While this is a performance to be remembered, what can we expect from Dobbs moving forward? And has the recent success found in Dobbs’ ground game opened the team’s eyes to new quarterback possibilities? Are the playoffs still a possibility?
Is the Passtronaut ready for liftoff?
Dobbs’ 31-point performance likely leaves fans with expectations higher than what you would expect from a 7th-round pick swap trade acquisition. The offense is unlikely to regularly surpass the 31-point mark given the numerous issues that persist outside of the fresh face under center. For starters, it is likely that Jefferson is out another week. Adam Schefter reported on Monday that he expects Jefferson to be out this week but expects him to return “sooner rather than later.” Another point of interest is the recent injury of star left tackle Christian Darrisaw. Darrisaw injured his groin in a late-week practice prior to the week 9 Falcons game. While this does not look to be a major injury, Darrisaw is officially questionable to return for week 10 against the New Orleans Saints. The greatest cause for concern exists in the Vikings’ nearly nonexistent run game. With the recent injury of Cam Akers, the Vikings are now set to once again lean on 5th-year running back Alexander Mattison. Mattison’s season so far has been sub-par, to put it nicely. Mattison is currently towards the bottom of the league with a PFF grade of 58.0 and 0 rushing touchdowns.
Enter Josh Dobbs. Dobbs has had the opposite of what one would call a stable home in the NFL. Being on his 5th NFL roster in one calendar year, Dobbs has been forced to learn several new offenses in very little time. How will his fifth offense pan out?
Dobbs started the season with the Arizona Cardinals. Being the team’s starter while Kyler Murray was dealing with a torn ACL he suffered in December of last season, Dobbs was forced to adapt quickly after being dealt to the team from the Browns just before the start of the regular season. Dobbs has 1569 passing yards on the year with another 324 yards being contributed on the ground. With 8 passing touchdowns to his 5 interceptions, Dobbs is far from a perfect passer, but with his combination of quickness and decision-making, expect Dobbs to be a threat on the ground.
One-Sided Dual Threat
Dobbs has an interesting skillset as an NFL quarterback. He is by all means an elite rusher of the football. Whether it be his escapability from sacks as shown in his 4th down conversion to keep the game in play, or his scramble for a near score at the goal line. Below is a chart of “dual-threat quarterbacks” and how their passing and rushing grades compare.
This evaluation could be better. Jalen Hurts is clearly a better rusher than Jared Goff. This is likely due to either a small sample size or Hurts’ recent injury concern that has limited his rushing attack. As for Tua, this is likely due to the several injuries dealt to the Dolphins’ offensive line and Tua’s recent lack of using his legs as a weapon themselves. However, this chart does clearly show four different categories of quarterbacks.
In the upper left-hand we have what is known as our statue passers. Notice how several of the quarterbacks in this quadrant tend to be high in age. Tannehill, Stafford, Goff, and Smith are entering their age 29-plus season. Using your legs pretty regularly is not something often asked of veteran quarterbacks. While a few young quarterbacks make it into this quadrant, players such as Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow primarily use their legs as a way of avoiding sacks and looking to throw downfield instead of using them as a direct weapon.
In the upper right-hand quadrant, we have what is known as the superstars. The players are savants in two aspects of the game. These guys tend to use both their arm and their legs as weapons. This is home to many of the NFL’s best quarterbacks such as Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Lamar Jackson. These players tend to be in the middle of their career aside from C.J. Stroud who has started his young NFL career red hot in both dimensions of the position.
In the bottom left-hand quadrant, we have what is known as our strugglers. This is home to many journeyman quarterbacks and young players figuring out their place in the league. With a sample size of nine games, don’t expect these results to be rigid considering the learning that occurs throughout a season for young players. Notice the lack of money invested in this quadrant. These players have not stood out in either dimension.
In the bottom right-hand quadrant, we have our runners. These players leave some significant meat on the bone in the passing dimension but provide some value with their legs used as a weapon themselves. Some of these players are younger, as younger players tend to rely on athleticism, explaining the presence of Justin Fields, Jordan Love, and Brock Purdy.
Here is the Vikings’ new quarterback Josh Dobbs. Dobbs displays a rushing grade of 90.6, trailing only Brock Purdy and not by much. This new dimension of the quarterback position is something younger Vikings fans are likely unfamiliar with. The days of Randall Cunningham and Daunte Culpepper are far behind us. Notice the completely opposite sides of the chart the Vikings injured quarterback Kirk Cousins and Vikings current quarterback Josh Dobbs are on. This creates a new realm of possibilities for coach Kevin O’Connell. While many are expecting O’Connell’s playcalling to shift to a new reliance on read options and RPOs, O’Connell’s experience as part of the Shannahan coaching tree puts him in an interesting spot. O’Connell has spent the past 6 years coaching quarterbacks belonging to the statue quadrant. Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins being the most recent quarterbacks with O’Connell at the helm. While this is something new for the Vikings 2nd-year coach, expect the play-calling to play on Dobbs’ strength.
Dobbs uses his mobility for more than just scrambles. His mobility puts him among the league’s best for avoiding sacks. Pressure to sack conversion is a metric that measures how often a player who is pressured takes a sack. Dobbs ranks 11th out of 32 quarterbacks who have started in more than four games this season in this metric, ranking ahead of quarterbacks who are known for their mobility such as Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott and Justin Fields. While this is just one facet of his game, sacks can be singlehandedly responsible for ending a drive. Josh Hermsmeyer of FiveThirtyEight finds that drives are 18.4% more likely to end in a punt if a sack occurred during that drive. Taking fewer sacks means fewer premature failures.
Why does Dobbs have a passing grade of 57.2? The answer lies in his sometimes questionable decision-making with the ball. Dobbs is especially bad in his “turnover-worthy plays” or plays that can likely result in turnovers. This accounts for dropped interceptions, lucky breaks for the offense, or other forms of ball carelessness. Dobbs posted a turnover-worthy play percentage of 4% per PFF which far exceeds Cousins’ 2.8% rate. While this number may not seem like much, a difference of 1.2% could mean an extra fumble or interception every other game. While many consider Dobbs a dual-threat quarterback, it appears his legs pose a greater threat than his arm. With the expected return of Justin Jefferson will this continue?
Has the Ship Completed the 180?
After all of the nerdy charts, sack pressure ratios and mobility discussions, do the Vikings actually have a chance of making the playoffs?
The short answer is yes, they do.
The NFC is clearly the weaker conference this season with several divisions such as the NFC North being home to only two above .500 teams. This puts the Vikings in potential wildcard contention and even division title contention if the Lions have a rough stretch of games (which is highly unlikely but possible). The Vikings are entering the soft underbelly of their schedule with the next four games being the Saints, Broncos, Raiders, and Bears, oh my. These teams have a combined record of 14 – 21 and a point differential of -121. While it is impossible to expect every game to be a guaranteed win with a backup quarterback, the recent improvement on defense and the expected return of Justin Jefferson and Christian Darrisaw in the near future gives the Vikings a serious chance at playoff contention.
One thing to take away from this team is the fact that they will never quit. Whether it be the 1-4 start, the injuries to Cousins, Jefferson, Darrisaw and Hall, the Vikings have had plenty of opportunities to quit that frankly, no one would blame them for doing. But the perseverance and the utter refusal to slide into “tank mode” has this team both culturally and physically prepared for the most important stretch of their schedule. While Dobbs have proven he can fly a spaceship with his aerospace engineering degree, only time will tell if he can fly the talents of JJettas to the moon.
The Vikings close out week 9 of the 2023 NFL season with a 31-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. With a total of three touchdown contributions from Josh Dobbs, the Vikings post their highest scoring total since their record-breaking comeback win in week 15 of the 2022 NFL season.
Being without Kirk Cousins is certainly not a prerequisite to scoring your season high but the context around this win makes Dobbs’ performance all the more impressive. Just to compile a short list, the Vikings were without…
Jaren Hall (Hurt midgame)
Cam Akers (Hurt midgame)
… to name a few. Dobbs was by no means expected to play this week. Being freshly acquired from the Arizona Cardinals last Tuesday, executing a 31-point performance within 5 days of being acquired is impressive, to say the least. Reports from Kevin Seifert mention Dobbs not taking a single rep in practice with the offense since his acquisition.