4 Downs to 6-5: Backsliding In Broncos Country

1st Down: It never ceases to amaze me that in such a physical sport and one in which X’s & O’s are pored over to the detriment of coaching staff’s health, the outcome of each contest largely comes down to which squad gives the ball to the opposing team "free of charge". Up eight points (17-9) with 2:48 remaining in the third quarter and on the Denver Broncos 34 yard line, Minnesota Vikings RB Alexander Mattison coughed up the rock and the home team recovered. To say nothing of the previous fumble (on the game’s first drive) and a Joshua Dobbs interception, that single turnover likely doomed a defeat in Denver. A TD probably puts the game away, while even a FG puts further pressure on a Broncos offense that had really done very little to that point. Alas, ala Weeks 1-4, the fumble opened the door a crack and when that happens on the road it usually leads to disastrous results.

2nd Down: Though predictably the cynical chatter about this loss will center on "whelp—I guess Dobbs isn’t the answer at QB", I refuse to believe he was the reason for this defeat. Quite the opposite—he was making plays to keep drives alive and both TDs were on tremendous athletic plays with his feet. On the pick, his arm was hit—it wasn’t a "horrible throw" scenario. Granted, it was clear that being on the road in a noisy stadium against a solid pass defense made him look less super-human than in recent weeks, but to say he played extremely poorly would be inaccurate, I think.

3rd Down: I will say, part and parcel to above, that clearly the biggest weakness of the Dobbs regime thus far is the ability to push the ball deep downfield. Dobbs has been great at finding the TEs and RBs in the flats and short routes, but Jordan Addison has pretty much been a non-factor since Kirk Cousins went down. Is this a Dobbs fatal flaw—or perhaps indicative of Justin Jefferson still not out on the field? Because we don’t know the answer to that question yet, I’ll give him an "Incomplete" rather than a "Fail" in the deep-ball category thus far. Now, if/when JJ returns and Dobbs still can’t take the top of a defense? Then I’ll have real concerns about his long-term viability. Hopefully next week against the Bears will begin to provide some clarity.

4th Down: A positive to take from this game even amidst the turnover tantrums is that it was clearly the best ground effort from this team so far this season. Eighty-one yards (4.5 YPA) for Mattison and 73 yards (7.3 YPA) for Ty Chandler—that is tremendous by 2023 Vikings standards! If I’m KOC this week, that’s the positive message I’m trying to hang my hat on. Clearly the running game needed to improve—and it did. Now, is it sustainable?

XP: As much as it stings to lose a game in which I firmly believe the Vikings were the better-coached and more-efficient team on the field but for the turnovers, at least it was an AFC defeat and not quite as relevant in the NFC Wild Card playoff hunt. A stunning Detroit Lions victory made the NFC North crown seem a little more "pipe dream" than "reality" at the current moment, but getting back in the win column (especially versus NFC foes) is now paramount to keep up with the NFC WC Joneses.

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