Bears-Vikings game could be a 2-person quarterback scramble with Fields and Dobbs both bound to run

Sun, Nov 26, 2023
NFL News (AP)

Bears-Vikings game could be a 2-person quarterback scramble with Fields and Dobbs both bound to run

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Joshua Dobbs first discovered his ability to run with the ball - and fondness for it - when he started playing the sport as a 6-year-old growing up in Georgia.

That scrambling speed and instinct for pass rush evasion are vital skills in the NFL these days, an unexpected jolt of energy for the Minnesota Vikings after the season-ending Achilles tendon injury to Kirk Cousins threatened to veer off course their bid for the playoffs.

Sometimes there's a simpler explanation, too.

"There's a lot of large individuals on the other side of the football, and it's painful when they hit you, so it's more of running not to have to be hit by those guys," Dobbs said. "It's always been part of my game, and now the key is always finding ways to make sure that aspect of the game is never lost."

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Dobbs has 389 rushing yards this season, including his totals with the Arizona Cardinals before he was acquired by the Vikings in an emergency trade, that's second only to Baltimore's Lamar Jackson among quarterbacks in the league. His 70 attempts are third behind Jackson and Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts.

In three games with Minnesota, Dobbs has three rushing touchdowns. The rest of the team has a total of two for the entire season.

"He has a real ability as a runner. I think it comes natural to him," coach Kevin O'Connell said. "We just have to find that right balance where we are tactically doing it for the right reasons and not taking that low-hanging fruit of just relying on that to run the football."

When the Vikings (6-5) host the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday night, there should be no assuming that a retreat to the pocket will precede a pass in the air.

Dobbs might just be a casual jogger compared to Justin Fields, whose 1,904 rushing yards over the past three years are second only to Jackson. In 34 career games, Fields has 137 scrambles, defined as a play with positive rushing yardage after a drop back to pass. That's the most in the league, according to Sportradar data. His average of 6.41 yards per attempt is also the best by any NFL quarterback with 20 or more runs over that span.

Fields has not come close to hitting his stride as a passer. The Bears (3-8) have been a team in tumult since trading up in the 2021 draft to take him with the 11th overall pick. The talent around Fields has been mostly lacking. The direction of the offense under coach Matt Eberflus and his staff over the past two seasons has been consistently questioned.

This prime-time matchup in Minnesota will pose an important test for Fields, who returned to the Bears last week after a four-game absence with a dislocated thumb. His future with the club remains in the balance with less than two months left in his critical third year.

Finishing strong is also on the to-do list at the game level. The Bears blew a 12-point lead with about three minutes left and lost 31-26 to the NFC North-leading Lions, spoiling an otherwise-sharp performance by Fields.

"Just doing all I can to make the team successful, whatever that includes. Whatever play call we have, just doing that play call, focusing on the play call," Fields said.

Fields has had draft status on his side, of course. Teams are typically committed for awhile to quarterbacks they pick in the first half of the first round. Dobbs never had that backing, as a fourth-rounder in 2017 who was initially stuck behind two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's been traded three times, including the deal that sent him to the Vikings for his seventh club in seven years in the league.

"You've got a lot of respect for a guy who can just come in and kind of will his team to victory," Bears linebacker T.J. Edwards said.

Though he has an aerospace engineering degree that makes deciphering defenses seem like a simple math problem and has plenty of zip on his throws, Dobbs ironically has had a hard time showcasing his best skill because of the sidewinding course of his career.

There's no tackling in practice in the NFL. Quarterbacks are off limits for contact, so there's rarely a true pass rush for them to work against.

"I'm difficult to tackle. I'm difficult to get to the ground in a lot of different scenarios, whether it's inside the pocket, outside the pocket," Dobbs said. "If you watch any of my film and old preseason tape, it shows up on tape constantly. But it is something hard to show in practice."

Both Cousins and Dobbs are set to become free agents in the spring. The Vikings will have to figure out soon whether to re-sign one of them, draft a new one, do both - or pick a different option. Dobbs, like Fields, will be auditioning over the next six games whether he's comfortable acknowledging it or not.

"I kind of accepted that it was going to be my journey," he said. "Whatever opportunity's thrown my way, no matter how big or small, I'm just going to make the most of it."

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