EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak has been impressed with Stefon Diggs.
The fifth-year receiver has shown up on highlight reels multiple times this season and particularly in the latter portion of the season. Through 11 games, Diggs has racked up 46 catches for 880 yards and five touchdowns, averaging an impressive 19.1 yards per reception.
Diggs' second-half surge on Sunday of five catches for 121 yards included a 54-yard touchdown reception and helped propel the Vikings to a 27-23 victory over the Broncos. Coincidentally, Diggs recorded six catches for 87 yards in making his pro debut back in 2015 at Denver against a team led by Kubiak.
With Minnesota (8-3) in its bye week, Kubiak spoke with Twin Cities media members on Tuesday and was asked if Diggs' performance is particularly striking considering Minnesota's offense that involves a heavy dose of run game.
"I'll tell you what – not only that, obviously we ran the ball a lot early in the season, that's been well-documented, but I think the fact that Adam [Thielen has] been out and the way that Diggsy has played is even more credit to him," Kubiak said.
Thielen suffered a hamstring injury at Detroit in Week 7. Since that day, Diggs has recorded three games of 100-plus receiving yards, bringing his season total of games with that benchmark to five and career mark to 15, which is sixth in Vikings history.
"I mean, he [is getting] doubled, you name it, people are trying to take him out of the football game," Kubiak explained. "So, what we are having to ask him to do, and I've told him this, when you've got a receiver on the field who you're trying to get the ball to and people are taking him away, you really have to challenge the receiver: 'You've gotta move, you've gotta motion, you've gotta do things maybe you're not comfortable with so we can get you open.'
"He's bought into that, and [there was] a great example of that in the second half this past week," Kubiak added.
Here are four other topics that Kubiak covered during his podium session:
1. Helping Cousins play fast
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has put up career numbers over the past seven weeks and seems to be playing at a faster speed.
Kubiak said the difference can be credited not only to Cousins himself but to coaching staff and particularly Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
"I think how you call plays can help a quarterback play faster, so you've got to [credit] Kevin with that," Kubiak said. "We have a lot of eyes on Kirk. You've got [quarterbacks coach] Klint [Kubiak] in there, you've got me in there, you've got Kevin, who's coached quarterbacks, and [offensive line coach/run game coordinator] Rick Dennison, who's coached quarterbacks.
"I think as coaches, you're always trying to find out what your guy does best and how you can help him play at his best," he continued. "Making quick decisions, getting rid of the football in this league, you can't talk about that enough because it's a game where, if you hold the ball too long, bad things happen. We've just tried to put a big point of emphasis on that, and the way Kevin has called games has been the most important thing with how Kirk's been able to translate that to Sundays."
*2. Highlighting characteristics of Cook *
Kubiak, who has coached a number of talented running backs throughout his years in the league, was asked if Dalvin Cook reminds him of anyone.
He said "they're all different" but did point to a common thread that he sees between Cook and the likes of Terrell Davis, Arian Foster and Clinton Portis, all of whom have been under his tutelage.
"They have a toughness [and] edge to them," Kubiak explained. "Dalvin's not the biggest guy in the world, but when he runs, he runs angry. And he pass protects; he'll stick his face in there and do those types of things.
"So, those guys have an edge, and Dalvin has it," he added. "But the thing that Dalvin's done a great job for us – he's a three-down player, he's on the field protecting Kirk, catching the football, so we're able to get him other ways to help us win than just handing it to him."
3. A heavy dose of offense
One signature mark of Minnesota's 2019 offense is the heavy personnel packages that the Vikings have used, including multiple tight end sets.
He told reporters that the system works because the team is "kind of built" in a way conducive to that approach. He emphasized the talent level of tight ends Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith, Jr., and Tyler Conklin, who all have contributed in key ways throughout the first 11 games.
"They've been healthy, so we've had them up every week. We have the ability with the fullback (C.J. Ham) to play the game that some people, I mean, maybe a third of the teams in this league carry a fullback, so we're just kind of built to play that way a little bit," Kubiak said.
He added that the ability to implement the larger packages can "calm down the game" for a team depending on the defense it's facing.
"It's just a give-and-take and what gives you the best chance to make some big plays, to still be consistent running the ball," Kubiak said. "It's just something that works for us, and our health has probably been a big part of that."
4. Stefanski adjusting without a big threat
Diggs and Thielen form one of the best receiver tandems in the NFL, often forcing opponents to make hard decisions on which player they most want to minimize.
Even though Thielen has missed all or part of the past five games, the Vikings have been able to go 4-1 in that stretch.
No team wants to miss an All-Pro-level player, but the absence has allowed other players opportunities to contribute more often and for Stefanski to gain experience with creating elsewhere.
Kubiak pointed out that some teams are better than others at taking away strengths. He noted the success of Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick at making opponents, in the words of some, "play left-handed." Kubiak credited Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio with taking some things away from the Vikings on Sunday.
"That is a tremendous challenge. That's what you have to learn to do. People are so good in this business," Kubiak said. "Obviously Vic, tremendous defensive football coach, but when you show up on Sunday and whether you're playing Belichick or somebody who says, 'This guy won't beat me,' but yet it's your job as a coach to say, 'Well, that's one of my best players, I've got to give him a chance to beat you.' It's a chess match, and it's one that takes a lot of work between player and coach to get him loose and give him a chance."