EAGAN, Minn. — Fresh off a career day against the rival Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson was all smiles.
"I live for these types of big games," said Jefferson, who finished with nine catches, 184 yards and two touchdowns in the Vikings' 23-7 victory over the Packers.
Jefferson was a human highlight reel against Green Bay, finding wide open space in the secondary and making the highly touted Packers defense pay just about every time he touched the ball.
His first score came on fourth down when he motioned to the right, caught an uncontested pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins and slipped untouched into the corner of the end zone. The play not only gave the Vikings the early momentum in a much-anticipated tilt with their biggest rival, but it also gave fans a glimpse of what they can expect in this new style of offense.
First-year head coach Kevin O'Connell came over from the Los Angeles Rams, who in the past, liked to move their receivers around before the snap in an attempt to confuse opposing defenses. On Sunday, the Packers were confused.
"I answered a lot of questions about our players being ready physically to play, and having the mindset -- and the capability -- to come out of the blocks fast, despite not playing in the preseason," said O'Connell following Sunday's win. "We knew the responsibility we had to get our players ready. They knew the responsibility that they personally had to be ready. But to have that first drive go the way it did, and then as the game went on -- I had told our guys that this would happen -- but there was multiple times that those O-linemen, receivers, backs were coming over saying, 'Coach, more tempo. More tempo.' But we're going to attack on our terms."
After O'Connell ran a pretty vanilla offensive scheme in the preseason, this was the first real look at what the Vikings' offense could look like this season. Unfortunately for the Packers, they were the test subjects. The Packers had no regular season film to learn from, no pre-snap tendencies to pick up on, and no real idea what O'Connell and the Vikings' offense had planned for Sunday.
The clean slate allowed the Vikings to catch the Packers off guard, but now, with a better idea of how Jefferson is going to be used, will defenses be able to prevent the third-year receiver from having those "big games" he lives for?
The Philadelphia Eagles will get a crack at it Monday night.
The Eagles eked out a 38-35 win over the Detroit Lions in Week 1 after struggling -- mightily -- to contain Lions running back Deandre Swift, who averaged 9.6 yards per carry. As a result, the Vikings could have running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison play bigger roles, but Jefferson will no doubt get his opportunities.
"I like to think that our offense is an evolving thing week to week," O'Connell said during his Thursday press conference. "It's not so much the plays and the philosophy, but it's just the execution level of what we're asking our players to do, and it's up to us (as coaches) to give them a clear plan so when they do execute what we ask them to do well, good things happen."
Making good things happen might not be as easy Monday as it'll not only be the Vikings' first road test of the season, but also the Eagles' home opener, meaning the crowd could play an even bigger role than a typical regular season matchup.
"I imagine it will be pretty hostile, which is exciting," said Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks, who spent four seasons with the Eagles. "Anytime that juice is out there, it does nothing but amp you up."
Monday will also be the first real test for Minnesota's secondary as it goes against a much better-receiving corps than the Packers. Green Bay's receivers didn't help future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers much at U.S. Bank Stadium -- case in point, the Packers' first offensive play of the game (a dropped TD) -- but newly acquired receiver A.J. Brown, second-year pass catcher DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert will no doubt test the Vikings' secondary throughout the night.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts may be the biggest wildcard heading into Monday. Hurts can be a menace for defenses, especially with his ability to run. But with the addition of Brown, the air attack might be just as potent as the Eagles look to provide further proof that they're the team to beat out of the NFC East.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing our team do two things this week: Can we handle the success and the things we did last week well while going on the road for the first time, and, ultimately, can we improve?," said O'Connell during his press conference Thursday. "There's some things that -- me personally -- needs to get cleaned up to make sure that we're at our best when it's required."
The Eagles are the last 2021 playoff team the Vikings will face until Oct. 30 when Minnesota hosts Arizona out of the bye week. In the four-week span leading up to the bye, Minnesota will host two division games (Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears), travel to London for a game (New Orleans Saints) and play just one true road game (Miami Dolphins), setting the Vikings up to be in a good position entering their off week.
"Every single week is kind of its own entity," said O'Connell during his press conference Thursday. "You look at what do you think it's gonna take to win the football game and present that to the team so they know the expectation."
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