Unheralded offense adds needed balance to Vikings defense

Published 10:22 pm Friday, November 24, 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE — When running back Dalvin Cook went down with a season-ending knee injury against the Detroit Lions in Week 4, the Minnesota Vikings were looking at an offense without its No. 1 options at quarterback and running back, and a 2-2 record.

Journeyman Case Keenum has thrived in his opportunity as the starting quarterback, a rebuilt offensive line has held up while dealing with its own departures, and Minnesota (9-2) features a top-five offense as it locks its sights on a division title.

Players that many outside of the most obsessive fantasy football players wouldn’t know have come together to give the Vikings one of the league’s best attacks.

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Heading into the weekend’s games, Minnesota has averaged 375.7 yards per game this season, fourth in the league, and is scoring 24.6 points per game, plenty when combined with its top-five defense.

“We’ve got a pretty resilient bunch,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, giving credit to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and his crew. “They play hard together. Pat does a great job along with the other offensive coaches. They just like to go out and play. We do have some playmakers.”

Keenum and receiver Adam Thielen have been the biggest of playmakers.

Keenum threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another in Thursday’s win at Detroit. He’s now thrown for at least 280 yards in four straight games, with 10 total touchdowns and three turnovers in that span.

Thielen has at least five catches in every game this season and Thursday he became the first Minnesota receiver with 1,000 yards in a season since Sidney Rice in 2009. Thielen is tied with Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown with 70 catches and is second in the league behind Brown with 1,005 receiving yards, but has played one more game.

“We know how much talent we have on this offense,” Thielen said. “There’s a lot of guys that can make plays and we just never know who’s going to be up. But it seems kind of like a new guy makes a play each week.”

Tight end Kyle Rudolph hauled in two touchdowns at Detroit as the Vikings gained 408 total yards, their third straight game over 400 yards for the first time since Brett Favre was quarterback in 2010. The 24.6 points per game are the most the Vikings have averaged since Favre led them to 29.4 points per game in 2009.

The line, rebuilt with four new starters in the offseason, has allowed 12 sacks, tied for second fewest in the league. The Vikings have done so despite starting right guard Nick Easton missing three games and right tackle Mike Remmers missing his second straight game Thursday.

“It’s a special group and I’m really, really thankful to be a part of it,” Keenum said after Thursday’s win.

Even the running game, which lost Cook to a torn ACL, has found its footing with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon sharing the load. Minnesota is averaging more yards rushing per game without Cook and is eighth in the league at 124.5 rushing yards per game.

The Vikings opened the second half against Detroit with a 75-yard drive on four runs. Murray started with a 46-yard gain. McKinnon followed with runs of 16 and 11 before Murray capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown.

“I just think we’ve been doing some really good things,” Murray said. “The fact is, whether it’s coming out and starting fast, starting the second half fast, I just think that goes to show the sky’s the limit if we’re hitting it on all cylinders. We could be a really explosive offense.”