Dobbs Is About To Unlock A New Dimension In Kevin O’Connell’s Playbook

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings’ new signal caller is arguably the biggest story in all of sports at the moment. In just over two weeks with the Vikings, Josh Dobbs has led a game-winning drive after coming in relief of Jaren Hall against the Atlanta Falcons and ignited U.S. Bank Stadium with his spectacular play against the New Orleans Saints. Now that the initial shock factor (and for all the right/fun reasons) surrounding Dobbs is in the rearview, let’s settle in and explore what could possibly be in store for Minnesota’s offense with The Passtronaut from here on out.

As Skoldiers have seen over his first two games, Dobbs is a truly dynamic dual-threat quarterback. His ability to extend plays and escape a collapsing pocket has produced some of the more memorable moments of the entire season. But after two weeks, seemingly all of Dobbs’ production as a rusher has resulted from scrambles and not designed runs. Of the 110 rushing yards that Dobbs has accumulated since Week 9, only 11 yards have come by way of schemed runs. Kevin O’Connell called just two designed runs for Dobbs against the New Orleans last week.

  • A simulated zone-read on third-and-one in the second quarter where Ty Chandler abandoned the run fake and instead attacked the “read” edge defender to help spring Dobbs for 11 yards.
  • A zone-read on third-and-two to ice the game late in the fourth quarter, where Dobbs stumbled for no gain.

It’s important to note that the Vikings were in little to no position to dial up Dobbs in the designed run game during Week 9’s contest at Atlanta, simply because O’Connell didn’t have another quarterback on the active roster after Hall left the game with the concussion and Minnesota’s emergency quarterback, Cam Akers, left the game with an Achilles injury in the third quarter. With Minnesota’s unofficial QB5, Sean Mannion, serving as Dobbs’ backup last Sunday against the Saints, O’Connell wasn’t necessarily able to unleash Dobbs in the schemed run game. But if and when Nick Mullens returns from IR and can serve as the Vikings’ backup quarterback, that should give Minnesota’s play-caller a little extra breathing room for maximizing Dobbs’ skillset with his legs.

As the Arizona Cardinals’ starting quarterback for eight games to start the season, offensive coordinator (and former Vikings assistant) Drew Petzing called 36 designed runs for Dobbs. With the many weapons opposing defenses have to account for on Minnesota’s defense, reverting Dobbs to his roughly five designed runs per game from his stint in Arizona sounds like the sweet spot for O’Connell’s offense.

Skoldiers are chomping at the bit for Justin Jefferson to return. While his status remains in question for Sunday night’s primetime affair against the Denver Broncos, there’s one area of Jefferson’s game that Dobbs could help unlock — and for the first time since Jefferson entered the league. Before I go any further, this is by no means intended to be a shot towards Kirk Cousins. After all, Cousins is still one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL today.

However, essentially all of Jefferson’s production in Minnesota has come as a result of Cousins working through his progressions and getting the ball out on time and where the play calls for. That’s not to say that Jefferson doesn’t have autonomy within the confines of the offense with Cousins. Jefferson has made plenty of splash plays on option-routes within O’Connell’s scheme. Jefferson’s fourth-quarter touchdown grab against the New York Giants (in the regular season) last year is a perfect example of Jefferson winning on the option-route.

With Dobbs, the Vikings now have a quarterback who can routinely ad-lib outside the pocket and create splash plays that aren’t necessarily drawn up. At LSU in 2019, some of Jefferson’s biggest plays came when Joe Burrow escaped the pass rush, left the pocket, and found Jefferson working towards open grass deep downfield:

This should go without saying, but Dobbs isn’t the same caliber of quarterback as Burrow. Still, with Dobbs’ ability to turn something magical out of nothing, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see The Passtronaut hook up with Jefferson deep downfield a time or two. It would be similar to what Jefferson once had with Burrow when they were forced to operate outside of structure.

Speaking of the 2019 LSU Tigers, this next concept has been frequently deployed by former LSU passing-game coordinator and current Buffalo Bills interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady. He used it for Burrow and the Tigers against Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. Brady also used it for Cam Newton during Brady’s stint with the Carolina Panthers and last year for Josh Allen and the Bills. Again, this is not an attempt to bag on Cousins. But Brady’s unique concept is strictly reserved for quarterbacks who pose a legitimate threat in the designed run game. That’s precisely what the Vikings have now in Dobbs, thus making this Joe Brady staple a possibility for O’Connell’s offense.

Oddly enough, Minnesota’s current passing-game coordinator, Brian Angelichio, spent two years working under Brady with the Panthers before joining O’Connell’s staff last season. Similar to what O’Connell did by bringing some of his former boss Sean McVay’s go-to guys with him to Minnesota, I like to think that Angelichio picked up a thing or two on his former boss’ signature staple.

This particular Brady go-to concept is a run-pass-option (RPO) out of an initial 3×1 look. With the quarterback operating out of the gun, the running back goes into a “tear” motion to the trips side. Pre-snap, this forces the defenses to honor the possibility of a swing pass to the running back because of the potential numbers advantage. If the defense doesn’t properly account for the numbers advantage on the swing pass, the quarterback has the option to hit the back on the swing.

The next phase of this concept is for the quarterback to threaten the defense on the draw. At this point, the “read” defender is the free safety over the top of the isolated receiver. If the safety drops in coverage and is more concerned with the isolated receiver, the quarterback takes the run option and picks up as many yards as possible. If the safety triggers on the quarterback draw, you throw directly into and over the safety on the glance route for the isolated receiver.

Here’s this concept in action from 2019 with LSU. Ja’Marr Chase is the isolated receiver:

Here is in 2021 with the Panthers. D.J. Moore is the isolated receiver:

And here it is in 2022 with the Bills. Stefon Diggs is the isolated receiver:


Whether it be Jefferson or Jordan Addison as the isolated receiver for this particular RPO, the Vikings now have the necessary running threat at quarterback to effectively pull this off.

That’s why activating Dobbs more frequently in the designed run game could be critical for Minnesota’s offense. Doing so opens up opportunities to get the ball more easily to Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, and/or Addison through the RPO game. Suppose O’Connell can consistently demonstrate to opposing defenses that he’s more than willing to weaponize Dobbs in the schemed run game. In that case, it forces opposing defensive coordinators into an even bigger bind to simultaneously defend Minnesota’s plethora of skill-position players — not to mention that getting Josh Oliver out on the edge in designed runs for Dobbs has potential for chunk gains.

With Jefferson’s long-awaited return immediately impending, now could be the ideal time to open it up for Dobbs through the designed run and RPO game.

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