With Thielen leading the way, Vikings offense is thriving
By DAVE CAMPBELL
Nov. 14, 2017
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Case Keenum scrambled to his left out of the pocket to evade the pass rush before setting his feet to throw and setting his sight on Adam Thielen, aiming to add to Minnesota's healthy lead early in the third quarter at Washington.
The throw was right on target.
Thielen, once again, was in just the right place.
With a 49-yard gain, beating cornerback Josh Norman and safety Deshazor Everett, Thielen was tackled at the 12-yard line to set up the fifth touchdown of the game for the Vikings (7-2) in their 38-30 victory on Sunday. Thielen finished with 166 yards on eight receptions.
"He continues to find ways to get open and make catches and make catches even when he's not open. There's been a few times where he's pretty well-covered and makes a catch. That type of guy I haven't really been around, ever," Keenum said.
"He plays all of the positions. He knows every position. He knows the whole offense. He gets guys, he helps guys, and he knows where to go."
That's not all. Three plays later, Jarius Wright caught a screen pass on third-and-5 from the 7-yard line that he took into the end zone.
Center Pat Elflein, right guard Joe Berger and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell formed the wall in front, but Thielen's block on cornerback Kendall Fuller gave Wright the lane he needed to score.
"Adam does everything," coach Mike Zimmer said.
With 793 receiving yards, Thielen is third in the NFL. He's tied for fifth with 56 receptions.
"The guy is a gamer. When he gets the opportunities, he makes the most of them," Zimmer said.
Starting, of course, with the $500 scholarship he was given in 2009 by Minnesota State University to play NCAA Division II football. Then came the rookie tryout camp in 2013 with the Vikings that he needed to latch on to the practice squad.
Then there was the opening on special teams that he used as a pathway to the active roster. Struggles last year by the first-round draft pick Treadwell gave Thielen more space with which to break out.
"I never really think about stats and things like that," Thielen said. "As long as we win the game and I'm doing everything I can to help the team, that's really all that matters."
With Thielen and a healthy-again Stefon Diggs doing the most damage downfield, the Vikings offense is thriving, save for two interceptions that Keenum threw in the second half at Washington.
They're ninth in the league in yards per game and 10th in points per game, the first time they've been in the top 10 in either category since 2009 when Brett Favre's renaissance led a charge to the NFC championship game.
That was the most recent season the Vikings had a 1,000-yard receiver, too, with Thielen in prime position to end the league's longest such absence of one.
The propensity of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to spread the ball around and Keenum's ability to follow through on the plan, boosted in a big way by a more mobile and less leaky offensive line, has helped the Vikings put together one of the NFL's most productive units despite the loss of rookie running back Dalvin Cook to a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game.
"That makes it tough for a defensive player, because they've got to bring it on every play and they don't know where the ball's going to go," Thielen said. "And they can't really relax on anybody on our offense."
Zimmer on Monday again declined to declare Keenum the starter for the upcoming game against the Los Angeles Rams, but he said he has decided, which hints at the status quo despite the presence of Teddy Bridgewater as the backup.
"I've got a plan," Zimmer said, "and we'll just see how it goes."