CHICAGO — Stefon Diggs, who has routinely taken the blame for offensive failings over the past two seasons, was nowhere to be found following the Minnesota Vikings’ 16-6 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Earlier in the week he was unavailable for his weekly podium session. Adam Thielen was clearly frustrated.
While Diggs caught seven passes for 108 yards, the vast majority of his receptions came after the game had been mostly decided. Thielen finished two two catches for six yards. The two receivers have not been featured parts of the team’s first four games.
Last season both players caught over 100 passes. Thielen has been to the Pro Bowl twice and Diggs has scored as high as seventh by Pro Football Focus’s grades and led the NFL in contested catch rate, tet the Vikings have only completed 13 throws to each receiver through four games. That’s about two week’s worth of work in the past.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins took a deep shot on the Vikings’ opening drive but overthrew Thielen — a near replica of his overthrow to Diggs in Week 2. He rarely threw the ball in Thielen’s direction the remainder of the game.
Following the loss, the Vikings’ quarterback was asked what he needs to do to get the ball to his two stars.
“Just win,” Cousins said. “You know, if we win, move the ball, play well, whether that’s with those two getting the ball or with — run the football, whatever it has to be, whatever we gotta do to move the football, let’s do that, and I think that’s all that matters.”
Even with the team trailing late, there were few opportunities for the two players who have driven the offense since 2016. Midway through the fourth quarter, Diggs showed his annoyance on the sideline, tossing his hands in the air and yelling. It appeared two teammates had to calm him down before going out for the next drive.
With seven minutes remaining in the game, Cousins led his lone scoring drive of the day attempting 10 passes on the 92-yard drive, which took more than four minutes off the clock. He threw six of the 10 balls in the direction of a running back or rookie receiver Bisi Johnson. Thielen had one target on the drive.
“Until I watch the film it would be hard to tell you how many of them aren’t just, hey, their coverage is taking them away and progressing or the pass rush is affecting the ability to wait on them because they’re running the deeper developing routes that are longer developing and require more time,” Cousins said.
Following the game, Thielen was asked whether he felt the Bears had emphasized covering him more than in the past.
“It didn’t feel like that out there, but at the same time, the quarterback’s getting hit, I think when the plays were called, we didn’t make them, and I don’t know why that was,” he said. “But I didn’t feel that.”
— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) September 30, 2019
Thielen also expressed a sentiment that has been shared over the past three weeks about the Vikings’ reliance on running back Dalvin Cook: That it couldn’t last forever.
“At some point, you’re not going to be able to run the ball for 180 yards, even with the best running back in the NFL,” Thielen said. “That’s when you have to be able to throw the ball. You have to be able to make plays. You have to be able to hit the deep balls. You have to do that, because otherwise, it’s too easy for teams to just tee off and rush the quarterback. We have to be able to run the ball and pass the ball. In this league, you can’t be one-dimensional. It’s just too easy to defend.”
Neither Thielen or Diggs have been on record with criticism of their quarterback or offensive system, even after a Week 17 sideline incident between Thielen and Cousins. But the signs of frustration are showing after two division losses in the first four weeks.