For the first time in a very long time, the best player on the field during a Packers-Vikings contest wasn’t Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. This time, that honor belonged to Vikings wideout Justin Jefferson.
To put it simply, Jefferson was unguardable against the Packers on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium. In his first game in the offensive scheme of new head coach Kevin O’Connell, Jefferson caught nine passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns. 158 of those yards came in the first half, setting a Vikings franchise record for most receiving yards in a half.
O’Connell’s offensive gameplan saw Jefferson get inexplicably wide open many times during the game, which is impressive considering the matchup against the Packers’ stout trio of cornerbacks. Today, we are going to break down just how dominant Jefferson was against the Packers.
How did Jefferson get so wide open against a defense we perceive to be an elite one?
The answer to that question is simple. It’s a mixture of both O’Connell’s offensive scheme and the Packers having absolutely no answers for Jefferson. There are a few plays that define this answer.
Take the fourth-down play on the Vikings’ opening drive of the game. Instead of kicking a field goal, unlike a certain coach in Denver on Monday Night Football, O’Connell chose to go for it. And he didn’t just simply go for it, he REALLY went for it. Despite only needing one yard, O’Connell used pre-snap motion on the play, confusing the Packers defense, who thought that the Vikings were going to run the ball. This allowed Jefferson to get open, and score a five-yard touchdown for the game’s first points.
On the same opening drive, Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry made a bad decision with who he chose to put on Jefferson. With the Vikings facing a second down at the Packers’ 36-yard line, the Packers defense had a chance to kick the Vikings out of field goal range. Instead, Barry opts to put rookie linebacker Quay Walker on Jefferson. This proved to be a back-breaking decision, as Walker’s speed was no match for Jefferson, who gets open by a few yards and takes a short throw from quarterback Kirk Cousins 21 yards to the Packers’ 15.
On Jefferson’s second score of the game, both O’Connell’s schemes and Barry’s decision-making came into play. To start the play, which was at the Packers’ 36-yard line, Barry opted to put linebacker Preston Smith on Jefferson, thinking Smith’s 6-foot-4-inch frame would be a mismatch in favor of the defense. Once again, bad decision. O’Connell’s pre-snap motion came into effect again, as he motioned receiver Adam Thielen to the slot, which resulted in the Packers sending multiple defensive backs to cover Thielen, thinking he would be the intended receiver. But just like last time, Jefferson exploited a major mismatch. The offensive line did just enough to protect Cousins, who bought enough time to find Jefferson at the 20-yard line. From there, Jefferson did the rest of the damage and put the Vikings up 17-0. By the time the Packers defense finally caught up to Jefferson, it was too late as he successfully lunged for the end zone.
Jefferson Is Simply Just THAT DUDE.
It wasn’t just coordinator Barry’s scheming that allowed Jefferson to get so wide open. It was also that Jefferson is so good that there just simply weren’t a lot of options to cover him.
On his biggest plays of the game, Jefferson was open. And by that I mean WIDE OPEN. He was gaining multiple yards of separation against these Packers defensive backs and linebackers on every play that he was open. His speed and agility also make it difficult for opposing defenses to bring him down, which explains why Jefferson often had a lot of yards after the catch.
Kirk Cousins was crisp and efficient in delivering the football
Every wide receiver not named Larry Fitzgerald needs a great quarterback throwing them the ball. Cousins isn’t a great, top-tier guy, but he was two things on Sunday afternoon: crisp and efficient.
Cousins completed 23 of 32 throws for 277 yards and the two scores to Jefferson. When throwing to Jefferson, he was 9 of 11. He also put a lot of zip and velocity onto the ball, which enabled Jefferson to make an easier catch. And for being as immobile as he is, Cousins sure did buy some time to move around in the pocket and find his open receivers (not just Jefferson).
Justin Jefferson had a monster performance, but some of the credit needs to go to Cousins’ efficient performance for allowing said monster day to occur.
So why did Justin Jefferson have a monster day Sunday? You can point to a lot of things, as listed above. Joe Barry had a less-than-ideal game plan for covering him, Jefferson is just THAT DUDE, and Kirk Cousins did a very good job of getting him the football. In the end, it was probably a little bit of everything. Barry didn’t plan good enough for the young phenom, Jefferson is probably the best young receiver in the game, and Cousins is the ideal QB for his game.
No matter what reason you point to, Jefferson had the best game of his career. He was just simply unguardable against the Packers.