EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings were able to establish two R-phrases last week against the Titans.
Minnesota got the run game going to the tune of 226 yards on the ground, which were highlighted by a career-best 181 from Dalvin Cook.
Opportunities increased for Cook and Co. because Minnesota avoided falling behind the way it had in Weeks 1 and 2 and was able to stay balanced for much of the game, moving the chains and mounting scoring drives.
Additionally, and perhaps equally important for the overall benefit of the offense, Minnesota established a receiving threat opposite Adam Thielen.
Enter Justin Jefferson, who made his first career start and turned in seven receptions for 175 yards that were punctuated with a 71-yard touchdown.
After the historic combination — Cook and Jefferson are the first teammates to record 175-plus rushing and receiving yards in one NFL game — is it possible for another R-phrase to manifest?
The hope with Minnesota (0-3) heading to Houston to face another winless team is for residual effects.
"I think that's the key, to be dynamic enough in a lot of different areas that defenses have a hard time taking away a strength because you have enough strengths where they have to focus on a lot of different pieces," quarterback Kirk Cousins said Thursday. "If we can run the ball effectively and we can use Adam and Justin and [Chad] Beebe and our tight ends and involve the running backs in the passing game and do play-action and dropback, the whole nine yards, screens, everything you can do, hopefully defenses say, 'We don't know what's coming at us, so we just have to play sound and react to what's being called.'
"When you have a lot of different players that can contribute and you trust a lot of different players, I think that's the best opportunity you have to be multiple and keep defenses honest," Cousins added.
Minnesota is one of 10 teams that has two or fewer players with double-digit receptions through three weeks. Thielen and Jefferson are tied for the team lead with 12 receptions apiece. No other Vikings player has more than five catches.
Most teams (14 of 32) have three players, regardless of position, with double-digit receptions.
Houston is one of seven teams that have four such players, and Dallas has an NFL-high five. The Texans are implementing a collective approach to replacing DeAndre Hopkins, whose 32 catches in his first three games with the Cardinals lead the league.
The Vikings struggled to find their footing in their first two games. Minnesota's offense suffered from quick three-and-outs, turnovers and a safety in each game, and the defense was unable to force punts in a timely matter.
"Number one, the first thing to happen was snaps," Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak said. "We had more snaps in the game and played much better from that standpoint. With those snaps, I think you're going to see more people get involved. That was a step in the right direction. We still didn't get it done; we could have played much better there at the end of the game. A lot of good things happened. We need to hang onto that and grow from that."
The Vikings are likely to continue to stress the run game, but establishing an array of options could provide the boost the team needs.
"It just shows the playmakers we have in this offense," Thielen said when asked about the performances of Cook and Jefferson. "We've talked about it all training camp, going into these first couple weeks of this season, talked about all these guys that can make plays. You kind of saw a glimpse of that on Sunday. We're going to continue to have guys step up and make plays in big situations, and we have the guys to do that. We have to make sure that we have that confidence and are ready to make a play when our number's called."
As for Jefferson, Cousins noticed the rookie's ability to make contested catches and consistent contributions.
"Obviously did a great job, not only catching the ball in the second half that was a deep throw, but being able to finish the play with a touchdown," Cousins said. "There were obviously a lot of shorter throws, quick-gain throws, intermediate catches that he brought in that were not easy catches. Or he made an intermediate catch and was able to turn up the sideline and run with the football for another big chunk of yards. It was a combination of different types of plays. He was just a consistent contributor on Sunday, and that's great to see. It's great to see the talent that he brought to the offense and that it certainly wasn't too big for him. We will try to build on that as best we can as we move forward here."