EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings offense is slightly better than the middle-of-the-pack at the midway point of the 2018 season.
Minnesota ranks 12th overall with 374.3 yards per game and is 13th in the NFL with 24.6 points per game.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman met with the Twin Cities media Tuesday in his annual bye-week session and gave his thoughts on the Vikings so far.
And when it came to the offense, Spielman pointed at plenty of good things the unit has done. But he also indicated there is plenty of potential for more success, especially as a healthy Dalvin Cook joins the likes of Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Latavius Murray on the field.
But Spielman pointed to Minnesota’s offensive line as the group that could really propel the progress.
The Vikings started, from left to right, Riley Reiff, Danny Isidora, Pat Elflein, Mike Remmers and Brian O’Neill in Sunday’s win against the Lions.
It was the fifth starting combination for the line this season, one more than the Vikings rolled out through nine games in 2017.
More importantly, it was the first time that the quartet of Reiff, Elflein, Remmers and O’Neill had started together. [Isidora is currently filling in for an injured Tom Compton].
Spielman noted that group of four linemen will be fixtures on the line and could determine how the Vikings fare offensively over the final seven games of the season.
“I think last week you saw Riley come back. I think Pat Elflein is playing at a high level. Remmers is getting better every week at guard since this is his first time actually playing a full season at guard. I thought last week was his best game,” Spielman said. “And then you see the development of O’Neill and how he’s coming and how far he’s developed since training camp until now.
“What you’re hoping for … and I know everyone has to deal with [injuries] … is getting those best five guys on the field for an extended period of time because they all have to work as one unit. I think you’ll see the improvement of those guys as we continue to go forward,” Spielman added. “I think you’ll see the improvement of Pat, where he’s elevated his game over the last three or four weeks since he started playing [after missing all of training camp]. I think the same thing with Brian O’Neill and the same with Remmers and Riley as well. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep those guys on the field together.
“Isidora came in and took a step forward last week in his second start,” Spielman continued. “When you do have injuries, whether it’s offense or defense or at what position, our coaches are some of the best in the league at figuring out how we can still function and go out and win games even though we have some critical guys hurt.”
As far as Minnesota’s skill players go, most of them have flourished through nine games.
Cousins, whom Spielman called “phenomenal” for his play this season, has completed 259 of 363 passes (71.3 percent) for 2,685 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. Cousins leads the NFL in completions, ranks second in attempts, third in completion percentage and is tied for third in passing yards.
He is the only quarterback in the top three in the top five in all four categories, and his passer rating of 102.2 would be a new career high for a season.
Thielen leads the NFL with 78 catches for 947 yards, and his seven touchdowns are tied for the second-most in the league.
Diggs, who missed Sunday’s game, has 58 receptions for 587 yards and four scores. Rudolph has 34 catches for 349 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Murray leads the Vikings with 92 carries for 417 yards and five touchdowns. Cook, who has played in just four games, has 46 carries for 187 yards but showed promise with an explosive 70-yard scamper against the Lions.
Spielman praised Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo for his work in his first season in Minnesota.
While the Vikings worst game of the season was easily a Week 3 loss to Buffalo at home in which Minnesota had just six rushing attempts, Spielman said DeFilippo has continually tried to find new ways for the Vikings offense to have success.
“He’s very high energy … an extremely hard worker,” Spielman said. “He will take blame when he feels blame needs to be taken.
“We came back and rallied and learned from the mistakes we made [in the Bills game] and why we did this or why we did that,” Spielman added. “I think he’s evolving more as a play caller as we go along.”
The Vikings will need a bit of everything — strong offensive line play, production from the skill players and creativity from DeFilippo — over the final seven games of the season.
Minnesota sits at 5-3-1 and is in second place in the NFC North. But if everyone does their parts over the final two months of the season, the Vikings could see an even greater uptick in offensive production in what has already been a solid season on that side of the ball.
“Is there room for improvement? Yes,” Spielman said. “I think you’ll see that … as these guys continue to develop down the stretch here.”