When Kevin O’Connell was hired in February as the new Vikings head coach, there was an assumption that we’d go from a monotonous offense, to one that would be a little more electrifying. Through three games, albeit a small sample size, we’ve yet to see it. Aside from Justin Jefferson in week one, the WR room appeared to be quiet in terms of production. Especially the hometown WR, Adam Thielen. So while it may be premature since we’re not even a quarter of the way through the season, it begs the question. Where is Adam Thielen?
Statistically, it’s true. Adam Thielen is off to his “worst” season since he became a full-time starter back in 2017.
Stats can be wildly misleading, though, especially when WRs are dependent on their QBs to throw them the ball. I went back through the Vikings’ first three games to see if Adam Thielen is truly “missing” and not getting open. or if there are other factors that are contributing to this.
Week 1 Vikings vs Packers
In week one, we all knew that Justin Jefferson was vibing and destroying the Packers secondary simultaneously, which is reason enough why Thielen didn’t have a big game. He was open, though. If we take a look at the play below, Thielen is the WR in motion from right to left and just takes off on a fade route. We’ve seen Kirk make this throw, and we even saw him anticipate throws in this exact game for Jefferson. For some reason, though, Kirk takes Osborn on a drag route for a short gain.
This one is down in the red zone and probably more of a rushed throw due to the defender closing in. Watch Thielen, though, on this dig route. At the very top of his route, he jukes out Jaire Alexander and is wide open. Unfortunately, the pocket had collapsed by that point, leaving Thielen without a target or a reception.
Week 2 Vikings @ Eagles
You would think that given the way this game played out, this would’ve been an opportunity for Adam Thielen to really shine given that the Vikings were down 14-0 right away and needed to pass to get back into it.
It’s the second drive for the Vikings and a good chance for them to build off what we saw in Week 1. We see Kirk start out in shotgun, with a little bit of deception as you have Dalvin Cook in the slot and Jalen Reagor in the backfield. The Vikings had already gone three and out on their first drive, so there is some reason to be a little aggressive here. Kirk has time to throw and appears to be looking right at Adam Thielen, who at the top of his route gains some separation, but then Kirk looks off and decides to dump it to Irv Smith Jr., and it falls incomplete. Thielen was open, and we’ve seen Kirk make plays like this a lot, but here he doesn’t pull the trigger.
It’s early in the 2nd quarter, and the Vikings find themselves down 14-0. This is a play we’ve seen many times from the Vikings, even dating back to the previous regime. a simple bootleg play action pass. Kirk fakes the handoff to Dalvin Cook left side. Meanwhile, Thielen fakes the block and continues on to his post route. As the play progresses, Kirk keeps scrambling on his bootleg and fully commits to running it. What Kirk missed out on was a wide open Adam Thielen that would’ve equated to a 15- to 20-yard gain, plus a first down.
Last example from this game, but here we have Adam Thielen in a bunch formation to the left. Kirk should be aware of the zone coverage as soon as the ball is snapped, especially with Thielen on a drag route directly in front of him. Now, progressions are a thing for the QB, but looking left to right and seeing Thielen open with no defender in sight, this should’ve led to a completion to Thielen. Instead, it was an incomplete pass to Mattison in the flat.
Week 3 Vikings vs Lions
Here is a play from the Lions game that stood out to me that just came down to pressure by the defense. Adam Thielen runs a great route and gets open, but a blitz by the corner that Mattison can’t pickup results in a rushed throw and a missed opportunity.
Later on in the game, when the Vikings are trying to mount a comeback, there is a third-down play. This is getting really nitpicky of me here, but the point is to show that Thielen is open. It appears that Thielen is the primary read here as Kirk is staring him down, but I think too much time elapses and Kirk decides to move elsewhere. Thielen, though, makes a nice move to get past the corner and goes streaking down the sideline.
So as you can see, there are many instances where Adam Thielen is open in these games. Sure, he hasn’t been off to the “best” statistical season that we’ve seen from him. But it’s important to note that this is an entirely new offense for this team, and there are bound to be some kinks to work out. If you’re worried about where Adam Thielen is, don’t worry. He’s still out there doing his thing, and as the offense gains confidence and more familiarity, I’d bet we start to see Adam Thielen do the things that we’re used to.