Over the past two weeks, the Vikings have hit on 10 passing plays that went for at least 20 yards.
Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have been the primary recipients from Kirk Cousins on those explosive plays, as the pair of wide receivers have tallied six of them, with three apiece.
ESPN Vikings beat writer Courtney Cronin recently wrote about how Minnesota’s offense has found more of a balance in the past few games, with Diggs and Thielen unsurprisingly leading the charge through the air.
Behind many of the explosive plays are two elite-level receivers hauling in critical gains. Diggs and Thielen transform Minnesota’s offense from a very good one into a very dangerous one, and as the division race heats up and a slew of important road games lie on the horizon, these two will be the determining factor in allowing the Vikings to see just how far they can go.
Judging by the Vikings’ game plan, it’s evident that the coaching staff feels the same way.
After posting the highest rush percentage (58%) in the league through Week 3, Minnesota shifted the direction of its playcalling. The Vikings have thrown the ball nearly 10 more times per game the last three weeks compared to the first three weeks, calling for passes on 56 percent of plays from Week 4 on compared to 42 percent in Weeks 1-3.
View the Vikings practice photos from October 16 at the TCO Performance Center as they prepare to take on the Lions.
Cronin also noted that Minnesota’s strong run game — and the emphasis on it in the first few weeks of the season — has opened up chances in the play-action passing game for Cousins, Thielen and Diggs.
A big part of their success comes through the play-action game. Against the Giants, Cousins’ average yards per attempt on play-action was 13.9, nearly double (6.8) what it was on such passes in the first four games. Thielen’s third-quarter touchdown [against New York] came off play-action.
Diggs, too, has seen his production spike when getting more involved in this area. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Diggs has turned seven targets into five catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns off play-action in Weeks 4-6. He had one catch for 31 yards in Weeks 1-3.
Thielen has a team-high 26 catches and five touchdowns in 2019, and he has 366 receiving yards. He is tied for second in the NFL in touchdown receptions.
Diggs leads Minnesota with 420 receiving yards, and he has four touchdowns on 23 receptions.
Cousins has completed 108 of 155 passes (69.7 percent) for 1,374 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions through six games. He has a passer rating of 108.4, the third-best mark in the NFL.
PFF has Vikings defense in top 10 so far in 2019
Through six games, the Vikings defense ranks fifth in the league by allowing 310.3 yards per game, and are sixth with 15.5 points allowed per game.
It’s been a team effort, according to Pro Football Focus, as the analytics website credited multiple players on defense for Minnesota’s strong play so far.
PFF writer Ben Linsey had high praise for the Vikings, and ranked Minnesota seventh among all defenses. Linsey noted that Minnesota’s pass coverage has been among the best in the league so far in 2019.
If it wasn’t already clear at this point, let’s restate: coverage matters. The Vikings have a top three PFF coverage grade in the NFL as a team, joining the Patriots and the 49ers. It has been their linebackers and safeties — Eric Kendricks, Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith — that have been most impressive in coverage.
The Vikings linebackers and safeties have combined for 15 forced incompletions, which is five more than any other team in the league. Meanwhile on their pass rush, both Danielle Hunter (39 pressures) and Everson Griffen (36 pressures) rank among the top five defenders league-wide in total pressures.
Harris leads the Vikings with a pair of interceptions, while Smith, Anthony Barr, Griffen and Mackensie Alexander each have one.
Hunter has a team-high 6.0 sacks. Griffen has 3.0 sacks, and Linval Joseph and Eric Wilson each have recorded 2.0 sacks.