Minnesota’s receiving duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs is one of its greatest assets. Their one-two punch is a big reason why fans are clamoring for Rick Spielman to re-sign Diggs as soon as possible. The Vikings’ offense blossomed in 2017, largely due to those guys’ versatility. They are not merely athletic possession receivers. Both are solid downfield threats, as well.
And with a quarterback more primed to push the ball downfield, they should be poised to further improve as deep ball weapons.
Of course, that statement seems obvious; the Vikings gave a lot of money to Kirk Cousins because of a perceived upgrade over Case Keenum, particularly as a downfield passer. But simply for the sake of assurance, let us break down the numbers as it relates to long passes.
Here are the 2017 stats on passes of at least 21 air yards for Cousins and Keenum (Rankings are among the 34 quarterbacks with at least 20 such attempts):
Cousins (16 Games)
19-56 (tied 7th-most attempts), 33.9%(12th), 698 yards (8th), 12.46 YPA (13th), 8 TDs (5th-tied), 3 ints (16th-tied), 99.6 rating (8th)
Keenum (14.5 Games)
11-45 (20th-most attempts), 24.4 percent (29th), 369 yards (24th), 8.20 YPA (29th), 3 TDs (17th-tied), 2 ints (11th-tied), 65.0 rating (25th)
And Cousins’ signficantly better numbers are not merely a matter of more attempts due to more games played. Cousins averaged 3.5 passes of 21-plus per game while Keenum averaged just a shade fewer at 3.1. Plus, Cousins’ yards per attempt and completion percentage were better by a wide margin. Those, obviously, have nothing to do with quantity.
Last season, Thielen and Diggs put up fairly pedestrian numbers on passes of at least 21 air yards. They combined for 12 receptions on 35 targets for exactly 400 yards on such passes. That puts them behind the individual numbers of Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins, whose lines were 14-42 for 450 and 14-41 for 413, respectively.
Now, one could look at a variety of factors in diagnosing the cause. For one, the Vikings have a true top-tier receiving tandem while Brown and Hopkins are clear-cut number ones. The Vikings’s 2017 offense also plays a part; they not only had a more balanced attack than Pittsburgh and Houston, they ran a West Coast offense, more reliant on quick throws. These are all fair points.
But it is the combination of evidence that points to the Vikings taking a step forward in this regard. It is both Keenum’s general lack of accuracy when pushing downfield and limited numbers from two elite receivers. Given that both Diggs and Thielen were at the top of the league in contested catches, a good chunk of the blame has to fall on last year’s quarterback.
With Cousins, the Vikings have a top-10 downfield passer. He has proven himself over the last three seasons, and done so with fewer weapons. And that does not mention that he is moving indoors for the first time in his career. All signs point to Thielen and Diggs having career years in terms of game-breaking plays.
All stats come from STATS.
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