After the Vikings arrived at their bye week with an unceremonious 12-10 loss to the Bears, quarterback Joshua Dobbs texted Kevin O'Connell, asking if the coach had time to review the game film with Dobbs and quarterbacks coach Chris O'Hara. O'Connell agreed, and the meeting became the kind of unhurried study of the Vikings' offense the team simply hadn't had time to conduct since Dobbs arrived Oct. 31.
It also provided the setting for a candid conversation about Dobbs' place in the offense. O'Connell had told reporters after Dobbs' four-interception game against the Bears he would "look at everything" with the Vikings' offense, later adding he would evaluate Dobbs, Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall as options to start the Vikings' post-bye game against the Raiders. The coach also knew that meant an unfiltered view of the Vikings' entire operation, from his own scheme and play-calling to the performances of the 10 players around Dobbs.
"[I said,] 'Here's what I'm going to do, Josh: I'm going to study what this inventory [of plays] looks like. I appreciate spending some time with you to get some clarity on exactly where you're at within our offense right now, things that maybe we can do to help you incorporate – to make you feel as comfortable as you possibly can within our offense, because there are 10 other guys out there that also have to feel comfortable with what we're doing. Then, articulating, 'Hey, I'm going to go through a process. The same process that that led us to really feeling strongly about going to get you is what we're going to go through to evaluate what's best for our football team.'
"I believe when you communicate that way, regardless of what the answer ended up being, it's about looking people in the eye and telling them the truth."
When players returned Monday, O'Connell told Dobbs he would get another start.
The Vikings will stick with Dobbs for the Raiders game, as they try to end a two-game losing streak and keep themselves in playoff position with three other teams battling them for the NFC's final two wild-card spots. With Mullens still trying to regain full health after a low back injury and rookie Hall having played just two series before his Nov. 5 concussion, the Vikings decided to give Dobbs his fourth start, while seeking adjustments for an offense that has stalled in two turnover-filled losses to the Broncos and Bears.
"It's just tweaks, right? I think you can always overspeculate based on a previous performance, both good and bad, so there's no reason to blow it up," Dobbs said. "We've got to do what we're good at, protect the football and make routine plays when we're out there. If we do that, we'll play good football. It's very simple."
The Vikings could give Dobbs more shotgun snaps this week, while using the hurry-up offense that afforded him more time to survey the defense at the line of scrimmage, with O'Connell talking to him before his headset cuts off 15 seconds before the play. O'Connell said he also talked with Dobbs about tying his footwork to his downfield vision more effectively, even looking for passing opportunities when using his mobility to escape the pocket.
O'Connell said the rest of the Vikings' offensive players could do more to help Dobbs, adding "there's a lot more minuses on the grade sheet than just the quarterback on some critical plays" from the Denver and Chicago losses. And the return of Justin Jefferson, who practiced in full Wednesday for the first time since Oct. 6, means both the Vikings' offense and the defensive coverages they get will look different in the Raiders game than in any of the four Dobbs has played.
Jefferson could draw coverage away from Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson, while giving Dobbs a receiver who's proven he can snatch throws away from defensive backs and run after the catch.
"They're in a conflict, and every defense is in a conflict with 'JJ' out on the field," Hockenson said. "Whether they spy the quarterback and try to keep [Dobbs] in the pocket, that gives everybody a one-on-one. If they try to double 'JJ,' that gives Josh opportunities. It's conflicts all along the board. We're just looking to attack that and do our thing on offense."
The decision to start Dobbs against the Raiders doesn't guarantee him to be the Vikings' No. 1 quarterback the rest of the season, but Jefferson's return and a better QB-coach connection could give them a jolt this weekend. Dobbs threw five interceptions and lost a fumble in the Vikings' two losses; he's hoping the Raiders game will be an opportunity to recoup some of the efficiency the Vikings enjoyed before Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles tendon.
"I've seen it watching old tape that, whoever's in there, when they're playing clean, efficient football, this offense is really difficult to stop," Dobbs said. "The more I can get in Kevin's head as he's calling plays, the more I can get in the coaching staff's head as they're formulating plays, will only allow me to play more efficiently."