Vikings Film Review: Minnesota uses other weapons to beat the Lions

(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) Adam Thielen
(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) Adam Thielen /

NFL Teams are beginning to figure out how to defend Minnesota Vikings star wide receiver Justin Jefferson, but it’s creating opportunities for others.

The key to defensive success for opposing teams of the Minnesota Vikings is to stop No. 18. The recipe is to play press man in order to not let Jefferson have free releases and get comfortable running his routes. The execution of this is much easier said than done.

First, it requires a tall, long corner who excels in man coverage. The Philadelphia Eagles were able to demonstrate this in Week 2 with their star corner, Darius Slay, who held Jefferson to just one catch for five yards while also coming away with two interceptions when covering Jefferson.

As we suspected, the Lions were going to come out with a very similar style of aggressive coverage in Week 3. Detroit had their star cornerback, Jeff Okudah, shadow Jefferson the entire game.

Okudah’s length gave him an advantage in the Lions’ press-man scheme, and as a result, he held Jefferson to just two catches for nine yards in the matchup. Jefferson finished the game with just three catches for 14-yards on the day.

The Minnesota Vikings were still able to win without their star receiver generating much offense

Players and coaches often talk about “good team wins,”  and in Week 3, the Vikings were forced to win as a team.

With Jefferson neutralized by Okudah, Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn led Minnesota in receiving. Thielen led the team in catches with six receptions and a touchdown while Osborn led the team in receiving yards with 73. A majority of his yards came on back-to-back big catches against man coverage in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning touchdown with 45-seconds to play.

While Okudah had the answer for Jefferson, Thielen was able to take advantage of his matchup against Lions cornerback Armani Oruwariye – who had several penalties on the day while trying to man up on Thielen.

Thielen had his best game of the 2022 season as he was able to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups that the Vikings were not able to against the Eagles.

Another key factor in the win was that Dalvin Cook finally got on track in the run game. Cook rushed 17 times for 96 yards and a touchdown. He did dislocate his shoulder on a fumble in the fourth quarter but should be on track to play in London against the New Orleans Saints in Week 4.

Cook, like most of the Vikings offense, was also a non-factor in Philadelphia last week. It was refreshing to see Kevin O’Connell make adjustments following the blowout loss to the Eagles, getting some of Minnesota’s other talented offensive weapons involved to pull off a comeback victory over the Lions and take sole possession of first place in the NFC North.

A key indicator of the adjustments the Vikings made was on the last drive of the game, where Osborn was targeted three straight times.

On a drive for the win, many people thought Minnesota’s tendency would be to force-feed Jefferson to try to get the ball into the hands of their best player. Instead, they took what the defense gave them and trusted their other playmakers to do what they paid them to do, and it worked.

The Vikings have an incredibly talented receiving corps, and they were able to utilize it in the victory. Hopefully, this is something we see more often as teams try to take away Jefferson.

Looking at Minnesota’s last two plays of the game, both 28-yard completions to Osborn, they used Osborn in similar ways to how they would use Jefferson.

On the first play, they split out Osborn to the field and had him run a crossing route against the man coverage. Kirk Cousins threw the ball up with complete trust where Osborn made a difficult catch in traffic and was able to get yards after the catch to bring the Vikings within field goal range.

Down 24-21, Minnesota was in an excellent position to at least tie the game. However, on the very next play the Lions came out in man coverage with two high safeties over the top (aka cover 2 man), and Osborn made them pay again.

Coming out of the slot, where Jefferson had so much success in Week 1, Osborn ran a corner route against former Vikings first-round pick, Mike Hughes. Osborn burned Hughes and was wide open for the game-winning score.

Because Jefferson takes so much attention from defenses, both Lions safeties were keying on him during the play. Thielen, who was the field receiver over the top of Osborn in the slot, ran a simple out route. This took away the corner who was playing man coverage on Thielen.

All Osborn had to do to win the game was beat Hughes on a corner route from the slot, a very difficult route to defend from the slot because there are so many different ways to break out of the slot that the defender is at a complete disadvantage as they cannot cheat or guess where the receiver is going to go. Detroit left Hughes on an island and Osborn enjoyed his vacation there.

The Vikings will probably see a lot more press-man coverage as the season progresses and as they play more teams with marquee corners. It is up to the team to figure out new ways to get Jefferson involved.

A difficult matchup awaits in London as Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore is going to be more than excited to get his hands on Jefferson after the receiver has struggled during the past two weeks.

But even if teams continue to game plan for Jefferson, Minnesota has shown they have plenty of other ways to win games as they are a team filled with playmakers.

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