A black hole is a section of outer space where gravity is so strong that nothing, not light, not electromagnetic radiation, and not particles, can escape it. Justin Jefferson is a shining star in the Vikings offense that, much like the scariest of celestial occurrences, demands spatial attention. In a disappointing Week 2 loss, the Philadelphia Eagles executed a well devised plan to stress the Vikings offense. The Lions, wise in their ways, also decided they wanted to prevent the Griddy from appearing in the end zone at U.S. Bank Stadium. Before we get to the film, let’s run through the Lions blueprints.
The Lions plan for Justin Jefferson started with Jeff Okudah playing press trail man coverage. At the snap of the ball, Okudah would try to get hands on Jefferson to disrupt his route. After that, Okudah would be trailing Jefferson and playing underneath his pattern. This would be very difficult to do without any over the top help because Jefferson would have the entire verticality of the field to work with. In comes the next step of the Lions plan.
The Lions generally had a high Safety playing over the top of Jefferson’s initial alignment in addition to Okudah’s trail. The high Safety allowed for Okudah to be aggressive underneath the route knowing another defender would help out if Jefferson broke free. When Jefferson moved to the slot, there was either an inside out bracket or a Safety leaning to Jefferson’s side. The bracket Safety allowed Okudah to play Jefferson aggressively to one side and use leverage to the defense’s advantage.
Finally, the Lions played the opposite Safety in a shallower position to control any crossers from Jefferson. This was not present on every snap, but it did help the Lions defense avoid suffering the same fate as the Packers secondary.
With all of these resources allocated to Justin Jefferson, the Lions wanted to force the Vikings to win tight matchups elsewhere on the field.
The Lions achieved their goal in limiting Jefferson’s statistical production. The below clips show how the Lions dedication to solving this particular problem led to three catches, fourteen yards, and six targets for #18. Jefferson’s impact on the game, however, went far beyond the numbers we see in the box score.
Here is a good example of Jeff Okudah’s press trail technique:
Nice job by Jeff Okudah in 1 on 1 coverage. Okudah was asked to play trail man on Justin Jefferson for a lot of the game and did well pic.twitter.com/kVZhvb8ZCm— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 26, 2022
This clip shows the full plan in motion. Okudah in trail, Safety over the top of Jefferson’s initial alignment, and a Safety controlling any crossers that may go across the formation.
This play illustrates what the Lions plan was for Justin Jefferson:— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 26, 2022
-Press and trail with Okudah
-Safety over the top
-Opposite safety in a crosser control spot
-Force someone else to make a play in tight 1 on 1s pic.twitter.com/srMbtvnznc
The Vikings did what they could to activate Jefferson, but the Lions stood strong:
Vikings running mesh from stack to get Jefferson open. Lions have a safety over the top of Jefferson to his side and a lower safety away again. Nice play by DeShon Elliott (5) pic.twitter.com/w3slylgQMl— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 26, 2022
With the Lions secondary operating at a high level with multiple players dedicated to Jefferson, the Vikings needed to find success in other players. Luckily, Jefferson’s enormous gravity helped create space for his teammates:
Vikings know that Jefferson is going to draw extra attention so they put him at the point in stack on choice stucko to open up the underneath space. They did something similar on Thielen's 4th down conversionhttps://t.co/Tgjjia4h3Z pic.twitter.com/yTuaOdHfLZ— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 26, 2022
The Vikings also used legal picks to help open up receivers. Picks and rubs are a good way to take advantage of man coverage as they force defenders to either communicate quickly or work through tight traffic:
Vikings run their high crossers concept with Jefferson as the moving pick player. Jefferson is doubled again and Cousins connects with Osborn pic.twitter.com/Qq2AVrC5mu— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 26, 2022
Nice design from the Vikings against 6 man pressure. Lions have a safety shading Jefferson and Osborn does a nice job staying tight to Thielen and Jefferson's traffic to make it hard for the DB pic.twitter.com/C5sCdKjFv3— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 26, 2022
With so many eyes on Jefferson, Adam Thielen made plays and drew flags when it mattered the most.
Safety is leaning to Jefferson, Thielen gets a true 1 on 1 and draws a flag pic.twitter.com/QEcxtNBC75— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 26, 2022
To cap it all off, Kirk Cousins connected with Michigan native K.J. Osborn for the game winner. The Lions were forced to track Jefferson all game long, and it appears there was a miscommunication on the play leading to the coverage break.
Kirk Cousins to K.J. Osborn on the game winner for the Vikings:— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 26, 2022
-DET wanted to keep Okudah + 1 on Jefferson throughout the game
-Lions starting S was hurt earlier on
-23's leverage makes it seem like he is expecting outside help pic.twitter.com/UQjc6Sbi7H
The Vikings should continue to expect an influx of special attention paid to Justin Jefferson. The run game picked up some slack in Week 3, but players like Osborn, Thielen, and Smith will need to build on the successes here to help the 2022 Vikings reach their ceiling.