The Vikings have averaged 6 or more yards per play just four times in 58 full seasons.
Six games into Season 59: 6.3.
Good for third place in the NFL. And plenty explosive enough for newbie offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to stay in everyone’s good graces until at least 12:01 p.m. on Sunday.
The Vikings spent their first 37 seasons (1961-97) averaging fewer than 6 yards per play. Even when Joe Kapp and his “40 for 60” band of brothers led the league in scoring with 379 points in 1969, the Vikings still averaged only 4.7 yards per play en route to Super Bowl IV.
Then came 1998, when a lanky West Virginia kid arrived with a body and skill set the likes of which the NFL had never seen before.
Randy Moss, first-ballot Hall of Famer, played seven seasons in his first Vikings stint. It’s no coincidence that all four seasons of the team averaging 6 or more yards per play came during that seven-year “SuperFreak” era.
The Vikings and 49ers led the league with a 6.2-yard average in 1998. The Vikings ranked second in 2000 (6.2), first outright for the only time in franchise history in 2003 (6.0) and second with a franchise-record 6.4 average in 2004, the year Daunte Culpepper threw for a franchise-record 4,717 yards and would have garnered MVP consideration if a guy named Peyton hadn’t thrown a league-record 49 touchdowns.
If you’re a Vikings fan, you don’t need to be reminded how those seasons ended. The 1998 and 2000 campaigns were snuffed out in the NFC Championship Game. The 2004 season ended with a divisional playoff loss, and 2003 fell short of the playoffs in Arizona on the final snap of the regular season.
Still stings a bit, eh? But take some solace in the possibility of an eventual ending that’s better, not bitter, and sooner than later.
If the 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2004 teams had been paired with the 2019 defense, things might have ended differently. While Mike Zimmer’s defense ranks fifth in average yards allowed per play (4.8), the others ranked 19th in 1998 (5.1), 26th in 2000 (5.6), 28th in 2003 (5.6) and 29th in 2004 (5.8).
Offensively, this year’s team ranks behind only Kansas City (7.0) and Dallas (6.8). The last team to reach a 7.0-yard average for an entire season was the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” back in 2000.
The Vikings gained ground on the slumping Chiefs and free-falling Cowboys by averaging 6.9 yards per play in Sunday’s 38-20 win over the Eagles. Only the Jets (7.1) and Falcons (7.0) had higher averages in Week 6.
As for explosive plays — runs of 12-plus yards and receptions of 16-plus yards — the Vikings delivered haymakers early and often against the Eagles.
The Vikings had 12 possessions. Throw out the kneel-down right before the half and the last two possessions, when the Vikings were just killing the clock.
That’s nine meaningful possessions. The Vikings had at least one explosive play in seven of them, including the first five.
Altogether, the Vikings had 10 explosive plays by six different players — Stefon Diggs (three), Alexander Mattison (two), Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, Kyle Rudolph, Olabisi Johnson and Irv Smith Jr. Seven of the plays were passes.
Eight of them produced first downs on gains of 35 yards on second-and-8, 29 on second-and-6, 20 on third-and-13, 18 on second-and-5, 18 on first-and-10, 16 on second-and-2, 14 on first-and-10 and 13 on first-and-10. The other two rang up touchdowns of 62 and 51 yards to Diggs.
“Great to have explosive plays,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “A number of guys made explosive plays for us, which is great to be able to spread it around. And I thought we protected really well, and I thought our coaching staff had a great plan and called the game that kept us in rhythm and probably kept their defense a little bit off-balance.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org