With the Minnesota Vikings welcoming the Carolina Panthers to U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday for a Week 12 contest, I’d be remiss if we didn’t take a few moments to highlight Carolina offensive coordinator, Joe Brady, as he’s quickly establishing himself as one of the hottest coaching commodities in the National Football League. Brady’s impact has been felt not only as a first-year offensive coordinator in the NFL, but for the role he played in the development of Vikings star rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
For those that are unfamiliar with Brady, the 31-year-old offensive coordinator spent the 2019 season as the wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator for the national champion LSU Tigers. Brady worked closely with Jefferson and played an invaluable part in not only Jefferson’s development but was largely responsible for taking that LSU offense to new heights. I wrote about Brady back in October, highlighting the historical jump that Jefferson and the LSU Tigers experienced with Brady’s coaching prowess, as well as what a reunion between Jefferson and Brady could look like.
Today we’re going to take a look at a few of Brady’s concepts that I’m sure have kept Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer up at night throughout the course of the past week, as well as a concept that Gary Kubiak and the Vikings have adopted as one of their own after Jefferson and Brady had success with it last season at LSU.
This first play took place back in Week 5 with the Panthers visiting the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are leading 7-6 and Carolina is facing a 3rd and 4 near midfield right before halftime. The Panthers are lined up in a 2×2 set with Mike Davis operating as the running back alongside Teddy Bridgewater, with Atlanta giving a press-man coverage with single high safety over the top. Robby Anderson‘s motion to the wide side of the field confirms that the Falcons are in man coverage, allowing Carolina receiver D.J. Moore to occupy the short side of the field as the lone receiver. Atlanta decides to bring pressure, sending both of their linebackers with the single-high safety now responsible for the Panthers running back, Davis, out of the backfield.
Now, if you decide to dial up man coverage against Brady and this Carolina offense, you better be on your Ps and Qs because if you’re not careful, Brady will light you up like a pinball machine, as you’re about to see below. With Moore welcoming the challenge of press-man, Brady calls for the third-year receiver to run a whip route, forcing the Atlanta corner to honor inside leverage, before Moore breaks back outside on the whip. Because he is able to win inside with relative ease, the Falcons corner is already cooked before Moore finishes his route. His burst and quickness in condensed space is a nightmare for corners tasked with press-man without safety help over the top.
Moore is able to get back outside on the whip, as Bridgewater recognizes the obvious read and gets the ball to his playmaker in space before the Atlanta blitz can get home. Moore turns on the jets and leaves the Atlanta corner in the dust. With the help of Curtis Samuel‘s touchdown-sealing block down field, Moore has reservations for six. The only thing missing from this particular play was Moore chucking up the deuce a la Tyreek Hill.
Next, we’re taking it to Carolina’s Week 9 matchup against the aforementioned Hill and the world champion Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The Panthers have a 1st and 10 inside the red zone from the Kansas City 14-yard line early in the second quarter clinging to a 7-3 lead. Carolina lines up in an “11” personnel with their three receivers in a bunch formation on the short side of the field. Brady and head coach Matt Rhule clearly saw a matchup that they liked, recognizing man coverage against Kansas City’s nickel defense. Rhule and Brady’s offense is largely built around identifying mismatches that the defense presents to them, and then executing on said mismatches.
For this particular play, Rhule and Brady understand that Chiefs safety Dan Sorensen is responsible for Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel. The Panthers not only want to beat opposing defenses with their superior speed vertically, but horizontally as well, and that’s exactly what they do on this play inside the red zone. With Samuel’s speed motion on the jet concept, you’ll notice that Sorensen immediately vacates and follows his man coverage responsibilities on Samuel.
The ball is snapped and Panthers tight end Ian Thomas disregards the Kansas City defensive end, instead climbing to backer. Davis serves as Samuel’s lead blocker and is responsible for the most dangerous threat at the second level. Davis secures his block on the Chiefs linebacker, leaving Samuel one-on-one with his mismatch on Sorensen. Samuel’s clear speed advantage over Sorensen allows him to win out as Sorensen comes up with nothing but Arrowhead grass, whiffing on the diving tackle attempt as Samuel crosses the goal line.
Lastly, I promised to show you a concept that’s a favorite of Brady’s, stemming from his time down at LSU with Jefferson. This is a scheme that Brady took with him to the NFL, so let’s start this one off by showing you how effective this concept was for Jefferson and Brady last year in the SEC.
On LSU’s opening drive against Mississippi State, the Tigers are facing a 3rd and 7 from the Mississippi State 42-yard line. LSU is aligned in an empty 2×3 set with Jefferson lined up in the inside slot to the wide side of the field. Mississippi State is in a dime defense, electing to rush five while providing a man-coverage look with single-high safety help over the top. This concept is meant to get the ball out quickly, while allowing the slot receiver (Jefferson) to slow play his route on the hesi-shake.
Notice how the safety initially comes downhill on Jefferson, biting hard on Jefferson’s hesitation, as if he is setting up for a quick hitch in the middle of the field. Jefferson lulls the man-defender and quickly picks up his route as he continues his crossing pattern. The safety responsible for Jefferson simply can’t keep up with the receiver’s stop-and-start burst, as Jefferson is wide open over the middle with plenty of room for additional yardage after the catch. This is like taking candy from a baby, and it’s easily understandable why this is such a favorite concept for both Brady and Jefferson.
Below you’ll see just how easily Brady’s concept translates to the NFL, as he dials it up for Panthers receiver Robby Anderson out of the slot against the New Orleans Saints back in Week 7. As a coach and/or play caller, it’s imperative that you feel confident about your individual matchup in man coverage in order to run this hesi-shake concept for a certain receiver. Anderson toys with his man-coverage matchup against the Saints and easily moves the sticks for the Panthers offense.
It should come as no surprise that the Vikings took it upon themselves to put Jefferson in familiar situations in order to be successful during his rookie year in the NFL. Gary Kubiak and the Vikings offense have run this concept on a few occasions for Jefferson, most recently as last week in crunch time against the Dallas Cowboys.
With Minnesota trailing 31-28 with 1:33 remaining in the game, Kubiak didn’t hesitate to fire up a brilliant play call to get his star rookie receiver the ball in space on a 2nd and 6 from their own 29-yard line. With Dalvin Cook emptying the formation with his motion to the short side of the field, Dallas confirms the man coverage by having the nickel back follow Cook past the numbers. With Jefferson now occupying the slot in the 2×3 set, the middle of the field is wide open after he puts his man coverage defender to sleep with the hesi-shake route. All Jefferson has to do is secure the catch and it’s almost a guarantee that he picks up, at minimum, the first down. And when you consider Jefferson’s unique run-after-catch abilities, I wouldn’t dare put it past him to make a guy miss in space and turn this into a chunk play.
But as we already know, Jefferson’s drop here proved critical as two plays later the Vikings turned the ball over on downs.
As Brady and Jefferson compete against each other in their first NFL game as opponents, you can’t help but tip your cap to Brady’s next-level schemes and how they helped Justin Jefferson turn into the receiver that he is today. Mike Zimmer and his defense better bring their A-game, or else Sunday’s contest could very well turn into a Wild Wild West shootout inside U.S. Bank Stadium.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m still just a little intrigued at the thought of reuniting Jefferson with Brady. I think we can all agree that they both look good in purple and gold with confetti flying down from the sky after winning a championship.