NFL

Vikings need to focus on Jefferson before they rue missed opportunities

By Sports Desk October 02, 2022

Victory at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium could not have come in a more dramatic style for the Minnesota Vikings, who took the lead with 24 seconds remaining on Sunday and saw the New Orleans Saints endure a double doink with the last kick of the game.

The 28-25 result takes the Vikings to 3-1 for the season, with the last two wins coming by less than a single score, needing two fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Detroit Lions in Week 3.

In the opening weeks, Justin Jefferson's impact on the offense was limited. Two touchdowns and 184 receiving yards against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 did not go unnoticed, with the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions often putting an extra man on him to quell his impact.

Those two games combined for just 62 receiving yards and only 50 per cent completion when Jefferson was the targeted receiver. Against the Saints, and Marshon Lattimore, the pendulum swung in the opposing direction again.

Lattimore, one of the league's premier cornerbacks, is not a player who needs an additional defender alongside him, but he lost the matchup in London against Jefferson despite numerous opportunities to stand out – Kirk Cousins targeting his receiver on 13 occasions, more than any other game this season.

Ten of those were successful, with Jefferson notching up 147 receiving yards, including a stunning 41-yard reception that teased the sort of partnership he can have with his quarterback, and punching in a touchdown run for three yards.

That was not just a targeted opportunity, though, with head coach Kevin O'Connell detailing after the game how the plan was to always get Jefferson involved as much as possible after a frustrating few weeks.

"No matter what we had to do today, within reason, within our normal offense, we were going to get him going," O'Connell said.

"We knew he was going to be matched up against a premier player at his position in Marshon Lattimore. I have a ton of respect for him, how he plays and competes. But we wanted to give Justin some more one-on-one opps when we saw them. Obviously, it allowed him to help the other guys as well on some of those early downs."

One on one, Jefferson is a player who can win his battles with the best, as shown with his matchup against Lattimore, but he needs to be brought into the game more by Cousins. While the receptions and the yards were there against the Saints, it could, and should, have been a more comfortable match.

Cousins knows as much, saying after the game: "Twice I think Justin was open for touchdowns and we didn't connect. The plays are there to make, and we didn't connect. That's disappointing."

Jefferson, for his part, needs to demand the ball and the big plays more. Now in his third year with the Vikings offense, he has taken leadership responsibilities this season and it has shown, not letting the frustrations in the past two weeks knock him out of his stride and responding in style against the Saints.

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