Sunday sure was fun, wasn’t it, Vikings fans?
Like many of you, I’m still basking in the glow of pasting our division rivals in Week 1. I haven’t stopped smiling since. I close my eyes to see replays of Justin Jefferson running routes so filthy that I need a cold shower afterward.
Maybe I’m the weird one, but I doubt I’m alone.
The Minnesota Vikings didn’t just beat the Green Bay Packers; they outclassed them. And yes, the excuses are plentiful for Packers fans needing to reconcile what they just witnessed. They can talk about injuries or poor coaching underutilizing their talent. But, frankly, that’s just their way of dealing with the shellshock of watching Jefferson rack up over 150 yards and two TDs before halftime.
Jefferson was absolutely lethal on Sunday. Even more unfair was how new coach Kevin O’Connell played the Packers’ defense like a fiddle.
Green Bay’s defense was projected to be one of the better units in the league entering this season. They’ve invested a lot of resources into their defensive backfield and front seven. They have a balance of young talent and veteran leadership that should make them a formidable challenge for any offense this season that doesn’t have the best young wide receiver in football.
But it’s not just that the Vikings do have the best young wide receiver in football. It’s that they’ve found a way to ensure he’s matched up against the worst defender on every play.
Going into the week, Packers fans would’ve banked on star cornerback Jaire Alexander containing Jefferson. And perhaps that could’ve been an interesting battle that Jefferson still would’ve won more often than not. But why fight fair?
Instead, O’Connell decided it would be much more fun to watch Jefferson matched up on less experienced corners like Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas. Or maybe one-on-one with a safety like Darnell Savage. Or, better yet, let’s make rookie linebacker Quay Walker cover Jefferson in his NFL debut.
Seriously, Kevin, that’s just mean.
So how did they do it? By moving Jefferson like the queen on the chessboard.
Jefferson lined up out wide, in the slot, in bunch sets, and in the backfield. He also used pre-snap motion to move all around the formation, putting defenders in conflict on who to cover. Each different formation and motion by Jefferson manipulated the coverage rules established by the Green Bay defense to ensure that he was exploiting their weaknesses.
And why pull your punches when you sense a pressure point? O’Connell found a gap in the armor and hit it with a bazooka.
That’s how you get 158 yards and two TDs before halftime. You set the tone and establish the mismatches on your terms. Defenses spend an entire offseason drilling into their heads all the coverage rules so that they all know their matchups on any given play. By exploiting those rules, you put them in a compromising position. They either rewrite the game plan or keep getting burned.
Oh, and when you inevitably draw the matchup against Jaire Alexander like Packers fans are screaming at their TVs for — it still won’t be good enough. Jefferson can put him on skates as well.
O’Connell’s scheme isn’t infallible, and it’s got copycats across the league. O’Connell clearly took the best parts of his Los Angeles Rams tenure and brought it to life here in Minnesota. And like any scheme, its Xs and Os can only go as far as the players can take it.
O’Connell showed us that his scheme can take an already sensational player and put him in the best possible position to succeed. And if he can continue to do that, Jefferson could find unparalleled success.