Vikings

Slowing Davante Adams Begins With Attacking Aiden O'Connell

Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Davante Adams has had a quiet 2023 campaign, but he remains the dangerous receiver he was with the Green Bay Packers. While he’s experienced a decline statistically, it’s not due to his play slowing with age. Instead, it indicates the dysfunction the Las Vegas Raiders have experienced this year. After a year where the Raiders won six games, the team started 3-4, and frustrations mounted with former head coach Josh McDaniels’ personality and leadership style. Pundits and fans have had similar critiques of McDaniels during his head-coaching stints in Denver and Vegas. It seems that his desire for operational perfection eventually becomes overbearing.

Before the Raiders fired McDaniels, Adams averaged around 67 yards per game. But Adams has averaged 80 yards per game on six catches in his last three games while also accounting for one score over that span. Adams has accounted for 814 receiving yards on 69 receptions with four touchdowns overall in 2023, solid numbers for a player without a true franchise quarterback.

Brian Flores will have to stop the superstar talent. Fortunately for him, Flores will not have to deal with the same quality at quarterback or offensive line that Adams had in Green Bay. Adams’ annoyance has been palpable, offering several televised moments of frustration this season.

The Raiders committed a three-year, $67-million deal to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, whom McDaniels knew from their time with the New England Patriots. The contract immediately looks like a bust; Vegas replaced Garoppolo with fourth-round draft pick Aidan O’Connell before the trade deadline.

Adams’ numbers improved after interim head coach Antonio Pierce made it a focal point to get his star players the ball after installing O’Connell as the starter. Even though he’s a top-three NFL receiver, Garoppolo treated Adams like an expensive second option. Adams has been O’Connell’s clearcut first option, and the Raiders have had a more balanced and efficient offensive attack.

Flores must pressure O’Connell to take the ball out of Adams’ hands, and his wide array of defensive packages will likely confuse the first-year quarterback. Josh Metellus has the highest pressure rate at his position in the league. Flores’ disguised coverages and blitzes out of packages with Metellus in the hybrid/linebacker role will fluster O’Connell. Danielle Hunter will also look to feast, matching up against Jermaine Eluemunor, PFF’s 40th-ranked offensive tackle. Flores also should capitalize on advantageous matchups by moving players around the line, testing to see if O’Connell will recognize and adjust his protections.

Akayleb Evans’ return from injury will provide Flores with the corner most physically suited to match up against Adams. Evans allows Flores to assign an opportunity to shadow Adams in what would be his biggest test of the year. Adams is not the fastest player. However, he is laterally quick, his route-running is crisp and precise, and Evans has the size and requisite speed to keep pace.

If the Vikings successfully pressure O’Connell, Evans will have a much easier time in coverage against one of the best receivers in the NFL. If not, the defense will have to shadow Adams with an additional defender, or he will carve apart the secondary. Adams will create separation if Minnesota’s defense allows him to, and they will have a disastrous day when confronted with the talented receiving trio of Adams, Jakobi Meyers, and Michael Mayer.

Jakobi Meyers is also a credible receiving threat, with 52 receptions for 591 yards and six touchdowns on the season. Meyers undercut Adams’ production early, becoming Garoppolo’s favored target early into the season. However, Meyers has cooled off after a hot start, totaling over 50 receiving yards only once in his past five games after surpassing that mark five times in the first six games of the season.

If the Vikings can contain Adams, the Raiders will lose the most fearsome part of their offense. While Adams has the talent to go for 10 receptions and 150 yards on any given Sunday, his surroundings have limited him. Brian Flores must take advantage of the opportunity by pressuring an inexperienced rookie quarterback and shadowing Adams with his best matchup.

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