Sunday, November 12, 2017

Notebook: Adam Thielen dominates in the Vikings' 38-30 win

The Vikings used an offensive outburst in the first half to roll past the Washington Redskins for a 38-30 road win. Daniel House provides his analysis of the victory. 

The Vikings used an offensive outburst in the first half to roll past the Washington Redskins for a 38-30 road win. Quarterback Case Keenum completed 21 of his 29 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Adam Thielen also snatched 166 yards and a touchdown to lead the Vikings to their fifth straight win.

Vikings show offensive efficiency
The Vikings were extremely efficient on offense during Sunday’s game. They finished 5-for-5 in the red zone and scored 28 first half points as they jumped out to a quick lead. Washington led 17-14 with roughly four minutes left in the first half, but offensive success and an interception allowed the Vikings to score 21 unanswered points. More importantly, Minnesota was 8-for-12 on third down and kept their drives alive. Their performance was aided by success in early down situatons. The Vikings ran the ball well, which allowed them to effectively use play-action. Keenum was excellent on the run and delivered a beautiful 51-yard strike to wide receiver Stefon Diggs. He also made a difficult throw across his body to find Adam Thielen in the coverage soft spot. Thielen was dominant on Saturday in his eight-catch, 166-yard outburst. He showed impressive hand strength to grab a 7-yard touchdown score. Thielen set his route up with a left shoulder fake and slid between the coverage to make the tough grab. He was getting open off a variety of routes and the sharp cuts out of his breaks left defensive backs stumbling all day.

Quarterback Case Keenum was sensational in the first half. He delivered passes accurately, including two deep shots to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Early in the game, Keenum took care of the football and delivered his passes with excellent placement/touch. However, he had four bad throws, two of which were almost costly. Keenum threw off his back foot into triple coverage and was intercepted by Washington defensive back D.J. Swearinger. On his next pass, Keenum stared down tight end Kyle Rudolph on an out and was again intercepted by Swearinger. It cast a cloud on a strong performance, but his four touchdown passes should not be discounted. Keenum provided rhythm in the play-action passing game and helped the Vikings get off to a quick start. He isn’t afraid to air it out to his playmakers and gives them a chance down the field.

This is especially important when the Vikings have two dynamic weapons like Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Defensive units must pick which player they would like to shadow in coverage and it leaves one of them with 1-on-1 matchups. Sunday afternoon, Thielen benefited most. Keenum isn’t the typical backup quarterback that will play conservatively. He likes to gamble up the field and it can sometimes get him into trouble. This week, the Vikings must decide whether Keenum is their quarterback next week in a big game against the LA Rams. Many people believed Teddy Bridgewater may get a chance to start next week, but the team may elect to continue moving forward with the hot hand. Perhaps they’ll decide to play Bridgewater and test the waters, but it shouldn’t be shocking if Keenum continues to start. He led the team to a 38-point victory on the road against a competitive NFC team. No matter what happens, this is a great problem to have.

Shurmur’s play calling and the offensive line
The Vikings benefited from the balanced play calling by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. He ran a beautiful screen to wide receiver Jarius Wright which was beautifully blocked by wide receiver Adam Thielen, along with offensive lineman Joe Berger and Pat Elflein. Shurmur also called a key screen pass to keep a Vikings drive alive. The play was aided by a fantastic block in the second level by Pat Elflein. The offensive line was fantastic on Sunday and continues to play at an above average level. Right tackle Rashod Hill played superb in the running game opening up numerous running lanes. Riley Reiff and Nick Easton also had a noticeable seal on the edge to spark a 10-yard Jerick McKinnon run. The offensive line continues to do wonders for the Vikings and has been the single biggest difference maker this year.

Vikings do enough on defense
The Vikings didn’t have their best defensive performance of the season and allowed the Redskins to score a quick 17 first half points. It was fueled by Washington’s occasional success on the ground. Both of their running backs averaged near four yards per carry, which placed the Redskins in more favorable situations. It was clear to see the Vikings missed defensive end Everson Griffen, who quietly plays a big role against the run. He often moves across the line of scrimmage to make plays and forces runs back inside.

However, several of the big plays the Vikings surrendered on defense were the result of coverage errors. In one situation, it appeared Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr weren’t deep enough in their coverage assignment. In addition, there was one instance where a player wasn’t passed off correctly in the backend, causing confusion between Andrew Sendejo and Harrison Smith. The Vikings allowed an uncharacteristic 394 total yards and lost the time of possession, but still managed to win. This illustrates how strong their offensive performance was in the first half. The two Keenum interceptions allowed the Redskins to hang around longer than they probably deserved to.

Cornerback Mackensie Alexander played the best game of his career on Sunday afternoon. He notched his first career interception and added a notable pass breakup. On the pass breakup, Alexander perfectly swiveled his hips and reached across the wide receiver to knock it away. He also added a key tackle in space to prevent a first down. It has been clear to see the progression of cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mack Alexander as they continue to play more. They both are showing growth and this is a welcoming sign for a Vikings defense that will need their secondary to perform well down the stretch.

The defensive performance wasn’t the Vikings’ best effort, but their offense stepped up in a major way. This is the type of game Minnesota would have never competed in last year, which is a testament to the strides Pat Shurmur and company have made on offense.