Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson had a career day against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday when he set a career-high of 184 receiving yards and tied a career-high of two receiving touchdowns in a 23-7 win. He also tallied his second-highest reception total in a single game in his career with nine.
In each of defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s Week 1 openers, the Packers have been blown out, leading to a knee-jerk reaction of fans calling for his head almost as soon as the season has begun. Now that the coaches’ film is out, let’s take a look at each of Jefferson’s receptions and see if the problem with the Packers’ defense is the secondary’s execution or Barry’s play-calling.
Justin Jefferson's receptions vs GB— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) September 12, 2022
Bang 8 vs Cover 1 hole. Stokes in man and Campbell in the hole. pic.twitter.com/WMApiCJSzy
This is probably the easiest Jefferson reception to explain. Cornerback Eric Stokes played left cornerback (bottom of the screen) for the Packers this game and was matched up with Jefferson on the perimeter here. The way the formation was sorted out, he was in man coverage against him in a Cover 1 Hole call.
Stokes started off in outside leverage on Jefferson, the same as Rasul Douglas in the slot next to him. That was due to the fact that the team had a post safety (Darnell Savage) and a hole player (De’Vondre Campbell) helping out on the inside.
Jefferson won inside leverage easily with this alignment and broke his “Bang 8” skinny post flat to leave Stokes behind him. Stokes may have thought that Campbell would have been playing in the middle of the field more, rather than on the hash, which would have helped at the catch point. Either way, this was simply good execution from the Vikings and a good play call on their end.
Vikings get the Packers to play empty with 4-3 personnel by throwing out 12 personnel. Stokes and Alexander are taken up by a tight end and a running back.— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) September 12, 2022
Packers play quarters and Walker doesn't end up expanding enough with the out route from the slot. pic.twitter.com/ElXFFFejB6
Jefferson’s second completion was the first of two that led Packers’ fans to scream “why was X on him?” Green Bay called a quarters defense, which in this case made the Packers’ three off-ball linebackers play the shallow portion of the field.
Minnesota broke the huddle in 12 personnel, with one running back, two tight ends and just two receivers, which Green Bay matched with a 4-3 base personnel on defense. The Vikings lined up a tight end and running back on the outside against Jaire Alexander and Stokes, though, which left receivers in the slot matched up with inside linebackers if they ran shorter routes, based on the play call.
This unorthodox formation led to Jefferson running an out route through inside linebacker Quay Walkers’ zone at the bottom of the screen, which he did not expand enough through, and a reception. If you want to be a zone team, though, you don’t get to decide your matchups.
#3— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) September 12, 2022
Double motion messes with them. Nub/trips turns into trey/open and both Amos and Stokes end up on Thielen. pic.twitter.com/eh6xCqP3vO
Unlike the previous two plays, Jefferson’s third reception is the first major brain fart that the Packers’ defense had on the day. The Vikings ran two motions that turned an isolated tight end in the boundary to a three-man surface.
Often, defenses talk about assignments as the offense’s number one (outside player) or offense's number two (first inside player) when nailing down their rules for a play. When the ball was snapped, Jefferson was actually the Vikings’ number two, but was on a jet motion that saw him quickly hit the edge of the field as the team’s “new” number one.
This led to confusion in the Packers' secondary, as both Stokes and Adrian Amos were occupied with original number one/new number two Adam Thielen. The result? A wide-open touchdown. In all likelihood, this was probably Stokes’ assignment, as he was lined up on the edge of the play and attempted to peel off on Jefferson late. This is just a guess, though, as red zone coverages can be very tricky.
Here’s the second brain fart and arguably one of the two biggest plays of the game, if not the biggest. One of either quarterback Kirk Cousins or his running back opened up the wrong way on a play-action pass that made Cousins step up in the pocket quickly on a somewhat broken play.
You can see that when Jefferson looks back for the pass, he thinks it’s a dead play and actually ends up slowing down before speeding back up when he notices the ball is coming to him. The Packers are in a quarters coverage that should see Savage (safety on the bottom of the screen) on Jefferson’s back shoulder and Amos (safety on the top of the screen) on Jefferson’s upfield shoulder on a post route that breaks left to right.
A subtle jab step from Jefferson before his break sends Savage spinning, though, and Amos takes an angle that leaves him as the tail end of the snake, leading to a massive gain that takes Minnesota from their own 22-yard-line to the red zone in one snap.
#5— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) September 12, 2022
Two minute drill (1 minute and the clock rolling) here. Vikings' stack at the bottom of the screen forces GB into a combo coverage instead of 2 man. Douglas could have helped himself by not being five yards off on the break pic.twitter.com/IOFJOPgarc
Jefferson’s fifth catch was nowhere near as influential as his fourth. It came on a two-minute drill when the Packers were playing the clock, which was rolling with about a minute left in the first half, more than the offense.
The team clearly wanted to play 2 Man coverage, but the stacked receivers at the bottom of the screen did not allow the Packers to play press man, so they played a combo coverage with Alexander and Douglas. Alexander took the first man vertical, K.J. Osborn, which left Douglas to cover Jefferson on an out route.
Jefferson caught a short gain and Douglas could have done better closing in Jefferson when Osborn went vertical, but this play wasn’t the end of the world.
#6— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) September 12, 2022
Cover 3 defense. KJ runs off Stokes on the top of the screen. Alexander/Douglas need to decide whether to pass off the crossers or not. They aren't on the same page and touchdown pic.twitter.com/WJpJVDMID6
Brain fart for an explosive play #2. The Packers played Cover 3 against the Vikings on this play-action pass that featured two crossing patterns from the opposite sides of the field. When playing Cover 3, a team needs to decide if they are going to pass off crossers or stick onto them and run across the field with the first player they snap onto. This is usually said in some way in the play-call, as crossers are possibly the most important assignment in the coverage.
For whatever reason, Green Bay wasn’t on the same page. Osborn ran off Stokes at the top of the screen, leaving Douglas (in the slot) and Alexander (bottom of the screen) to handle the crossing patterns. Alexander passed his crosser off to Douglas, while Douglas stuck on his crosser for the length of the field. That left two players on Thielen and none on Jefferson, who scored a touchdown.
Based on the fact that the underneath zone defenders were not playing “sticky” coverage and took true zone drops, I would assume that Douglas was in the wrong and was supposed to pass off Thielen to Alexander and take on Jefferson in this situation.
#7— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) September 12, 2022
Penny vs four open. They motion weak to get Preston into the slot.
Quarters. Second time a LB playing the flat to Jefferson out of the slot leads to a completion. pic.twitter.com/uTa8EWhkKb
This is the second “WHO covered WHO?” play that Jefferson had of the game. The Vikings came out in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) to the Packers’ penny front, with only one off-ball linebacker on the field. Minnesota lined up a tight end on Alexander on the bottom of the screen and after a motion forced Green Bay to detach outside linebacker Preston Smith into the slot over Jefferson.
This was another quarters coverage that put Jefferson running an out route through a linebackers zone on the sideline. Smith did a better job of expanding than Walker, but simply didn’t have the foot speed to stop Jefferson from getting the ball.
#8— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) September 12, 2022
C3 on 3rd and 14. Motion Jefferson into the backfield and Douglas blows up the swing. pic.twitter.com/GBt5s70Yds
This is the rare example of the defense looking good despite giving up a reception. The Packers were in a Cover 3 call on third and 14 when the Vikings motioned Jefferson into the backfield and threw him a swing route.
Douglas, who was playing the flat, triggered and chopped down Jefferson quickly, which ended the offense’s drive.
#9— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) September 12, 2022
Similar to the second Jefferson explosive play. Run off Stokes vs C3. GB stays with both crossers this time. Savage ends up behind it and Jefferson keeps control of it through contact. pic.twitter.com/SKY292R8JU
Jefferson’s final catch was an example of the Packers not zoning off and passing off crossers. Again, like in the sixth reception Green Bay gave up to Jefferson, the team was in Cover 3. They also got a similar play call, an outside receiver running off Stokes (bottom of the screen) and two crossers being run from opposite sides of the field behind it.
This time it was Douglas (slot) and Savage (safety, top of the screen) manning up on the crossers. This could have been an adjustment that the Packers made after the secondary failed to play their coverage responsibilities when they were supposed to pass off crossers earlier in the game.
Savage did his best to run across the field with Jefferson, who got help from Osborn to cut off Savage’s path. Savage was able to make contact with Jefferson before they hit the ground, but Jefferson was able to secure the ball for the catch.
Just about everyone in the Packers’ secondary gave up a big one to Jefferson on Sunday. Stokes got beat on a third down short post in man coverage. Stokes (probably) didn’t peel off correctly on a goal-line touchdown when Jefferson was sent in motion. Savage and Amos both had a terrible rep on a broken play that saw Jefferson catch a field-flipping deep post. Douglas (probably) didn’t pass off a crosser, which led to a long touchdown. Savage wasn’t able to keep step for step with Jefferson when the team decided to lock crossers.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Alexander didn’t give up one to Jefferson in Week 1. The secondary needs to fine-tune their play in the coming weeks, though, if this team is going to contend for a title. Much of the reason why the Packers are thought of as a potential NFC contender this year is their defense, and their defensive backs failed to execute in some big spots against a top-five receiver in the league. Play-calling can’t be solely blamed for Jefferson’s explosives, even if defensive coordinator Joe Barry did give Jefferson a couple of nice matchups in short zones. The explosive plays almost solely came down to execution, which is where Green Bay fell short in the secondary.