A receiving duo that was getting nods just over a month ago as the league’s best is suddenly wondering how to get reintroduced into the Minnesota Vikings offense.
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen were kept in check for most of the night in the Vikings 21-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Though the final box score shows 76 yards for Diggs and 70 for Thielen, 47 of Thielen’s yards came after the score was already 21-0 in the fourth quarter. Diggs, to his credit, came down with a 48-yard contested catch when the outcome was still undecided, but the Vikings faltered in the red zone after the play.
Aside from Diggs’ deep ball, the Seahawks bottled up the Vikings star tandem as the offense sputtered for a third straight road loss. In those three games, the Vikings have scored seven total points in the first half (six quarters of football), and six total points in the third quarter. In each game they’ve been held below 300 total yards.
Despite teams frequently doubling Thielen and Diggs, the Vikings haven’t found another reliable option in the passing game. In their last three losses, no pass-catcher outside of those two has gained 40 yards or more.
Thielen had 18 third-down conversions in the first eight games of the season. He has zero of four of the last five games.
Dalvin Cook had five catches for 28 yards against the Seahawks. Laquon Treadwell, Tyler Conklin and Kyle Rudolph combined for six catches, 34 yards.
“The only piece I noticed that I would say is truly different from the first three, four games of the year,” said Cousins in his post-game press conference, “would be there were two third downs early where they truly were doubling Adam and Stefon in a way that they were not going to get the ball.”
Cousins cited a 3rd and 12 where the Seahawks dropped nine defenders, tripled Diggs and left Aldrick Robinson in single coverage, but Cousins couldn’t connect. The tape supports Cousins’ claim.
Here’s the 3rd and 12 where Cousins claimed the Seahawks tripled Stefon Diggs and dropped nine. He’s pretty much right. Bobby Wagner was spying, but it’s essentially a two-man rush. pic.twitter.com/7qhsQTqVDr
— Sam Ekstrom (@SamEkstrom) December 11, 2018
“Let’s be clear, when it’s 3rd and 3 they’re not going to do that,” said Cousins. “I think it was 3rd and 12. … In the second half, we had pretty manageable third downs — we didn’t see that scheme in the second half.”
Maybe they didn’t see the scheme, but the Vikings were still ineffective. Minnesota finished 2 of 10 on third downs in the game. At one point, they attempted seven straight short-yardage third downs and only went 2 of 7. Four of the five failures came on pass plays — the two successes came on QB sneaks.
That continues a theme of Thielen and Diggs being made non-factors on the most important down. Thielen had 18 third-down conversions in the first eight games of the season. He has zero in four of the last five games. Diggs has just nine third-down conversions on the season and none in the last two weeks.
“If our offense would bring it the way we brought it in some of the earlier weeks of the season, we could be really dangerous,” Cousins said.
But do they have the capability?
Cousins said the Vikings can occasionally scheme their way out of a double-team, which they did against New England to get Thielen open for a near-explosive play on a double move, but he couldn’t make a diving catch on a third-down throw. That type of play isn’t often there, however.
“There are plenty of opportunities when they were covered but they were singled, and you could throw them an opportunity ball,” Cousins said.
The quarterback gave Diggs and Thielen consecutive contested opportunities on 2nd & 9 and 3rd & 9 when the Vikings trailed 6-0 in the fourth quarter, but both were broken up.
Minnesota is now 5 of 22 on third downs in their two consecutive losses.
“Keep trying to find things that we’re good at,” Zimmer said about how to improve the offense.
The passing game was working early in the season while the running game was dormant. Now both phases are sputtering.
Despite their shortcomings throughout the game Monday night, the Vikings offense needed only to finish one drive to stake them to a late lead and ease some troubling narratives, but they failed twice in Seattle territory, including a fourth-down miss from the 2-yard line.
With their top playmakers getting neutralized, the need to adapt gets more imperative.
“Didn’t score very many points tonight. Didn’t score very many points last week,” said Zimmer. “Part of it is being better on third downs.”