For all the drama that star receiver Stefon Diggs brought off the field — the braggadocious behavior in the end zone, the occasional blowup on the sideline, the constant trolling on social media — he was pretty much a cheat code on it.
If it seemed like Diggs was always wide open down field, it’s because more often than not he was. Not only is he as good a route runner as there is in the NFL, his ability to make contested catches is second to none.
That’s something the Buffalo Bills have quickly realized as quarterback Josh Allen has developed a rapport with Diggs in no time flat.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings are learning that life without Diggs isn’t so easy.
What some thought would be a lifelong marriage ended in a messy divorce this offseason when the Vikings traded Diggs to the Bills for pennies on the dollar.
As a result, the Vikings’ offense has looked completely out of sorts in the first two games of the season, with star receiver Adam Thielen getting more attention than ever before without much help around him.
To put things in perspective, Thielen leads a receiving corps for the Vikings that has 18 catches for 291 yards and two touchdowns this season. Compare that to Diggs’ production in Buffalo: 16 catches for 239 yards and a touchdown.
Asked if he has noticed opposing teams playing him differently without Diggs on the opposite side, Thielen not surprisingly sidestepped the question so as not to cause a stir.
“I really don’t know how to answer that,” he said. “I’m just trying to focus on my job and really play what’s given to me.”
Even if Thielen won’t say it, and probably never will, it doesn’t take a genius to understand how much more difficult things are for him on the field without Diggs in the mix.
Both the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts routinely provided a safety to help over the top on Thielen’s side, essentially daring the Vikings to beat them by throwing to Bisi Johnson and rookie Justin Jefferson instead.
That has made things tough of quarterback Kirk Cousins in the pocket and on the run. While he has taken a lot of criticism for his lack of production, and rightfully so, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak noted that a lot of the struggles are a byproduct of nobody being open downfield.
“I’ve got to find some ways to get some people open for him so that he can make those plays,” Kubiak said. “He’s moved around and done some good stuff. We can separate and help him do some better stuff. How about that?”
It was more or less a challenge from Kubiak imploring players not named Adam Thielen to step up.
“Some teams have been having a safety over the top on Adam, or double-covering Adam, or something like that,” Jefferson said. “It’s just up to the other receivers to go out there and make those big plays to get open.”
That used to be something Diggs did for the Vikings with relative ease. Not anymore.
“It just comes down to going out there and playing ball and having fun,” Thielen said. “I need to do a better job of making something happen. There’s really no excuses for this or that. It’s just when the ball is in the air, I have to go make a play.
“That’s definitely something I’m focused on. Just doing my job better, continuing to grow and handling my business. That’s all I can do.”
Coach Mike Zimmer has no interest in questions involving Diggs. Asked if the Vikings miss his presence on the field, Zimmer replied, “Just got to run our offense.”
It’s hard to imagine Diggs isn’t smiling to himself out east right now.