cousins be a very good QB for a long time and maybe weren’t around for the times where the Vikings were running out backup QBs like Kelly Holcomb and Matt Cassel (no disrespect). It’s like this. Look around the league. Every coach’s play calls look worse when they drop from the 10th best person in the world at playing QB to the 34th. It’s going to be a rough ride the rest of the way. Don’t lose your minds about what the Vikings have here in their leadership.
Bradley P… What sets Matt Daniels apart from his peers. His punter sucks and has regressed. His kicker is mediocre at best. His gunners can’t down punts inside 10. Sophomore slump?
Wright has been an average punter this year (16th by PFF) and his numbers across the board outside of raw average are worse. Shanking the boot against the Bears was a huge error, no doubt. I think after we saw him kick it 70 yards in the air we figured he’d be elite and that hasn’t been the case. Joseph is 28th in field goal percentage, so I’ll agree there. Do we blame the special teams coach for the kicking/punting? Maybe because he plays a big role in picking the players. It’s not like they had a lot of cap space to bring in a top notch kicker though.
The Vikings are 16th in PFF special teams grade overall. I’ve observed over the years that the key to having good special teams outside of kicking is usually having a veteran team. If you have experienced players on ‘teams, they’ll probably be good. If you are asking all the young guys to figure out it, there will be more mistakes. Daniels seems to do a good job of developing players while they are on ‘teams to be ready to play on offense or defense and we have seen some solid punt returns and really good fakes. They’re also 11th in punt return average allowed. I’d say it’s been an OK unit, less volatile than last year with high highs and low lows.
Matthew… Do you think Dobbs' regression is more of a factor of the offense's style not fitting him, defenses knowing how to stop him now, or his inability to handle all that KOC throws at QBs?
The problem with my answer is that it’s going to make you feel helpless. We all feel better when we can say that the coach blew it and there’s some type of fix. The reason Josh Dobbs had a meltdown game is because he’s Josh Dobbs. In Week 2 he beat the Cowboys and had a 120.0 QB rating. Two weeks later he lost by two touchdowns to Cincinnati and had a 57.6 rating. That’s life in the backup quarterback world.
We were hunting for comparable QBs to Dobbs a few weeks ago and I’ve landed strongly on Ryan Fitzpatrick. In 2011 Fitz went 5-2 and then finished 1-8. In 2015 with the Jets he started 4-1 and then lost four of five games and then won five in a row and then melted down on the final day of the season to miss the playoffs. It’s a wild ride with a guy who has enough physical skill to have big games and plays crazy enough to have awful games.
I do think there were times that too much was asked of Dobbs against the Bears. I also think defenses are going to gameplan to stop his running and that’s a problem when it’s a big part of his value. But if you told me he went 2-0 with 8 TDs 0 INTs the next two weeks or 0-2 0 INTs and 8 INTS, I’d believe you. That’s who he is.
Myles… I’ve been thinking about since watching cfb this past weekend: should the Vikings be leaning towards drafting a qb whos a runner and can kind of throw, or a thrower who’s mobile? I tend to lean the latter but curious your thoughts
Great quarterbacks can come in a lot of different forms but there haven’t been many historically who could be runners first and passers second. However, it can be pretty darn hard to diagnose that when the guy is in college. Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson were both criticized for being run-first QBs, yet they are presently both ranked top-10 passers by PFF. Dak Prescott’s NFL.com draft profile compared him to Brett Hundley and said that he was a short-yardage package bit player.
You have to draft someone that has the physical ability to be great if everything works out and I don’t think anyone can be great without a playmaking off-schedule element to their game in 2024 and beyond. That’s the best I can do. (But I will be taking Jaylen Daniels in every draft sim this spring).
TwoToedSloth… What player from the 90's had a break-out season similar to what we have seen from Josh Metellus? Easily among the most impressive glow-ups that I can remember.
It’s really incredible. Jordan Hicks told me in training camp that all the players on defense knew what he could do and he predicted Metellus would shine this year. I believed him but didn’t know it would be to this level. How about Robert Griffith for a comp? He barely played his first two seasons as a UDFA and then in 1996 started 14 games, got four picks, a couple of sacks and forced fumbles and never looked back.
Skol Viking 44… How do you plan on spending the bye weekend?
Watching football. Was there another possible answer here?
Thomas… Hope you get a break during the bye, Matthew! How do you feel Ivan Pace has done wearing the green dot?
Without knowing exactly what he’s supposed to communicate vs. what happened it’s pretty hard to say but watching the game back on All-22 I didn’t see any instances of players looking around confused seeming to be really out of place. It might be at its toughest during those end-of-game spots where it’s a mad scramble but the performances of the defense with Pace Jr. in charge against Denver and Chicago were overall very good. To give up 32 points without your green dot guy when the offense gives the ball away seven times is actually pretty crazy. You can’t say enough about Pace Jr. coming from out of nowhere as a UDFA to take over this big of a role in his rookie season. Amazing story.
Bradley P…. Most of us got our hopes up too high over a well traveled backup qb but what do you think of KOC coaching the last two weeks. Coaching not to lose only to lose? Coaching scared due to a turnover machine handling the ball?
What I wrote after the game was that it felt like KOC didn’t know when to push the gas pedal down and when to hit the brake. There were times where it seemed too aggressive to me with downfield routes especially since the Bears did a great job with their pressure packages. You could also argue they played it too safe at the end (though I’d defend that considering how many times Dobbs gave the ball away). There were so many plays in that game that go a completely different way if the ball is thrown a tick earlier or slightly more accurately that it’s hard to look back and say “wow what a botch job!” But I also think Dobbs was mostly solid on quick game and if he’s going to remain at QB they have to roll with that a little more than trying to hit 15-yard deep in cuts all the time.
Jonathan… What are the odds the Vikings draft a QB in the 2024 NFL Draft? Caleb Williams and Drake Maye are probably out of reach for the Vikings. I think Jayden Daniels, JJ McCarthy, Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix should all be attainable for them. Who are your current favorites QB fits for the Vikings?
I’ll go 50-50 right now. I’m starting to think they will have to trade up for Daniels. He’s no longer under the radar. That kid is what Steve McNair would have looked like if Power 5s would have recruited him as a QB. He looks like a top 10 pick to me. I’m not a fan of McCarthy. Penix Jr. is Hendon Hooker. I like Bo Nix more than some but his receivers are wide open all the time and he has forever to throw. I’d say pick whichever guy they like and go for it.