Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen have demonstrated plenty of chemistry on the field this season.
In his first nine games with the Vikings, Cousins has connected with Thielen 78 times for 947 yards. Overall, Cousins has thrown for 2,685 yards and 17 touchdowns, seven of which have been caught by Thielen.
In his weekly column for NFL.com, David Carr ranked the league’s top five QB-WR duos and slated Cousins-Thielen at No. 2 behind the Saints Drew Brees and Michael Thomas. Carr wrote:
This might not be a popular choice, but Thielen’s numbers are almost identical to Thomas’ heading into Week 11. While Thomas has been exceptional the last month, Thielen has been steady since Week 1 and became the only player in NFL history with 100 receiving yards in each of the first eight games of a season. This success can be attributed to his route-running and excellent hands.
Carr added that Thielen is, in his opinion, “the best route runner on this list.”
Thielen has brought out of the best in Cousins so far in 2018. When targeting Thielen, the first-year Minnesota quarterback is completing 75.7 percent of his passing attempts with seven touchdown passes, one interception and a 122.1 passer rating, according to Next Gen Stats. With everything that this pair has accomplished so far, the Vikings combo deserved this spot.
The final three duos on Carr’s list were the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, the Packers Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, and the Texans Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins.
In his individual offensive player rankings, Carr listed Thielen at No. 8 and highlighted the Vikings upcoming divisional game on Sunday Night Football.
Coming off a bye week, Thielen and the Vikings head into a huge divisional bout with the Bears, who rank fourth-best in both yards and points allowed. Thielen needs to have a big game for the Vikings to close the gap in the division.
Establishing run game could help Vikings in outdoor games
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook returned with a force after missing five games with a hamstring injury.
Cook exploded for a 70-yard run against the Lions and added a boost to Minnesota’s run game, which struggled out of the gate this season but slowly has gained momentum. Brian Hall wrote recently for the Associated Press that a strong showing by the Vikings run game could benefit them in upcoming outdoor contests:
Dalvin Cook's rush through the left side of the line for 70 yards last week was the longest gain of his professional career, an early game boost for the Minnesota Vikings in an important victory over Detroit before their bye.
That was the type of big running play that has been missing in most of Minnesota's games this year, a 22.05 mph burst that was clocked by the NFL's Next Gen Stats as the fastest in the league in 2018.
That also demonstrated what the Vikings will need more of down the stretch with a daunting schedule ahead.
Over the next four weeks, the Vikings will play outdoors at Chicago (Week 11), at New England (Week 13) and at Seattle (Week 14).
Hall quoted Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who said the following in a session with Twin Cities media members before the bye:
“I do think with some of these games as it starts to get colder, it is going to be more of a factor. I think we’re getting better at a lot of the areas in the running game. We have to continue searching for more ways to pound the ball.”
Cook and [Latavius] Murray combined for 120 rushing yards against the Lions. The Vikings have averaged 124 rushing yards over the past four games, up from 65.8 yards per game on the ground over the first five weeks.
The Vikings also claimed running back Ameer Abdullah last week after he was waived by the Lions. Abdullah, a second-round draft pick in 2015, only appeared in three games this year and carried the ball once. He averaged 3.8 yards per attempt in three seasons as the primary ball carrier, when he wasn't injured, before being replaced by rookie Kerryon Johnson this season.
Coller: Abdullah could make ‘immediate impact’ on special teams*
When the Vikings signed Abdullah earlier this week, the running back said he was excited for the opportunity and would do whatever was asked of him by the team.
With Cook and Murray already in the fold, it will be interesting to see how Minnesota utilizes Abdullah’s skill set. Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN.com highlighted Abdullah’s versatility and said that, when healthy, he’s able to catch the ball out of the backfield and contribute as a kick returner. Coller wrote:
In ’15 and ’17, he combined for 50 receptions and created first downs on half of those catches. Last season Pro Football Focus graded him as the 13th best receiving running back in the NFL, just behind Jerick McKinnon and just ahead of New England’s versatile back James White.
Abdullah was occasionally moved to different positions within the Lions’ offense last season, taking 20 snaps as an outside receiver and six snaps in the slot. It’s possible he could see more of those types of looks under the Vikings, who have become fond of sending Dalvin Cook out as a receiver and even used Cook and Latavius Murray on the same play during last week’s win over Detroit.
Coller said that making a significant difference on offense after joining the team midseason “may be challenging for Abdullah, who is behind two starting-caliber backs” and has yet to learn Minnesota’s playbook.
It would be a lot to expect Abdullah to fit into the offense much more than on an occasional basis to start, but one area where he can make an immediate impact is on special teams.
In ’15, he returned 37 kicks at an impressive 29.2 yards per return. This year he has four returns for 107 yards (26.8 per return). Asked if he might want to get back into the returning game, the Vikings’ new running back said, “I hope so.”