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Stefon Diggs’ overdue performance shows what the Vikings offense can really do

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Philly dared Kirk Cousins to beat them downfield. He obliged.

Philadelphia Eagles v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Stefon Diggs may no longer want out of Minnesota — especially if Kirk Cousins can keep this pace up.

The dynamic wideout, who kicked off the month of October by voicing his displeasure with the team that drafted him in 2015, roasted the Eagles in his biggest performance of 2019. He had four catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns ... in the first 21 minutes of the game en route to a seven-catch, 163-yard, three-touchdown day.

Diggs’ breakout was a major part of Minnesota’s offensive revival in Week 6. The Vikings spent four quarters stretching the field and dusting an undermanned Philadelphia defense. Cousins came into Sunday’s game averaging 208 passing yards per game; he had 209 before halftime.

This was a cathartic explosion for a passing offense whose headline through the first five weeks of the season had been “DISAPPOINTING” in size 30-font. After being carried by Dalvin Cook’s yard-churning ground game early in the season, the Minnesota aerial attack woke up in a performance that pushed the team to 4-2 and bolstered its argument as a legitimate playoff team.

This was a staunch reversal of the team’s fortunes through the first five weeks of the season. Despite gaining 6.2 yards per play — sixth-best in the league — Minnesota ranked just 16th in the league in scoring offense at 22.4 points per game. While the club was 3-2 and firmly in the postseason race, those three wins came against the Raiders (not bad!), Giants (uh), and Falcons (oh no). Both their losses were against NFC North rivals.

Beating the Eagles may be Minnesota’s best win of a still-developing season. And it all happened behind an offensive approach that played to the team’s strengths.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski kept the Eagles guessing early to torch them late

Stefanski kicked off Week 6 with two goals in mind; he was going to keep Philadelphia on its toes with a diverse set of play calls, and he was going to get Diggs involved early and often.

Three of Minnesota’s first six calls were designed to put the ball in the wideout’s hands, including a second down sweep that resulted in a 10-yard gain and new set of downs. Three of the team’s first four runs dashed off the end toward the sideline. This ability to stretch the field laterally was vitally important; it created the space Cousins needed to move the ball vertically.

The Vikings’ second drive saw more of the same. It started with four straight directional runs off the end, including a WR sweep to Adam Thielen. This only led to a field goal, but it continued to establish the wide-stretching precedent the Eagles’ defense would soon expand to accommodate. With Philly inched up toward the line of scrimmage and spread wide to stop a running game that arched beyond the tackles, Stefanski dialed up a vertical passing attack.

The good news was the Eagles’ run-focused adjustment shut down Cook. The Vikings tailback averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in a 41-yard performance. It also limited Thielen under a blanket of safety help closer to the line of scrimmage; he had only three catches after the game’s first drive.

The bad news was that it effectively dared Cousins to beat the team downfield, which he did. Frequently.

Diggs destroyed the Eagles because they refused to double-cover him

Diggs, conveniently ignored by the Eagles’ defense, was the beneficiary of this shift. Philadelphia left him shadowed by a single cornerback throughout the game, opting to leave him stuck in man-to-man coverage without any over-the-top safety help. This was a mistake.

Here he is feasting in single coverage for a touchdown:

And here he is, feasting in single coverage for a touchdown:

Then, after a pair of mid-game drops suggested the Vikings’ offense may have stalled after an explosive start, here is Diggs feasting in single coverage for a touchdown:

And here he is, stopped from feasting in single coverage for a fourth touchdown catch only by interference in the end zone:

Each of Minnesota’s first four drives ended in points. The Vikings led 24-3 before the halfway point of the second quarter. And when the Eagles’ offense battled back to make it a four-point game in the third quarter, Philadelphia’s inability to adjust to Diggs’ dominance proved fatal. Minnesota stepped back on the gas, targeted Diggs’ in single-coverage some more, and walked away with a 38-20 victory.

Is this capable Vikings offense here to last?

It’s tough to make much of one game spent torching the Eagles’ awful secondary, especially given their abject lack of cornerback talent this fall.

But Minnesota was always too talented to be as toothless as it had been through the first five weeks of the season. The Eagles responded to Diggs’ limited impact through September by leaving him on an island in single coverage and opting instead to focus their efforts on stopping Thielen and the Viking running game. And while they were moderately successful in those tasks, it also created the room Diggs needed to remind the world he’s one of the game’s most destructive deep threats.

Minnesota has the offensive diversity to keep opponents from loading up to stop any one threat. A team with Thielen, Diggs, and Cook in the starting lineup should be a top-10 scoring unit regardless of who is throwing the ball. On Sunday, that group showed what it was capable of when Cousins recognizes gaps downfield. Philadelphia may have made his decisions easy, but he still had to make them.

That led to a massive win in Week 6. The question now is if Stefanski can keep opponents guessing when he faces a defense that opts to properly contain Diggs in the future. With four games remaining against defensively focused NFC North teams, it’s one we’ll get an answer to soon.