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3 Offensive Stats that were Solid in 2018, 3 to Improve in 2019

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings 2018 offensive season was one in which playing with balance proved to be elusive.

There were impressive statistical totals by players like quarterback Kirk Cousins, receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph in the passing game.

The run game, however, got lost in the shuffle and was virtually nonexistent in multiple games, even though the Vikings had 11 games with Dalvin Cook, as opposed to just four in 2017.

The Vikings finished with an 8-7-1 record after ranking 20th in total net yards, 30th in rushing and 13th in passing yards. Minnesota was 19th in points for per game (22.5).

Here are three offensive stats that were good in 2018:

1. Cousins only QB with five top 10s

The Vikings, particularly under John DeFilippo, turned to Cousins and the passing attack frequently.

He became the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 4,000 yards, 30 touchdowns, have a completion percentage above 70 and throw 10 or fewer interceptions in a season.

Cousins was the only player in 2018 to rank in the top 10 in attempts (fourth with 606), completions (third with 425), completion percentage (second with 70.1 percent), passing touchdowns (ninth with 30) and passer rating (10th with a 99.7).

With DeFilippo as offensive coordinator (first 13 games of 2018), Cousins completed 370 of 524 passes (70.6 percent) for 3,698 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions for a passer rating of 98.5. He took 32 of the 40 sacks during that stretch.

In three games with Kevin Stefanski serving as interim offensive coordinator (he was **officially named the O.C.** on Friday), Cousins completed 55 of 82 passes (67.1 percent) for 600 yards with six touchdowns and one interception for a rating of 107.8. He was sacked eight times in the final three games of the season (four in Week 17).

2. Thielen, Diggs & Rudolph account for 65.6 percent of completions

Thielen and Diggs each posted career-bests for receptions, yards and touchdowns.

They posted one of the most prolific seasons in franchise history, becoming the first set of Vikings teammates to each have more than 100 receptions in a season and the first duo since Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Randy Moss in 2000 to each have more than 1,000 yards.

Thielen (113 receptions; 1,373 yards; nine touchdowns) and Diggs (102; 1,021; nine) were supplemented by Rudolph (64; 634; four).

The trio combined to account for 65.6 percent of the completions thrown by Cousins and were consistently reliable with a catch rate of 72.7 percent.

According to Sportradar, Rudolph, who was targeted 82 times, tied for eighth in the NFL among qualifying players with just one drop.

Thielen (three drops on 153 targets) and Diggs (three drops on 149 targets) tied for 38th in the NFL.

3. 4.89 yards of separation at the catch for Cook

According to NextGen Stats, Cook ranked sixth in the NFL with 4.891 average yards of separation from the nearest defender at the time of the catch.

Background: The stat skews heavily toward running backs (Giants tight end Evan Engram was the only non-RB in the top 20) because they begin plays in the backfield and often are guarded by linebackers, as opposed to receivers who often receive press coverage at the line of scrimmage.

That said, the passing game can be another way to get the ball into the hands of Cook, who has shown elements of explosiveness in 15 career games.

Cook finished with 40 receptions, 305 yards and the first two receiving touchdowns of his career on 49 targets.

Giants rookie Saquon Barkley totaled 91 receptions for 721 yards and four scores on 121 targets and led the NFL with 5.544 yards of separation at the catch in his rookie campaign under former Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.

Rudolph had the second-most yards of separation at the catch on the Vikings. He averaged 3.060 for 55th out of 134 qualifying players across the NFL, which was a spot above Philadelphia tight end Zach Ertz (3.052).

Thielen averaged 2.612 (94th), Diggs averaged 2.380 (113th) and Laquon Treadwell averaged 1.857 (130th).

Here are three stats that need to improve in 2019:

1. 284 first downs not enough

It's the most basic of all offensive goals: advance the ball 10 yards and receive a new set of downs.

The Vikings earned a total of 284 first downs in 2018, which tied with Chicago for 20th in the league and was 50 fewer than the 334 earned by Minnesota in 2017.

The Bears, buoyed by a turnover-causing machine of a defense, had the fewest first downs of any team that made the playoffs.

The league average for first downs this season was 326.9, with 100.2 by running the football, 196.1 by throwing and 30.6 by penalty.

Minnesota had 66 by running the football, which ranked last in the NFL and was down from 100 in 2017, 218 by throwing the ball (up from 196 a year ago and ranked eighth in 2018) and 26 by penalty (nearly a third less than the 38 awarded in 2017).

Not including penalties, the four teams that are playing for conference championships ranked in the top six in first downs this season.

The Rams led the NFL with 370 (134 rushing, 236 passing). The Chiefs tied with the Buccaneers for second. Kansas City had 106 by running and 239 by passing for a total of 345.

New Orleans was fourth with 342 first downs (134 rushing, 208 passing). Pittsburgh was fifth with 339 (88 rushing, 251 passing), and New England ranked sixth with 337 (131 rushing, 206 passing).

2. 20 giveaways harmed team

The Vikings finished tied with the Ravens for 16th in the NFL with 20 giveaways, which was just a tick under the NFL average of 21.8 and six more than the 14 that Minnesota suffered in 2017.

Cousins was intercepted 10 times on 606 attempts for a career-best interception percentage of 1.7 (eighth in 2018) while tying Warren Moon's franchise record for attempts in one season.

Cousins, however, also lost seven of his nine fumbles, including three in a bad home loss to Buffalo.

Minnesota finished with 15 fumbles and lost 10 in a season when teams averaged 20.1 fumbles and 8.7 losses of possession by fumble.

Of the eight teams that won their respective divisions, all but Chicago (24) had fewer giveaways than Minnesota and Baltimore.

Opponents scored 36 points directly off Vikings giveaways (touchdowns on three interceptions and two fumble returns, four extra points and a 2-point conversion).

3. 357 rush attempts the fewest under Zimmer

Minnesota ran the ball 357 times in 2018, the fewest since Mike Zimmer's hire as head coach in 2018.

The Vikings finished with 1,493 rushing yards on the season, a total that was boosted by a late-season commitment after Stefanski's promotion.

Through 13 games, the Vikings had rushed for 274 times, totaling 1,110 yards on the ground and an average of 4.1 yards per carry.

That amounted to 21.1 attempts and 85.4 yards per game.

In the final three games, the Vikings rushed 83 times for 383 yards for averages of 27.7 rushes, 4.6 yards per carry and 127.7 yards per game.

Minnesota finished with 4.2 yards per carry, which was third-most in five seasons under Zimmer and up from 3.9 per attempt in 2017.