The Minnesota Vikings’ backup quarterbacks once again failed to find any sort of rhythm on Saturday night. After Kirk Cousins and the starters left the field, both Jake Browning and Kellen Mond lacked the requisite accuracy, pocket presence, and decision-making that a quality backup has.
It began from Browning’s first drive. The third-year quarterback missed a wide-open pass to the left flat to tight end Brandon Dillon on second down. On third-and-five, Browning immediately tucked the ball and looked to run despite having a decent pocket develop around him, resulting in a sack for a two-yard loss.
Accuracy concerns continued from there. Browning went three of nine for a paltry 17 yards on passes than 10 yards downfield. Receivers were getting open, but Browning couldn’t connect. These are the passes that backup quarterbacks are expected to complete to avoid third-and-long situations and keep their teams on track.
At first glance, things were better in the intermediate game (10-19 yards downfield) as Browning was three of four for 65 yards. However, two of the completions came against a soft coverage with only 11 seconds left on the final drive of the half. But the drive before this one was worrisome. Browning found receiver Chad Beebe after breaking the pocket for a 32-yard gain along the right sideline to get the Vikings into field goal range. Two plays later, he missed a wide-open Beebe on a corner route 18 yards downfield on the left sideline. It was a missed opportunity to get into the red zone and at least get the team into comfortable field goal range (if there was ever such a thing for the Vikings). Two plays later, Greg Joseph kicked a 49-yard field goal that fell just inside the right upright.
Browning finished the night 6-of-15 for 82 yards, but the offense didn’t get much better when Mond trotted out to begin the second half. He botched the snap from center Mason Cole on his first play. Mond struggled with the short passing game, only going four of eight for 20 yards. Many of these completions came on checkdowns on long-to-go situations as well, doing little more than moving the punting unit forward a few yards.
On the second-to-last Vikings drive of the night, Mond began moving the team downfield. They were only down 12-10 and had a chance to kick a field goal late and take the lead. After finding receiver Myron Mitchell for 22 yards and two runs, Minnesota faced third-and-four at the Colts’ 45-yard line. Mond rolled to his right, couldn’t find anyone open, and his pass fell incomplete. On fourth-and-four, with the game essentially on the line, he missed low and away on a pass to A.J. Rose that would have picked up the first down.
The final Vikings drive began at their own six-yard line with 22 seconds left and no timeouts to spare. Mond nearly threw an interception on his first pass. He then hit a 19-yard pass against soft coverage in the middle of the field, his only intermediate completion of the game, as the clock wound down before the next snap.
Mond finished the night 6-of-12 for 61 yards.
Through two weeks, both Browning and Mond have completed fewer than half of their passes. For comparison, Denver Broncos backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed seven of eight passes against Minnesota last week. On Saturday, both Colts quarterbacks showed that they were capable of moving the ball. Sam Ehlinger was 8-of-13 and Jacob Eason was 16-of-27 despite running fairly conservative schemes of their own.
In all fairness to Mond, he was drafted as a developmental project. However, the coaching staff has been high on Browning since they signed him in 2019. But he hasn’t shown enough to warrant being an NFL-caliber backup so far. Nate Stanley didn’t play once again last night and is likely on his way out. Because Browning has failed to deliver, the Vikings either have to hope that Mond accelerates his development and can become the primary backup, or they need to make a move to get a veteran quarterback. Mike Zimmer didn’t shoot down the idea following Saturday’s loss.
“We’ll see,” Zimmer said. “We’ll talk about it more this week. You know, with the monetary situation, we have to be careful about it as well.”
The backup quarterback spot can make or break a season. In 2016, Teddy Bridgewater‘s knee injury two weeks before the season left the Vikings scrambling to find a suitable replacement. They sent a first- and fourth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford. The former No.1-overall pick performed well that season, but it didn’t justify the price the team paid in a time of desperation. In the spring of 2017, Minnesota made a wise investment to bring Case Keenum in as their backup. When Bradford’s chronic knee issues sidelined him, Keenum filled in admirably, leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship game.
Although Cousins has yet to miss a game due to injury as a starting quarterback, there is a real possibility that he could miss time during the season due to COVID. It’s no secret that the polarizing QB hasn’t been vaccinated, so the team needs to have a viable backup plan in case he is forced to miss a game or more due to a positive test or close contact. Right now, that player doesn’t appear to be on the roster.