The Washington Redskins secondary may want to burn the tapes of their last two efforts against the Minnesota Vikings.
Last year in Week 10, Sam Bradford threw for 307 yards, and Stefon Diggs went off for 13 receptions and 164 yards against the Redskins defense. One year later, the results were similar — worse, in fact — as the Vikings beat the Redskins 38-30.
Diggs caught four passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. Adam Thielen exploded for eight grabs, 166 yards and a touchdown of his own. All told, it was a 244-yard day for the Vikings’ top two receivers as they helped the offense amass 35 points in less than two-and-a-half quarters.
Josh Norman, Washington’s top cornerback and one of the league’s best over the past several seasons, had his worst statistical game, according to Pro Football Focus.
While Norman’s grades are subject to change as they get reviewed by PFF’s multiple layers of evaluation, the data seems to match the eye test. Norman’s 40.5 game grade (on a scale of 0-100) is by far his lowest of the season. His previous low was 58.4 in Week 2 against the Rams.
All of Norman’s other game grades have been 74 or above.
Norman is accustomed to locking down the left side of the field, rather than shadowing top receivers like Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings challenged him with a steady alternation of Diggs and Thielen, which seemed to make Norman’s head spin. Those two receivers alone made six first-down (or touchdown) grabs against the 29 year old.
Case Keenum set the tone with a 51-yard deep pass to Diggs on the Vikings’ third play of the game. Diggs faked out Norman as he cut outside and used his speed to win the race to the ball down the sideline. Later, Diggs gained 16 yards against Norman on a slant to move the chains on third-and-6.
Norman was mainly victimized by Thielen, however. The emerging wideout caught his lone touchdown with Norman covering him closely in the front of the end zone. Hard to fault Norman too much for that one.
Thielen would then beat Norman on a slant for a first down catch early in the third quarter. On the very next play, Norman appeared to pass off coverage to Deshazor Everett, but Everett lost track of Thielen as Keenum scrambled in the pocket and fired deep to Thielen. Norman was unable to close enough ground once he realized Everett was out of position.
“Just scramble drill,” said Thielen. “Case broke the pocket, and at that point, it’s just try to find the open zone.”
Finally, Thielen made a two-yard catch against Norman in the fourth quarter, which would be no big deal on paper, but the video tells a very different story. On third-and-1, the Vikings needed to reach the 35-yard line for a first down. Thielen caught the ball five yards behind the marker with no forward momentum, and Norman had the angle to make a critical fourth-down-forcing tackle. But Thielen changed direction from a dead stop and sprinted past Norman for a first down — his final catch of the day.
The bottom line: Keenum had a perfect 158.3 passer rating when throwing Norman’s way.
“We just have a lot of guys that can make plays,” said Thielen, “and I think that makes it tough for a defensive player because they’ve got to bring it on every play because they don’t know where the ball is going to go, and they can’t really relax on anybody on our offense.”
The combo of Diggs and Thielen was potent against Washington, and when Diggs has been healthy, it’s been one of the top duos in the league. Diggs suffered a groin injury in Week 5 that affected him through the bye week. But in the five games this season, when he’s presumably been the healthiest, the Vikings have exceeded 300-plus passing yards three times.
Having a healthy Diggs complementing Thielen’s career season might be the biggest benefit to the Vikings offense down the stretch.
“Yeah, they’re two pretty good players,” said head coach Mike Zimmer, “so it helps.”