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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Creative usage should allow Adam Thielen to keep rolling

By Matthew Coller

Crazy. Absurd. Out-of-control. Incredible…. honestly, we’re running out of words to describe the type of numbers Adam Thielen is putting up for the Minnesota Vikings this season. With 74 receptions through just eight games — which is only 16 catches behind last year’s total — he is on pace for one of the greatest seasons by a receiver in NFL history.

But any baseball fan can attest to this: On-pace numbers don’t often come to fruition. Otherwise the hitter with 30 dingers through three months would set the home run record every time. In Thielen’s case, however, the numbers are likely sustainable barring injury.

Of course, his skill, talent and competitiveness are at the top of the reasons for Thielen’s excellence. He catches everything, runs great routes and knows the game inside and out. But what you will find with any situation is that usage matters greatly toward the player’s success.

Take for example Cordarrelle Patterson. When the former Vikings receiver was used as a gadget player in 2016, he saw some success on screens and jet sweeps. When he was asked to run a detailed route tree, it didn’t work.

In Thielen’s case, when the Vikings find ways to get him in man coverage with space to work his route-running magic and/or allow the star receiver space at the line of scrimmage between himself and the cornerback, it’s usually game over.

Former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was clever in moving Thielen from an outside receiver in ’16 to the slot in 2017. New OC John DeFilippo has carried over that successful tradition.

Against the New Orleans Saints, lost in a game in which Thielen made a rare error was the fact that he dominated and DeFilippo found creative ways to play perfectly to his strengths.

The play below, a 15-yard gain, comes off play-action and appears to be a “middle read,” in which Thielen has an option of continuing the route across the field or slamming on the breaks depending on the single-high safety.

The creativity here exists within the personnel and design of the play. Tight ends David Morgan and Kyle Rudolph line up on the right side of the formation, which gives Kirk Cousins an indicator of coverage since the Saints’ two linebackers are lined up directly over them. He knows that the linebackers will be drawn in when neither Rudolph or Morgan goes out for a pass and he gives the play-fake to Murray. It also means the weak side linebacker will follow Murray into the flat, leaving the middle of the field wide open for Thielen to work.

When Cousins releases the ball, there isn’t another defender outside of Eli Apple for 10 yards.

Thielen’s releases off the line are key to his separation from the DB. Within our next play, we see Thielen and Laquon Treadwell split out with Treadwell at the line of scrimmage and Thielen off the line.

At the snap, they cross paths. The corner at the line doesn’t follow Treadwell. Instead he waits for Thielen and lets Treadwell take off free. But the three-to-four yards between Thielen and PJ Williams give the Vikings’ receiver enough time to read Williams’ hands and slap them out of the way, getting him an edge on the defender. Williams recovers, but not enough to get his head around and Thielen Moss’s him.

DeFilippo’s designs simply do not allow cornerbacks to get their hands on Thielen, who has taken 62 percent of his snaps in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus.

In the example below, a late-game touchdown from Cousins to his ace receiver, there are four wide receivers out in a 2×2 formation with Rudolph in the slot at the line of scrimmage. Notice the safety is up on Rudolph, indicating man coverage.

Also notice that Thielen is not on the line, again giving him a few feet of separation to begin with. Once again, he slaps Williams hands out of the way and ends up wide open in the end zone.

Each week it seems the Vikings add something for Thielen that they haven’t used before. This week it was a flea flicker.

There are a few things to notice on this play, starting with the fact that Thielen is on the line of scrimmage, which might normally indicate a run look. The offensive line double-team blocks — again, normally used in run blocking — and Morgan is matched up against the defensive end as a blocker.

Thielen gives a quick block to his man and then takes off with nobody around.

The trick play was one of only two catches in which he was lined up on the line of scrimmage, (as you can see in the NFL NextGen graphic below).

Interestingly, the flea flicker marked Thielen’s ninth deep catch on 12 attempts, which is a remarkable catch percentage but also makes up only 12.6 percent of his targets traveling 20-plus yards. To put that in context, Stefon Diggs has 19.2 percent and Tyreek Hill is at nearly 30 percent.

Where he’s doing the most damage is on intermediate throws between 10-20 yards. Cousins is 21-for-29 on those types of throws for 334 yards.

It isn’t impossible that Thielen’s pace could slow down, but Cousins’ ability to make strong intermediate throws and execute quick passes combined with DeFilippo’s focus on getting Thielen off the line clean with some added wrinkles and trickery makes it difficult to see any team solving him.

Maybe he won’t break every record in existence, but Thielen is very likely to continue to drive the Vikings’ offense.

The post Creative usage should allow Adam Thielen to keep rolling appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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