The biggest positive in the Vikings’ two-game win streak — 28-10 on the road against the New York Giants and 38-20 over the Eagles at home on Sunday — is that wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs once again look like the best pass-catching duo in the NFL.
Through their first four games, the Vikings ranked 31st in the NFL with 676 passing yards, but over their past two games they rank fifth with 604 passing yards, trailing the Cowboys, Texans, Falcons and Patriots.
Diggs said one of the unique parts of this offense compared to last year is that the team has developed balance between the run and the pass.
“I feel like the run helps the pass and the pass helps the run,” he said. “Having Dalvin Cook back there always plays a huge part because he is so explosive and he can make a lot of plays. They have to key on him as well.”
Thielen agreed with that and believes that the offensive players are starting to get comfortable with the new scheme under offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
“It’s just a completely different system,” Thielen said. “It’s a zone-running scheme, and a lot of play-action off of that, a lot of bootlegs and getting outside the pocket and doing some different routes off that. It’s a really fun offense. It fits our identity and fits our skill positions very well and our offensive line.
“We just have to make sure we’re executing and allowing him to call the entire playbook.”
Through his first 10 games last season, Diggs had caught 79 passes for 790 yards and six scores, an average of 7.9 receptions and 79 yards per game. Thielen had 93 receptions for 1,138 yards and eight scores, an average of 8.5 receptions and 103.5 yards per game.
But through the end of last season, and the early part of 2019, the Vikings duo hadn’t looked the same.
From Week 13 of 2018 through Week 3 of this season, Diggs had averaged just 3.6 receptions per game for 41.5 yards. He had just four touchdown receptions in those eight games.
Thielen meanwhile, from Week 13 of last year to Week 4 of this season, had averaged just 3.7 receptions for 46 yards per game. In nine contests he had three touchdown receptions.
Diggs finally broke out in a 16-6 loss to the Bears in Week 4, when he had seven receptions for 108 yards.
In his past three games, Diggs has caught 17 passes for 319 yards and had one of the best days of his career against the Eagles — seven receptions, 167 yards and three touchdowns.
Thielen has been a star in the two-game win streak, grabbing 13 receptions for 187 yards and three scores.
Diggs said he has tried to stay steady throughout the season.
“I’m just here doing my job, that’s all,” he said. “I feel like part of it is just staying at it and staying consistent in my efforts and doing everything I can to put my team in a position to win.”
Not forcing it
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has completed 108 of 155 passes for 1,374 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions this season. He ranks third in the NFL in quarterback rating (108.4), trailing only Russell Wilson (124.7) of the Seahawks and Patrick Mahomes (111.9) of the Chiefs.
Cousins said that even though Thielen and Diggs are playing great, the coaches aren’t trying to force them the ball.
“You go where your reads take you, and when Coach calls the play, he’s not saying, ‘Hey, get it to Diggsy.’ He’s saying, ‘Read it out,’ and if anything he’s saying, ‘Don’t be afraid to take the check-down. Don’t force it,’ ” Cousins said.
Thielen added that individual stats don’t prove whether a player is succeeding.
“There are so many factors in this game that lead to individual stats,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re playing well or playing bad. It’s just there’s so many different factors that lead into that. The most important thing is winning ballgames and doing the little things that really allow your team to do that. So that’s what we’re going to continue to do and continue to try and get better.”
Martin shines at LB
Gophers senior linebacker Kamal Martin is averaging 9.3 tackles per game in Big Ten play, a mark that ranks fourth in the conference behind only Dele Harding of Illinois, Joe Bachie of Michigan State and Khaleke Hudson of Michigan.
In the Gophers’ 34-7 win over Nebraska, Martin was all over the field, leading the team with 15 tackles.
Head coach P.J. Fleck said one of the biggest sacrifices Martin made was converting from being a high school quarterback at Burnsville to becoming a linebacker with the Gophers.
Martin threw for 877 yards and nine scores his senior season at Burnsville and also rushed for 400 yards with 17 total touchdowns.
“It’s hard to tell a kid that he’s not going to play quarterback in college when he’s a quarterback in high school,” Fleck said. “I think those days are getting harder, to be honest with you, to be able to project and tell a kid he is going to play another position. These days with quarterbacks being all shapes and sizes in the NFL, everybody wants to be the quarterback.
“Kamal Martin is an example. We have a few kids who are committed to us that do that, and we feel like they’re going to play another position at some point. I think that is important. It takes somebody to have an open mind. But he is a long athlete. If you can have a long athlete that is tough, he can play football, you’ll plug him in and play somewhere.”
Fleck said one thing that helps convince players about a position change is if they have a chance to go pro at a different position, something that Martin could do.
• The Gophers football team averaged 37,915 fans per game last season, but through four games this season those numbers are way up as the Gophers have averaged 43,244 fans through four games at TCF Bank Stadium. That’s an increase of 5,329 fans per game. Last year, in all of college football, only five schools saw attendance increase that much. And the Gophers still have Maryland, Penn State and Wisconsin at home.
• Twins top prospect Royce Lewis was named the Arizona Fall League Hitter of the Week on Wednesday. Lewis is second in the league with a .371 average (23-for-62) with seven doubles, three homers, 16 RBI, 18 runs scored and three stolen bases in 16 games.