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Lions vs. Vikings 5Qs preview: Kevin O’Connell and the case of the backup QB conundrum

A preview with Christopher Gates about the Week 18 matchup between the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings.

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Week 18 has amounted to little more than a mere formality for the Detroit Lions this season, and how refreshing is that to read? The Lions wrapped up the division in Week 16 by knocking off the Minnesota Vikings in a nail-biter at U.S. Bank Stadium, but this week, they meet again to put a bow on the 2023 regular season.

As always, we would never pass up the opportunity to get some intel from the opponent’s perspective. Ahead of this Week 18 matchup between Detroit and Minnesota, we once again called on Christopher Gates from to give us some insight into how this Vikings team has seen the wheels fall off their season over the past couple of weeks, the concerns about Kevin O’Connell’s approach to play-calling with a bunch of different faces under center, and how Aqua Teen Hunger Force can be a source of wisdom for the Vikings fan base.

The Vikings have tried just about everything at quarterback this season after Kirk Cousins‘ injury, but it just seems like this is a case where the drop off from the starter to the backup was insurmountable. On top of that, injuries to key skill players like Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson haven’t helped.

Is that the case, or are there any long-term concerns with the offensive play-calling from Kevin O’Connell?

The concerns that I have with Kevin O’Connell’s play-calling at this point is that, for some reason, he seems to be calling the offense the same way for his backup quarterbacks that he would call it for Cousins. None of the Vikings’ other quarterbacks have the experience or the processing speed that Cousins has developed after over a decade in the NFL, but O’Connell seems to insist on running the offense the same way despite those limitations. He didn’t really take as much advantage of the extra mobility that Dobbs or Hall brings to the table and didn’t get them out on the edges much like he probably should have when they were in the game.

Mullens is probably the closest thing that the Vikings have to Cousins, but he isn’t on anywhere near the same level. The Vikings were really leaning on Cousins to stay healthy, and up until this season he hadn’t had any significant injuries since he came into the league. It’s difficult for teams to come back after dealing with an injury to the starting quarterback, and the quarterback play the Vikings have gotten since the injury shows not only that but exactly where Cousins is in the hierarchy of NFL quarterbacks. It’s a shame that it took Cousins getting hurt for a lot of Really Smart Football People™ to finally come to the realization that, “Hey, that guy’s actually pretty good at what he does.”

For a couple weeks in a row, the Vikings defense has been giving up points unlike it has since they turned things around in early October.

What’s going on with their defense, and how much of it seems to be the Vikings turnovers on offense putting undue pressure on Minnesota’s defense?

I think it’s a combination of injuries to significant players, the defense being on the field too much, and a bit of an overall lack of talent. In the last two games, the defense has been on the field for about 37 minutes/game, which isn’t a recipe for success. The fact that they were one decent throw away from potentially winning the Week 16 game despite the defense being on the field for nearly two-thirds of the game is strangely impressive, to be honest. But the pass rush doesn’t have a whole lot outside of Danielle Hunter now that D.J. Wonnum is gone, and Marcus Davenport has turned out to be a complete slug, and without Byron Murphy out there the cornerbacks have been less than stellar.

The defense carried this team to a lot of wins in the middle portion of the season and had them in position to win enough games where, if the offense could have done anything positive, this team would have salted away a playoff spot by now. But they’ve completely fallen apart since the fourth quarter of the Cincinnati game and it’s really just a combination of a bunch of things that all came to a head at the same time.

Who would you want to see as the team’s starter in this game? Jaren Hall, Nick Mullens, or Josh Dobbs? Is there any sort of incentive beyond this game to start any of these guys, or would you like the Vikings to invest at the backup/developmental QB spot in the offseason?

[Note: Since this question was asked, the Vikings named Nick Mullens the starter]

In the words of noted football analyst Carl Brutananadilewski, “It don’t matter. None of this matters.”

Ideally you’d like to see Hall get another opportunity, but he made it pretty abundantly clear last week that he’s simply not ready for this right now. There’s really nothing to play for but stats at this point, and given that, Mullens should probably get the start. Justin Jefferson is currently 118 yards away from 1,000, and after the injury issues he’s had this year, it would be nice to get him over that mark again for the fourth straight season. Mullens did throw for over 400 yards the last time these two teams got together, so at least he’s not afraid to let it rip and at least try to push the ball downfield. Plus, if the Vikings are actually trying to win this game, Mullens pretty clearly gives them the best chance of doing that.

Who is a player or coach you want to see put something on film in this game to give you confidence about them as part of the Vikings organization going into next season?

I would like some sort of confirmation that Lewis Cine is actually still on the roster and capable of contributing anything. He had a nasty injury that ended his rookie season after four games, and though he’s been healthy for most of this season, he’s been a scratch from a lot of games. The Vikings obviously saw something in him when they spent a first round pick on him, and with Harrison Smith possibly on his way out after this season, the Vikings are going to need some help at the safety position. It would be nice if Cine could show any sign that he was capable of being that player.

What piece of Vikings’ intel would you lend to a Lions fan who’s interested in gambling on this game?

[Note: You can catch the latest odds here at DraftKings Sportsbook]

I mentioned it earlier, but if you’re looking at player props, the over/under on receiving yards for Justin Jefferson is what I’d target. I think the Vikings are going to try to do everything they can to get him over that 1,000-yard mark. Jefferson had 141 yards the last time these teams met, and the Lions just gave up a huge game to CeeDee Lamb, so their secondary still clearly has issues with top-flight receivers. So, honestly, I think the “over” is a safe bet on that one. Other than that, the Lions are probably a safe bet to cover the number in this one, so if you want to put your money down on the home team that’s probably the best way to go.

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