When it comes to leaders for the Minnesota Vikings, maybe no one stands out more than veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen. Having taken a back seat to superstar Justin Jefferson in recent seasons, Thursday night’s Thanksgiving matchup could be his time to shine.
Over the past few seasons, and as he has aged, Adam Thielen may have lost a step while settling in behind Justin Jefferson. He has certainly stepped out of the limelight while continuing to be a leader, and despite needing to deal with Stefon Diggs’ antics previously, he’s never been a distraction.
In 2022 Thielen has only topped 50 yards in half of the games he has played. Working as more of a complimentary possession receiver alongside the dynamic Jefferson, his new role has worked in Kevin O’Connell’s offense. With the Minnesota Vikings facing a strong pass rush and an offensive line without a critical contributor, getting the ball moved quickly could benefit Thielen’s current game.
There has never been a point during his career where Thielen has been a burner. Coming from Division 2 Minnesota State Mankato, Thielen earned prominence by showing strong route running abilities and exceptional hands. He generates space from defenders by making quick and precise cuts, allowing a quarterback to drive footballs into tight coverage. Needing to utilize smaller dropbacks and quicker developing plays on Thursday, Thielen could be the go-to receiver.
Through 10 games this season, Thielen has caught just two touchdown passes, and his season high in receiving yards came across the pond against the New Orleans Saints. Seventy-two yards is hardly a lofty goal to top, and the eight receptions he generated in that contest could be expanded upon against the Patriots as well. Averaging just under 11 yards per reception this season, Thielen may not need to break big yardage following the catch, but if he can drive defenders back and allow Cousins simple passing lanes, the Vikings should be in business.
On Thanksgiving, Matthew Judon will look to feast against backup left tackle Blake Brandel. That will put additional pressure on Cousins, and O’Connell will need to have spent this week figuring out ways to move the ball quickly. K.J. Osborn has shown an ability to operate in the middle of the field, while Justin Jefferson has stretched the defense. Since T.J. Hockenson joined the squad, there’s been other options for short routes, but the veteran Thielen still represents the gold standard.
Thielen has faced the Patriots just twice in his career, and only once was he a prominent member of the offense while doing so. In Minnesota’s 2018 loss, he hauled in five of 10 targets for 28 yards and a touchdown. It’s probably fair to suggest a win on Thursday will require a higher yardage output, and his play could go a long way toward taking pressure off other talents that line up on the same side of scrimmage.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.