Kevin O’Connell Makes Final Call on Vikings’ Starting Quarterback for Week 18

Kevin O'Connell, Minnesota Vikings

Getty Head coach Kevin O'Connell of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Minnesota Vikings are making another quarterback change.

“We’re going to start Nick Mullens,” Head Coach Kevin O’Connell said via the team on January 3. “To me, Nick has – like what went into the decision last week – Nick has been very effective moving the team. We’ve been very explosive as an offense when he’s been in there.”

Mullens completed 69% of his passes for 714 yards and four touchdowns in his two starts. That is a 6,069-yard (a would-be NFL record), 34-touchdown season pace across 17 games.

Unfortunately for Mullens and the Vikings, he also has six interceptions

“Nick knows that the one area that we must focus on is possession of the football and not giving the football away,” O’Connell said. “Really, on some of those weighty-type downs – third-down, two-minute – where we’re kind of in that throw mode, he’s got to be a great decision-maker, trusting the other 10 guys to do their jobs at a really high level.”

Four of Mullens’ interceptions came in the loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 16, their Week 18 opponent.

It’s not a matter of understanding the offense, though, as O’Connell explained.

“I think he’s got a good feel for the principles of the offense,” O’Connell said. “He’s got a lot of reps logged you know as our backup over the last two years and as close as he is with Kirk. And their preparation together, whether Nick was playing or not, always was pretty top-shelf.

“We knew we could rely on him to go in the game [in Week 17 versus the Green Bay Packers] and move the team. … Really every game he’s started, we’re very competitive all the way down to the end. And you look back on those two or three, four plays here and there, that if we can just maintain possession of the football, what would that mean for our team on that drive?”

Mullens came in in relief of fifth-round rookie Jaren Hall who looked tentative most of the night, completing 65% of passes for 160 yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception.

He also absorbed four sacks, an issue that has plagued Mullens and Joshua Dobbs in their respective starts as well.

O’Connell isn’t the only one to make note of how debilitating the turnovers have been.

Justin Jefferson Cites Turnovers by Vikings Quarterbacks in ‘Complicated’ Season

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

GettyJustin Jefferson #18 of the Minnesota Vikings.

“This has been a complicated year, just with the injuries that has been occurring, the turnover battle that we face every single week, just dealing with a whole bunch of stuff throughout the season,” Justin Jefferson said during his availability. “It’s definitely one of the seasons that I can definitely say has been the most difficult that I’ve experienced just all around in general.”

The Vikings lead the league with 18.5% of their drives ending in a turnover, per Pro Football Reference.

That wasn’t Jefferson’s only reference to the Vikings turnover issue either.

“We don’t like the outcome of the games, we don’t want to go out there having three-plus turnovers, we don’t want to be that type of team. And we know that we have the talent on this team. It’s just not our time, and it’s just things that’s occurring that we cannot control.”

Jefferson again called this season “tough”. But he also acknowledged how close the team is.

“I love being around these guys,” Jefferson said. “I appreciate the relationship that I have been building with these guys in this locker room.”

The Vikings must keep Jefferson feeling that way as his contract – set to expire after next season – looms large, right along with Kirk Cousins’ future and that of top pass rushers Danielle Hunter and DJ Wonnum.

Kevin O’Connell Updates DJ Wonnum

DJ Wonnum, Minnesota Vikings

GettyD.J. Wonnum #98 of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Hawks lost Wonnum to a torn quad amid a breakout season. He is second on the team with 8.0 sacks, and his looming free agency further complicates his future. First, though, he has to get healthy, and O’Connell said Wonnum is well on his way.

“DJ Wonnum … did have a successful surgery to repair his quad injury,” O’Connell said. “He’s doing very well and already on the road to a full recovery.”

Wonnum’s injury could affect the offers he gets, potentially helping the chances he returns.