Failure to Launch: Vikings’ Aerial Attack is Being Tamed at the Wrong Time

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
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Josh Dobbs doesn’t have the NFL’s most impressive arm. Quite possibly, he has the most impressive brain, but the arm isn’t what Kirk Cousins could offer.

The Vikings’ aerial attack has been far too tame for Minnesota to climb into the playoffs. Last week, Kevin O’Connell’s crew could only scrounge up 169 passing yards, a paltry amount in the modern NFL. Dobbs finished his day having gone 22/32 for 185 yards, 1 TD, and 4 INTs. The interceptions, of course, are the most damning.

Nov 19, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Minnesota Viking quarterback Joshua Dobbs (15) drops back to pass against the Denver Broncos in the first half at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Before missing the season to injury, Cousins was averaging 10.8 yards per completion. With Dobbs, the average is down at 9.8 since arriving in Minnesota. Cousins’ yards per attempt average sat at 7.5 whereas Dobbs is down at 6.5 in his games with Minnesota.

Partnering less explosive passing with less accurate passing — 69.5 completion percentage for Mr. Cousins, 66.4 completion percentage for Mr. Dobbs — is reason for concern. Obviously, the expectation shouldn’t be that Dobbs will be the perfect one-for-one replacement for Cousins. After all, we’re talking about a veteran journeyman who was struggling to stick around rosters. The dip in accuracy and explosiveness, though, are reason for concern.

The Vikings’ Aerial Attack Needs a Jolt

Getting Justin Jefferson back into the mix will help.

The 24-year-old receiver will return to the field after the bye. Awaiting him is a game in Las Vegas against a below average Raiders team that shouldn’t be scaring anyone. He was averaging 15.9 yards per reception before needing to step away to heal up, so there’s certainly a pile of upside for more explosive plays when #18 can challenge defenses.

Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) catches a touchdown pass as Carolina Panthers cornerback D’Shawn Jamison (29) defends in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Can Dobbs get the ball to Jefferson with regularity? Take a look at Dobbs’ four games at the helm:

  • Week 9: 20/30, 158 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs.
  • Week 10: 23/34, 268 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs.
  • Week 11: 20/32, 221 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
  • Week 12: 22/32, 185 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs.

Of course, a major part of the magic with Dobbs is what he’s capable of doing with his legs. His mobility can be a menace, adding another layer to the Vikings’ offense that simply isn’t there when Cousins is under center.

Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Nevertheless, failing to challenge a defense vertically makes life challenging, especially since the running game has been so lacklustre. Jordan Addison is more than capable of winning deep, so his 6 receptions for 39 yards was discouraging in Week 12. A more accurate deep ball in the 4th quarter would have resulted in an explosive TD for the wide open rookie. Instead, the ball was thrown well behind Addison, contributing to the out-of-bounds incompletion.

More than a few Vikings fans are wondering about Nick Mullens. The QB2 has a 7.8 yards-per-attempt average for his career, a decent clip above Dobbs’ career 6.1 average. Partnering the increased explosiveness with a 65.3 completion percentage provides even more reason for intrigue with Mullens.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens (12) stands behind center during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t forget that generating explosive passes isn’t always about heaving the ball 50 yards down the field (as exciting as those moments can be). Quite often, the explosive plays emerge when the ball is placed in the perfect position for a receiver to pickup yards after the catch. Guaranteed: coaches and pass catchers notice when a QB puts the ball in an ideal spot with consistency.

There isn’t a QB in Minnesota who has the arm talent that Cousins has. There’s a reason why he was the starter, folks. What’s needed is someone capable of maximizing an impressive array of weapons: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and T.J. Hockenson (among others). And, of course, the QB needs to not only get the ball to these guys, but to also avoid imploding by turning the ball over with regularity.

Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) celebrates his touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin O’Connell is well aware that his passing attack needs to be better. The former NFL QB has built his team around being able to throw well, so seeing such a horrendous effort on Monday Night Football must have been painful.

Brian Flores has been pushing the defense to a level that few could have foreseen in 2023. The onus shifts over to the offense to keep pace, doing their part by picking up yards and points with greater consistency.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.