The Vikings’ passing attack appears to be at a level everyone hoped for. Kirk Cousins has a good rapport with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and has gotten Kyle Rudolph and Dalvin Cook involved regularly. While the running game has stalled for much of the first two games, John DeFilippo has had no problem putting a significant load on the passing attack. And the offense has answered the bell. The Vikings spent a lot of money on Cousins for that very reason: he is someone who can perform in high volume situations.
Undoubtedly, fans should be more comfortable with the overall state of the Vikings’ passing game than they were last year. Even Diggs and Thielen, already considered by many to be the top receiving duo in the league, look to be a step ahead. Both are coming off 100-yard games, Thielen on 12 catches and Diggs on nine. Plus, Diggs already has three touchdowns and the longest active touchdown reception streak in the league.
But despite their enormous production, it ultimately went for naught as the Vikings could only tie the Packers. Daniel Carlson‘s misses will be the ultimate memory, but before he became the goat, it was Laquon Treadwell drawing the ire of most Vikings fans. And that brings up a somewhat undiscussed issue the Vikings have on their otherwise Super Bowl-caliber roster: reliable receiver options down the depth chart.
Last season, the Vikings did not get much out of their receivers beyond the top two. Jarius Wright, Treadwell and Michael Floyd combined for 48 cataches and 476 yards. Some of that can be accounted to Case Keenum, who was wont to key in on his top targets, but even so, the production was lacking, like it has been this year.
That said, Wright had a solid niche as a third down target. He was someone who could be counted on to make plays once open, and in any variety of route. Was he a lucrative piece of the puzzle? No, but he was a reliable one.
When Kendall Wright signed with Minnesota, the assumption was that he would fill the role Jarius Wright held. Except the thought was also that he would be an upgrade as a productive veteran. Kendall Wright shared more than name in common with Jarius. He was a slot specialist, undersized but reliable. Even after an unproductive preseason, the marriage made sense. Alas, the Viking saw enough from Treadwell’s apparent progression and decided to roll with only five receivers out of camp. Instead of the proven, albeit disappointing Kendall Wright, Minnesota went all youth on the back end. They decided to go Treadwell as the three, Stacy Coley and Brandon Zylstra as the depth.
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Had Treadwell’s improvement not been an illusion, it would have been fine. More than fine; it would have been perfect. Thielen and Diggs are route wizards who work best off of each other with Thielen in the slot. Put Treadwell wide on every three receiver set and, theoretically, you have magic. But for every improvement Treadwell has made in the nuance of the position, the one area that eludes him is the most obvious and fundamental: catching the football.
Sure, Treadwell can get open now. And sure, he knows how to use his body to get good positioning now. And sure, he can high point the football better now. But the ball has bounced off his hands on 50 percent of his targets this year. One of those drops went for an interception that could easily have cost the Vikings last week’s game. The fact of the matter is that a ball in Treadwell’s direction is a gamble every single time.
Coley was no better; his one target went throught his hands, too. Now he is no longer on the roster (though his consistent gaffe as a kick returner probably played into that as well). Zylstra has only played on special teams. Newcomer Aldrick Robinson had 19 catches last year in San Francisco, but remains largely an unknown.
What this all means is that although the offense has the capability of reaching a level unseen in Minnesota in almost a decade, they have a potentially fatal flaw. For all the grief the offensive line gets, they have actually performed admirably, at least in pass pro, the first two weeks. No, the bigger question mark on the offense moving forward will be the Vikings receiver depth. At least last year, you knew that Jarius Wright would get you a key catch or two. If a play was there to be made, he would make it. You no longer have that assurance beyond the two stars. And a team like the Rams with two All-Pro corners could put a severe hamper on the passing game as a result.
Here is what the Vikings have to counter. They have a tight end who is solid between the 20s and great in the red zone. They have a running back who has more receiving yards than rushing yards this year and is making a ton of plays on his own. There are not many teams who have four consistently reliable pass catchers performing week-in and week-out. That is something to be excited and encouraged about, if you are a Vikings fan.
Still does not mean that the question marks around the third receiver are not real and a bit more than mildly concerning.
Who knows, maybe all Treadwell needed was a week on the jugs machine and he will be good as new. After all, he did catch his first touchdown with a nice post route. Plus, drops aside, he has consistently been in position to make plays. But until he has a stretch of no-drop games, he and the rest of the Vikings’ receiver depth will continue to be a subconscious worry.
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