For the next week or so, we’ll summarize everything that came out of the final Minnesota Vikings locker room sessions before the team disbanded for the offseason. We’re calling it our End of Season Series.
It was another banner year for both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Both set career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns as the duo became recognized as one of the league’s most dynamic.
Why, then, did it feel like such a disheartening finish?
Emotions started boiling over as the two receivers were frequently kept in check with double teams — sometimes more — in the second half of the season. A frustrated Diggs was seen shouting for the ball during the Patriots game, Thielen was heard voicing his frustrations during the Seahawks game, and all three were involved in an animated sideline discourse during Sunday’s season-ending defeat against the Bears.
“For me, it kind of put me in a different mind state,” said Diggs on locker cleanout day. “As an [offensive coordinator], they still try to create ways and find ways to get you the ball. [Defensive coordinators], if they don’t want it to happen, it’s not going to happen. I feel like I watched the Seattle game, I got triple-teamed. I’m like, I ain’t never experienced anything like that. It’s frustrating for me because it’s like, (expletive), I get it. But kind of like, (expletive), I’ll take one [defender], I’ll take two sometimes, but not three, though.”
While Thielen set team and league records with a monstrous first half of the season, it didn’t open things up for counterpart as Diggs’ targets, receptions and yards dipped in the second half of the season, as did Thielen’s — drastically.
Through eight games, Thielen held the most targets (96), most receptions (74) and second-most yards (925) in the NFL.
Those numbers fell to 57 targets (T-23rd), 39 receptions (T-22nd) and 448 yards (29th) in Games 9-16. Thielen and Diggs combined for two 100-yard games after the bye week and none in the final five games.
“All I can do as an individual is, again, run the route that’s called and run the play that’s designed by the coordinator,” said Thielen. “So for me, it’s more about just getting stronger, getting faster, trying to be more attentive to detail in my routes to make sure I’m in the right spot at the right time, where the quarterback wants me and things like that. So that’s probably going to be the main focus, making sure that I’m doing the things that I’m coached to do and I’m not going outside of the system.”
As secondaries frequently bracketed Thielen and Diggs in passing situations, the Vikings failed to find a consistent third option who could capitalize on the attention being paid elsewhere. Kyle Rudolph had another productive season at tight end, but none of the Vikings other wide receivers could match the third-down productivity of former Viking Jarius Wright, who was released in March. Aldrick Robinson and Laquon Treadwell split snaps throughout the year but only combined for 533 yards.
“I mean, just different weeks you’re going to get different defenses,” said Robinson. “Everybody plays it different. One week we might’ve got a double on Diggs. One week we might get a double on Thielen. So, you never know going into that week how they’re going to play, who they think the No. 1 receiver is. That’s one of the toughest issues having two true No. 1 receivers, you never know how they’re going to play it, so it’s kind of tough going in. That’s when you have to make adjustments.”
Robinson is a free agent, Treadwell could be falling out of favor entering the last year of his rookie deal, and undrafted rookies Brandon Zylstra and Chad Beebe — the only other receivers on the roster — are inexperienced.
While not the most pressing offseason matter, supplementing the receiving corps should be a priority now that the tape is out on how teams bottled up Thielen and Diggs.
“I just feel like we have enough talent in the room,” said Diggs. “We have the coaches, we have everything that we need, we just didn’t string it all together. You see how far we went last year. We got pretty much the same, similar guys. We just got to stay on the grind. It’s going to be a new season next year.”