Kevin O’Connell’s Coach of the Year Chance May Now Hinge on a Single Decision

Second Straight
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Before becoming an NFL head coach, Kevin O’Connell became an NFL quarterback.

He entered the league via the 3rd round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He was the backup to some upstart QB named Thomas Edward Patrick Brady. Things didn’t work out particularly well as a player (for O’Connell, not Brady). O’Connell’s career as a quarterback finished with just a couple of games where has was active. In those opportunities, he put together some modest passing by having gone 4/6 for 23 scoreless yards.

Does Who Plays
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Anyone who follows the Vikings will know by now that the head coach opted for Josh Dobbs to remain as the starter coming out of the bye. A controversial decision, no doubt, and yet one that has its merits (even if your humble author would have gone in a different direction).

At 6-6, the Vikings are in full control of their playoff destiny. True, the NFC North is likely out of reach, but a Wild Card spot is up for grabs. Winning every game would mean Minnesota gets into the final tournament. Will the QB decision help or hinder that goal?

Go ahead and shrink things down to an individual level: will O’Connell’s decision to keep Dobbs under center help or hinder his case for Coach of the Year in 2023? There will be no award for O’Connell unless there is a playoff appearance for Minnesota. The play from the quarterback is the factor that will most impact the team’s ability to make the postseason. In a sense, then, O’Connell’s shot at the prestigious award may hinge on what he decided to do at quarterback coming out of the bye.

Kevin O’Connell, Coach of the Year, and The Controversial QB Conundrum

Make no mistake: any decision would have had its detractors and critics. Kevin O’Connell could have gone with any of Josh Dobbs, Nick Mullens, or Jaren Hall. Anyone from those three would have led to no shortage of skepticism about the head coach’s decision.

3 Weeks Ago a Viking
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Being the captain of this Vikings ship can be quite easy when Kirk Cousins is healthy. No need to debate anything; Mr. Cousins is the QB1. What happens, though, when he experiences and unprecedented injury within his career? The QB who never gets hurt tore his Achilles.

The end result was the Vikings choosing between a pair of career-long backups and journeymen — Dobbs & Mullens — and then a 5th-round rookie — Hall.

Opting for Dobbs does allow for a cleaner operation if the offense continues to struggle. The danger with inserting Mullens is things could get chaotic if he struggles. Picture a world where Mullens is horrendous. Kevin O’Connell, feeling pressure to salvage the season, reverses course by deciding to give Mullens a spot on the bench.

In that scenario, is the play to flip things over to Dobbs or to Hall? How would it appear if the head coach who used to be a QB got the decision wrong coming out of the bye? How would the team respond to seeing the game’s most important position so uncertain?

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A cleaner decision is to let things go with Dobbs. If he struggles, then it’s just a single decision moving into the next best option: Mr. Mullens.

Kevin O’Connell foreshadowed precisely this possibility in his press conference earlier in the week. “Nick Mullens will be ready to go,” O’Connell said, “We’ll prepare Nick like we always do. He’s one of the most professional guys I’ve been around, always ready to roll. And our entire team knows that they can count on Nick when called upon.”

In theory, O’Connell could have made the wrong decision by choosing Dobbs. He could quickly pivot toward Mullens, saving the Week 14 contest in Las Vegas and thus saving Minnesota’s chance at reaching the final tournament.

That possibility, though, is far from a sure thing. A Dobbs disaster in Week 14 will probably lead to another loss. Dropping to 6-7 within an NFC playoff push that features four other teams sitting at 6-6 isn’t going to make things easy for the Vikings. Every win is precious; every loss is disastrous.

Happened to Vikings
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Overcoming the long-term loss of Kirk Cousins to still get his squad into the playoffs will mean voters need to think long and hard about who is more worthy than Mr. O’Connell for the Coach of the Year Award.

Generally speaking, losing a QB1 should be the death knell of a season. For the Vikings, Cousins was lost while Mullens was already out. The next best option was Hall, but he promptly got hurt, as well. Playing without the QB1, QB2, and QB3 should have really doomed Minnesota. Instead, Dobbs pulled off the victory in Atlanta. He did so without starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw and the NFL’s best receiver in Justin Jefferson. Oh, and K.J. Osborn left the game early due to injury. So did Cam Akers.

The point, folks, is that Kevin O’Connell has done some truly masterful work by keeping Minnesota in the hunt. He won’t be considered a candidate for the coaching hardware, though, unless his team overcomes all of the adversity by getting into the postseason. The single most consequential decision for that pursuit comes in the form of who will be starting at quarterback.

We’ll begin getting a sense of whether O’Connell made a wise move around 3:05 p.m. on Sunday, December 10th when the Vikings/Raiders game gets off the ground.

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

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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.