The Steelers forced five turnovers and still almost lost. The Cardinals blitzed Patrick Mahomes to death and gave up a touchdown every other play. Do you ever watch a football game and just go “wait … what?”
That was the experience for many watching the Vikings-Packers game on Sunday. With all of the concern around the star receiver absent from the game—longtime Packer Davante Adams now departed to Las Vegas—few were ready for the performance of the star receiver still playing in the NFC North: Justin Jefferson.
The Packers had no idea how to handle Jefferson—a receiver they’ve played enough that you’d think they’d be ready for him. Just last season, Joe Barry’s defense surrendered an eight-catch, 169-yard, two-touchdown performance to Jefferson in a Vikings win. Apparently, the game plan has not been updated since. Jefferson totaled a career-best 184 yards, catching nine of his 11 targets and finding paydirt twice.
While the Packers may not have updated their Jefferson gameplan, the Vikings certainly did, as first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell showed a commitment to Jefferson as the cornerstone of the offense that the Vikings under ex-head coach Mike Zimmer previously lacked.
O’Connell, most recently the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, oversaw the Triple Crown season for Rams wideout Cooper Kupp, as Kupp led the league in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in 2021. With O’Connell bringing that offense to Minnesota, the big offseason question was obvious: Can Jefferson have a Cooper Kupp–like year in 2022?
If the Vikings’ first game is any indication, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” O’Connell did plenty of work to set up Jefferson for success in his new offense, to the point that Jefferson was surprised at the open looks he received in Week 1. I was surprised, too.
How exactly did Jefferson get so open, so often, for the Vikings? It took a village. Not just the quality coaching of O’Connell, but the puzzling decisions of Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry.