EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Stefon Diggs dominated the conversation this week after addressing trade rumors and his unhappiness in an offense in which he’s played an ancillary role, but it was Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen who stole the show in the Minnesota Vikings‘ 28-10 win against the New York Giants.
After an ugly division loss and a dramatic week of headlines questioning the internal stability in Minnesota, this felt about as must-win as a game could get five weeks into the season, and it quieted some of the noise around Cousins’ play and the notion that things might be teetering on the verge of falling apart.
The Cousins-Thielen connection, including two touchdowns, proved the offense is alive and well after a dormant start to the season, and Minnesota’s defense brought the hype about Giants QB Daniel Jones back down to Earth. Although Diggs didn’t etch out a revenge-game-like performance, his play on the field (three catches for 44 yards) was about the only quiet thing surrounding the receiver this week.
QB breakdown: Cousins snapped a streak of nine games without a 300-yard passing effort, completing 22 of 27 passes for 306 yards, two TDs and a 138.6 passer rating. The play-action game, where Cousins has found success creating explosive pass plays throughout his career, finally got into a rhythm in New Jersey. Cousins was 9-of-11 passing for 153 yards and a touchdown on such throws after posting 197 play-action yards in the first four games combined.
Pivotal plays: The play that got Cousins and Thielen back on track took place with 5:13 remaining in the second quarter. Thielen, running a crossing route out of the slot to the left side of the field, hauled in a 44-yard pass that put him over 100 yards receiving for the game (he finished with seven catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns) and gave him the second-most receiving yards in any first half of his career. The Vikings ran that play at least two other times to Thielen in the first half alone.
Another was a prime example of a veteran defender winning the battle of wills with a rookie quarterback. After Dalvin Cook fumbled inside the 5-yard line ahead of halftime, Anthony Barr perfectly timed Jones’ snap count to blow up the play, tackling running back Jonathan Hilliman before he could react and recovering the ball in the end zone for a safety.
Promising trend: This is what balance looks like. Minnesota orchestrated a passing attack predicated on bootlegs and designed rollouts for Cousins that allowed him to spread the ball around effectively (eight targets to Thielen, six to Cook, four to Diggs, four to Johnson) while the Vikings’ run game put up 211 yards on its own. The way the Vikings use Cook in both the passing (86 yards) and ground (132 yards) game needs to continue to be a central part of the way they attack teams going forward.
One area that needs work for the Vikings is their red zone efficiency. Both teams took a handful of sacks inside the 20-yard line and had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. A good sign as it pertains to Cousins is that before halftime on a third-down drive where his receivers were covered, the QB took a sack, albeit in the red zone, instead of forcing a play that wasn’t there.