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What Does a Thielen-Less Offense Look Like?

Damn you, COVID.

What Does a Thielen-Less Offense Look Like?

Adam Thielen was nabbed by the coronavirus hubbub in Week 12. It is unclear if Thielen has the virus and is asymptomatic or if he was in the orbit of a person that tested positive. As the United States experiences record numbers of the virus – even before the Thanksgiving spike – the NFL is tightening its procedures and policies to prevent a dissolution of the season. Although, it would likely take a dead player for the NFL to cancel the remainder of the regular season festivities and beyond. Don’t mess with the NFL’s profits.

To add more chili powder to the Cheerios, tight end Irv Smith Jr. is doubtful with groin and back injuries. Normally, the hypothesis states Smith Jr.’s targets would spike with Thielen likely out. The second-year player from Alabama is akin to a wide receiver in stature, so it adds up that his workload would be enhanced with wideouts missing time. But no such luck.

Thankfully, this is nothing new for quarterback Kirk Cousins. In Washington, he dragged a motley crew of offensive weaponry to respectability. Just four seasons ago, in 2017, Cousins’ top running back was Samaje Perine. Do you know who that is? Didn’t think so. His top pass-catchers were Jamison Crowder and Ryan Grant – not exactly a two-way combo akin to Thielen, Diggs, or Jefferson. In that campaign, Cousins tossed 27 touchdowns with a cool 4,093 passing yards. He knows how to extract offensive productivity from a middle-of-the-road cast of characters. And, these Vikings – without Thielen – are much better than average from a talent standpoint. Dalvin Cook could tell you several reasons why.

What is to be expected from a Vikings offense without Adam Thielen this weekend?

Oodles of Rudolph

Adam Thielen is the most sure-handed catcher of the football on the Minnesota Vikings. He’s owned this title since 2016. Stefon Diggs has terrific hands, but he was also prone to curious drops. Jefferson is a catch merchant, too, but his sample size is so small that it would be unjust to proclaim his hands superior to Thielen’s.

Look around – who has reliable hands on the Vikings? Who will Cousins trust on Sunday? Easy. That’s Kyle Rudolph. The ten-year veteran is as dependable as football players are built. Hell, when he fumbled the ball versus the Bears in Week 10, it was the first lost fumble of his professional career. Rudolph has touched the ball in a capacity to gain yards 446 times. He finally fumbled. One out of 446 ain’t bad.

Rudolph is also accustomed to being showcased in an offense. During 2016 with Sam Bradford, offensive coordinator Norv Turner preferred a dink-and-dunk approach because the Vikings rushing attack was crummy. Short, small-ball passes were substituted for run plays. Rudolph was a targeted 132 times that season, and wound up with 83 catches.

Because his hands are battle-tested and Rudolph should be open underneath, look for Cousins to feed him the ball – especially with his running mate, Smith Jr., on the shelf.

Dalvin, of course, but via Pass

Indeed, Dalvin Cook will be the man on the marquee – as he should be. Cook leads the NFL in touchdowns and rushing yards per game. Cook will be fed early and often. If the Panthers do not stifle the 25-year-old, this Vikings game will turn into one of those contests where Cousins throws south of 15 times. Why would he need to throw the pigskin if Cook is gutting the interior of Carolina’s defense?

Let’s assume momentarily that the Panthers game-plan for Cook. They keep the man in check and another avenue of offense must be pursued. Well, the Vikings will swing the ball to Cook via pass. It’s what makes Cook superior to the Ezekiel Elliotts of the world. Cook is a keynote receiver of the ball – more so than most tailbacks. His skill set is more closely linked to Alvin Kamara or Marshall Faulk than Adrian Peterson or Derrick Henry.

The Panthers defense will key on rookie phenom Justin Jefferson. Other pass-catchers will be in high demand. This is why Cook is paid $63 million over five years, to add a pass-catching dynamic that many halfbacks do not have in their bag of tricks.

Jefferson and the Other Guy

Justin Jefferson will receive ample attention from the Panther defense, rest assured. Lucky for Gary Kubiak, Carolina does not truly have a fearsome shutdown cornerback. They employ a hodgepodge of Rasul Douglas, Corn Elder, and Donte Jackson at the position. Name recognition here is not a beast.

The solution will probably be some sort of double-team on Jefferson. It will be the first time professionally that Jefferson encounters that, so the verdict will be read Sunday afternoon. We just don’t know how he will handle it.

One other wide receiver – or an amalgamation of a few – will be on deck. It can be Chad Beebe, Bisi Johnson, or Tajae Sharpe (finally). These men will be called upon, and this will serve as a bonafide WR3 audition for the rest of the way. Someone – anyone — needs to step up and fill this WR3 role. The Vikings have long ignored productivity from this position. Think Jarius Wright as the last reliable WR3.

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Dustin Baker

Writer. Host of Bleav in Vikings Podcast w/B-Mac & Baker.

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