Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell is facing perhaps the most daunting task of his young coaching career: succeeding without Justin Jefferson on the field.
O'Connell knows that without Jefferson's field-tilting ability, it will change how the Vikings approach opponents.
"The fact of the matter is we have to change the way we game-plan when we do have Justin available just because of the way the breakdowns work, and you think you're going to get all these coverages that have shown up, and then we show up to the game and we get kind of a J.J. program consistently," O'Connell told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Tuesday. "Something that we've had to really grow these last 25-plus games, whatever it's been, and really dive into it from a standpoint of anticipating how he might be taken away and how that affects everybody else and where we require Jordan (Addison) or K.J. (Osborn) or T.J. Hockenson or Josh (Oliver) to go win in the pass game versus premier looks when so much coverage is dedicated to Justin."
Jefferson has generated 36 catches (tied for sixth in the NFL) for 571 yards (third) and three receiving touchdowns (tied for fifth) in 2023. Since 2022, the wideout leads the NFL with 164 catches and 2,380 yards.
Through five games, Jefferson has more than double the receiving yards than any other Minnesota player; Hockenson (254) and Addison (249) are the only other players with 200-plus receiving yards.
Losing Jefferson takes a ginormous chunk out of the Vikings' offense. The star gets open versus any coverage and makes life easier on the entire operation by garnering a ton of attention. Now, O'Connell will have to show he can still scheme up big plays sans the dominant wideout.
"So now we gotta, knowing we might not have him for a stretch here, we've got to change the way we look at it and we've got to get back to making sure that we have sound plays versus the looks we think we're going to get," O'Connell said on Tuesday. "Give our guys, our playmakers, which we feel like we have plenty even losing the best receiver in football, we still are really excited about Jordan Addison. K.J. Osborn's been ultra consistent, T.J. Hockenson, there's a reason why he's here, and we'll continue to build things on all downs to keep him involved, and then how does C.J. Ham or Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt or Brandon Powell, how do those guys fit in in their complementary roles, where they can really, really see some premier opportunities."
O'Connell gets to test the Jefferson-less operation Sunday against a Chicago Bears defense that has struggled to slow passing attacks, allowing 286.0 passing yards per game (second-most in the NFL) and 12 pass TDs (second-most).