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Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen didn’t hold back his frustration in the locker room Sunday after Minnesota’s 16-6 loss to the Chicago Bears.
“At some point, you’re not going to be able to run the ball for 180 yards, even with the best running back in the NFL,” Thielen said after the game, per The Athletic. “That’s when you have to be able to throw the ball. You have to be able to make plays. You have to be able to hit the deep balls. You have to do that.”
You don’t often see a receiver critique his quarterback in public like that, but he’s not wrong. On Monday, Thielen walked those comments back, but I don’t blame him and fellow receiver Stefon Diggs — who exited the locker room in full pads when the media entered after the game, ultimately declining any interviews — for being frustrated. They have every right to be, given the way Minnesota’s offense has performed.
On Sunday, the Bears stymied the Vikings run game, holding Dalvin Cook — who was coming off three straight 100-yard games — to just 35 yards and a garbage-time touchdown on 14 carries. With the ground game not going anywhere, Kirk Cousins floundered in a big way (again) as he had completed 9-of-14 pass attempts for 53 yards with two minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Vikings’ offense had 59 total yards in the first half, and its first seven drives ended in either punts or fumbles.
Thielen caught just two passes for 6 yards on six targets, and one of the few deep throws the $84 million quarterback attempted came on a first-half heave to Thielen. Unfortunately, the ball was overthrown by several yards. Diggs finished with seven catches for 108 yards, but the vast majority of that production came late in the second half when the game felt like it was out of reach. Though the Bears never had more than a two-score lead, it felt more like a 40-point advantage, because Minnesota’s offense never really threatened the Bears’ defense — until it was too late.
The bottom line is Minnesota (2-2) has lost each of its games against division opponents this season and now sits at the bottom of the NFC North a quarter of the way through the season. When you’re a proven player (Thielen/Diggs in this case) and you don’t get opportunities to help your team win, that’s when frustration boils over. I think that’s what happened on Sunday. A comparison between Thielen and Diggs’ production through four games last season, when the receiving duo set multiple records, and this year shows just how far they have fallen.
Thielen in 2018: 55 targets, 40 receptions, 473 yards, two TDs. Thielen in 2019: 21 targets, 13 receptions, 179 yards, two TDs.
Diggs in 2018: 39 targets, 27 receptions, 311 yards, three TDs. Diggs in 2019: 19 targets, 13 receptions, 212 yards, one TD.
The thing is, I’m not sure things are suddenly going to get vastly better for the duo, given the type of team Mike Zimmer wants to put on the field. Zimmer wants to win with a dominant defense and run game, but if the threat of throwing the ball downfield is so small, like it was against the Bears, it’s easy for teams to load up the box and take away the run. To be fair, the Bears’ pass rush, led by Khalil Mack, was all over Cousins. Yet, five of the Bears’ six sacks came after the Vikings QB had more than 2.5 seconds to throw, per Next Gen Stats. Cousins had the lowest percentage of aggressive throws among Week 4 passers (2.8%), and he tied for the second-lowest average intended air yards. The Vikings have to find a way
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