EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell was ready to credit the New Orleans Saints' defense for its coverage on a Minnesota play in the red zone during the second quarter of Sunday’s game.
Then, making his first start for the Vikings, quarterback Joshua Dobbs escaped from the pocket to extend the play and scrambled to his left. Dobbs beat Saints defenders in a race to the pylon and hurdled into the end zone for a touchdown.
While quarterback Kirk Cousins was one of the league’s top passers before being lost to a torn Achilles tendon, Dobbs has provided a different look to the Minnesota offense with his ability to run.
“That was one where I was just kind of, wow, they — I was going to tip my hat to the Saints,” O’Connell said after Sunday’s game. “Had a couple chances here or there, but when a guy makes a play like that, it’s exciting. It’s exciting because you know that he just overcame a lot with an individual effort right there to finish it for six points.”
Dobbs, who was acquired from Arizona before the trade deadline, has led Minnesota to a pair of wins and kept its playoff hopes alive.
He went 23 of 34 for 268 yards in the Vikings’ 27-19 win against New Orleans on Sunday, running for one touchdown and passing for another.
Cousins had thrived since O’Connell’s arrival in Minnesota. He had 2,331 passing yards this season with 18 touchdowns (which still ranks second in the NFL) and a 103.8 quarterback rating, which is fourth in the league. But Cousins has never been a mobile quarterback.
“It’s crazy because with him in the backfield you can’t think the play’s over,” said tight end T.J. Hockenson, who caught 11 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown from Dobbs on Sunday. “You just try to find an open area and beat your guy. It’s a little like street ball, which is fun. So, you just got to continue to play through the whistle because you just never know what’s going to happen.”
In two games with Minnesota, Dobbs has run for 110 yards and two touchdowns. He has 368 rushing yards this season. Cousins’ best rushing total in his six seasons with Minnesota was 156 yards in 2020.
O’Connell said Dobbs’ athleticism allows him to be more aggressive in play-calling.
“Dobbs didn’t just start doing those things,” O’Connell said. “That’s been a part of his game since he’s been an NFL quarterback and before that. Our job is to continue to allow him to play the position the way he thrives playing it, while continuing to do our jobs.”
“He created,” Saints defensive tackle Malcolm Roach said. “When we had him in the traps and things like that, he did a great job of getting out the traps and making plays, extending plays. We got to get him down. We can’t ask these guys to cover for 30 seconds. When the play's going on for that long, that’s not a normal play.”
The defense is flourishing under coordinator Brian Flores, particularly against opposing passing attacks. New Orleans finished with 215 passing yards and the Vikings have held seven straight opponents to 266 yards or fewer.
Minnesota also had two interceptions on Sunday and has eight over the past five games after securing one interception through the first five weeks.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Dobbs has helped, but Minnesota’s running game is still stuck. No Vikings player has rushed for 100 yards in a game this season. Lead running back Alexander Mattison is 24th in the league with 461 yards and is averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
As a team, Minnesota is averaging 85.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks 29th in the NFL.
Rookie cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, a third-round draft pick, is earning more playing time. His defensive snaps have increased in each of the last three games and he saw his second-most in a game on Sunday, when he made his first career interception.
Punter Ryan Wright excelled last year at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line. He did it 32 times, which ranked fourth in the league. This season, he has just eight punts inside the 20, which is tied for 28th.
On Sunday, with Minnesota holding an eight-point lead late, Wright had a 45-yard punt returned for 10 yards and a 38-yard punt returned for 12 yards.
LB Jordan Hicks was sent to a hospital and had a procedure to alleviate pressure from a shin contusion after Sunday’s game. O’Connell said Hicks is likely to miss this week’s game.
Mattison is in the concussion protocol and CB Akayleb Evans has a lower leg strain.
WR Justin Jefferson (hamstring) could be ready to return from injured reserve after his window to practice was opened last week. WR K.J. Osborn had reportedly cleared concussion testing but was held out of Sunday’s game.
21 — The Vikings had their largest halftime lead in nine years on Sunday, since a Nov. 30, 2014 home win against Carolina when they were up 28-6.
A prime-time game awaits as Minnesota plays at Denver on Sunday night.
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