If a band plays its best song to close out a show and the crowd screams for an encore, what does it play next?
We’re about to find out.
Josh Dobbs, fresh off his electrifying introduction, will start his first game for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The New Orleans Saints will not make his life easy. Both teams are 5-4. Each is clawing its way into the NFC playoff picture. The Athletic’s Alec Lewis and Jon Krawczynski are here for a preview.
Show up and show out as the Minnesota Vikings take on the Saints this Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium! pic.twitter.com/NOJmtF1puk
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) November 10, 2023
What I’m watching
Lewis: Robert Joshua Dobbs. Any other answer would be a lie. His story? Phenomenal. His play style? Captivating. Now that he knows more of the offense and the Vikings’ offensive linemen know his cadence, what will this next chapter bring? Sunday is a tough test. The Saints have one of the better defenses in the NFL. Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Paulson Adebo are especially tough. Their coach, defensive mind Dennis Allen, is unafraid to blitz from all angles at all times. Dobbs will have to be dialed in.
Two Vikings QBs and a whirlwind week: The story behind Josh Dobbs’ arrival in Minnesota
Krawczynski: A Vikings quarterback run. It’s been so long since we’ve seen a Vikings quarterback with the ability to take off and make plays with his legs. Christian Ponder could run, but that always felt more like he was running for his life. Joe Webb could run, but that always felt more like the Vikings were playing a running back at QB. Dobbs can run in the way the best running quarterbacks do it. He is decisive, but that’s not his first option. And when he does decide to take off, it’s not out of panic but determination. It will be intriguing to watch Kevin O’Connell devise a game plan with a quarterback who has that in his arsenal. It’s a dimension we are not used to seeing around here.
Lewis: The running game. Before Justin Jefferson strained his hamstring, the Vikings ranked third in rushing success rate, according to TruMedia. In the four weeks since, the Vikings rank 27th. Opposing defenses are applying more numbers in the box to stop the run, and Minnesota hasn’t had an answer. Only the Indianapolis Colts are averaging fewer yards per rush before contact than the Vikings in the past four weeks — which means the blocking is … well, close to nonexistent. I don’t know what the Vikings can do to Band-Aid this issue other than bring back Jefferson or add in run schemes with Dobbs carrying the football. Jefferson is not likely to play, and the Vikings can’t risk an injury to Dobbs. Add in Cam Akers’ torn Achilles and all I can do is cringe.
Krawczynski: The hangover. We’ve seen it so many times before, with the Vikings and teams around the league. Getting back up the next week after an emotional win is often a challenge. And it would be hard to find a more emotional victory than the one Minnesota had in Atlanta, getting a backup quarterback to engineer an incredible game-winning drive on the road five days after joining the team. Dobbs and the Vikings have been the talk of the league this week after their improbable win over the Atlanta Falcons. Now they have to move past it, refocus and play a tough Saints team at home. This will be no easy task.
Most interesting matchup
Lewis: Minnesota’s defense versus Taysom Hill. This guy is no parlor trick. He has 46 carries this season for 255 yards (5.2 yards per carry). He has 20 catches for 142 yards and a touchdown. And he has completed 5 of 6 pass attempts with a passer rating of 156.3. How will defensive coordinator Brian Flores defend him? Will undrafted rookie Ivan Pace Jr. serve as the spy? Will the Vikings move the responsibility around? Mostly, Hill’s rushing ability poses the toughest test. He is a 6-foot-2, 221-pound bowling ball who adds an extra number for the Saints on the ground. Stopping him will be critical but not easy.
What Brian Flores’ Vikings defense lacks in sexiness it makes up for in commitment
Krawczynski: Jordan Addison versus Paulson Adebo. The Saints cornerback has four interceptions and 11 passes defensed this season. He is active and aggressive, leading the team in interceptions on a defense that is among the best at taking the ball away. Addison seems to get tougher and tougher every week, accepting whatever challenge is thrown his way. Dobbs will need him to continue to be an explosive threat in the passing game while Jefferson works his way back.
Most interesting storyline
Lewis: The national attention focused on O’Connell. ESPN’s Pat McAfee invited O’Connell on his show earlier this week, and Dan Patrick did the same Friday. Most of the conversation revolved around the in-game communication between him and Dobbs. But they’ve also discussed the demeanor that has brought the Vikings back from the abyss. O’Connell did not waver at 0-3 or 1-4. His disposition remained the same. The result is a four-game winning streak without arguably his two best players. Can he keep the team prepared even after a win as emotional as Sunday’s? He did it last year. Here’s another test.
Krawczynski: That the Vikings’ season still matters after all they have endured. When they started 0-3 and Jefferson went down not long after, it was looking like we were destined to be talking about tanking for Caleb Williams. Then they showed some life but Kirk Cousins got hurt. The season was over, right?! Not so fast. Dobbs’ out-of-nowhere performance last week gives this team the belief that it can still reach the playoffs in the wide-open NFC. All these games matter now, and that is a good place to be considering how bleak things looked early on. There are few things worse in sports than a team that knows it has no chance with half the season to play. It’s such a grind. But the Vikings most definitely have a chance.
Schematic matchup to keep in mind
Only four NFL teams play more Cover 1 than the Saints (31 percent). That means New Orleans is not afraid to leave its cornerbacks (Lattimore and Adebo) on islands. At times, the Saints will even move Lattimore and Adebo with specific receivers depending on who lines up in the slot. Man coverage creates holes for a quarterback with legs. If cornerbacks’ backs are turned, scrambling lanes should be open. Dobbs could feast on those opportunities Sunday — that is, unless the Saints spy him. In that case, fewer defenders will drop into coverage to stop Addison and tight end T.J. Hockenson. As tough as it might be to run, the Vikings could create chances through the air.
Lewis: Vikings 23, Saints 21. I can’t pick against them again. At least, not yet. Not until this magic runs out. The Saints are stout defensively. Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed and Alvin Kamara are dangerous skill players on offense. Fortunately, the Vikings have a rocket scientist, a defensive coordinator who should be earning praise nationally and a head coach who has held it all together.
Krawczynski: Vikings 27, Saints 23. You thought I’d pick against the Passtronaut in his first home game? The Saints are tough, but the Falcons also have a good defense, and Dobbs handled it in the most chaotic situation imaginable. The key will be limiting turnovers. A week of preparation should help everyone feel a little more comfortable.
2023 Vikings week-by-week predictions
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(Photo: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)
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