Last Sunday Kyle Rudolph showed that he can truly make a difference for the Vikings. His final stat line was beautiful by itself; 9 catches on 9 targets, 122 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns. This was hands down Rudolph’s best game of his career.
More impressive then the numbers though, was what Rudolph did for the Vikings right before halftime. With 8 seconds left on the clock, Rudolph caught a pass from Quarterback Kirk Cousins in the middle of the field, shook a tackle and tried his best to get out of bounds. He was tackled just inside of the boundary and the Vikings were forced to take a timeout with 2 seconds on the clock. It felt like a let down, “if he had just gone down right away, we could get a quick out and take a field goal,” is what I said to myself. On the next play Rudolph redeemed himself and changed the game. He caught a 44-yard bomb from Cousins for a touchdown. The Vikings took the lead and never looked back.
Rudolph has shown the ability to find the end zone with 41 career touchdowns in 8 seasons. Although he doesn’t rack up the yards at a high pace, Sunday was only his third career 100-yard receiving game, his ability to score points cannot be denied. It sure helps in the Red Zone when you stand 6 foot 6 inches tall and can reach over most defenders.
As Minnesota looks to take on a tough divisional foe in the Chicago Bears, Rudy could be the difference maker. However, that will come as a challenge against the stellar Bears defense. Over the first 15 games of the season, the Chicago defense has given up 641 yards and 5 touchdowns to tight ends. That is an average of 42 yards per game and a touchdown every 3 games for tight ends. In the first meeting of the year in Chicago, rudolph caught only 2 passes for 13 yards. Last week San Francisco’s George Kittle racked up 74 yards, the most yardage Chicago has allowed to a tight end this year.
So much of the offensive focus for the Vikings is on Thielen, Diggs, and the resurgent Cook. This can only benefit Rudolph as the defense can only cover so many guys at once. With Rudolph’s career game last week, Kirk Cousins may just have the confidence to give him more opportunities. If Minnesota’s run game can move a bit, and Diggs/Thielen can catch a few balls on the outside, don’t be surprised if Rudolph starts making big plays in the middle of the field, especially if the game comes down to a two-minute drill for the Vikings.
If Rudolph is ever going to break out and be the player we want him to be, this week is it.