When the Minnesota Vikings decided to move on from Mike Zimmer, the hope was that they would replace him with a more progressive head coach that was offensive-minded. Rather than being predictable on the ground, Kirk Cousins needed to be given the liberty to use his superstar wide receiver. It took a while for Kevin O’Connell, but we might finally see it come to fruition.
You have to be living under a rock if you haven’t noticed the season that Justin Jefferson is having. He’s a single-yard behind Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill for the NFL lead, and he’s basically been ticketed for the century mark every week. There were definite issues against the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions, but those have largely been rectified.
Minnesota fans watched in awe as Jefferson exploded for three consecutive weeks before the bye. With 100 yards in three straight contests and nearly topping 150 yards twice, he had entirely put the league on notice. Those games immediately followed the lackluster play calling against Philadelphia and Detroit, but we’ve seen things continue since the Vikings had their week off.
Out of the bye, Jefferson continued his torrid stretch making it five straight games where he topped the century mark. Against one of the best teams in the NFL, Jefferson nearly surpassed 200 yards against the Buffalo Bills. The more than 19 yards per reception in that contest trailed only the Week 1 outburst against the Green Bay Packers. All season long, the Vikings wide receivers have been racking up yards, but since the bye week, they’ve done so without relying on after-catch totals.
As pointed out by The Athletic’s Alec Lewis, Minnesota is pushing the ball down the field before getting it into the hands of pass catchers. One potential explanation could be the addition of athletic tight end T.J. Hockenson. As Irv Smith Jr. bowed out for the second season in a row, Hockenson entered a lineup that allowed him to control the middle of the field. Adam Thielen has long been Minnesota’s strong route runner with an exceptional pair of hands. With Hockenson splitting the middle for O’Connell’s offense, the wide receivers can operate on the edges and push the field more.
There was plenty of thought Dalvin Cook would see more usage in the passing game than he has. Whether that is by design or otherwise, the reality is that Cousins can get the ball down the field. A 15-yard pass is hardly a deep ball, but getting it to crossing receivers affords more of an opportunity to push the field than swing routes to the running back.
It remains to be seen how the Vikings will finish the year and what the offense will look like as they go into the playoffs. Plenty of teams with soft defenses can allow O’Connell to explore. Continuing to enable pass catchers to make plays is a good plan of attack, however, and the Minnesota skill position players are more than capable of getting it done.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.