Stopping Jefferson would help keep Commanders' win streak going originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The Commanders may be in search of new ownership, but when it comes to their game versus the Vikings on Sunday, the club better do what it can to prevent Justin Jefferson from owning its defense.
Jefferson, a 2020 first-round choice, is up there with Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, New York’s Saquon Barkley and Cleveland’s Nick Chubb when it comes to naming the most gifted offensive players Washington will face when the 2022 season is complete.
When asked Thursday what separates Jefferson from just about everyone else at the wide receiver position, Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio listed the areas that the two-time Pro Bowler excels in.
“Size, speed, athletic ability, route running, hands,” Del Rio told reporters.
So… basically everything?
“He’s a good player,” Del Rio concluded.
That he is.
Jefferson’s 52 catches rank fifth in the NFL (and Minnesota has already had its bye, so he’s missed four quarters of stat-padding chances) while his 752 yards put him third in the sport.
He’s been especially dangerous in his previous four outings, where he’s averaged more than eight receptions and 126.5 yards per contest. His most quiet performance came last Sunday in a win over the Cardinals, when he was “limited” to six grabs for 98 yards.
Vikings first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell has understandably enjoyed the process of getting Jefferson involved alongside Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen.
“He’s been phenomenal,” O’Connell said in a conference call with members of the Commanders beat.
“His understanding and his ability to be able to, week in and week out, do the things that we ask him to do — not only to help himself win and get open and have a ton of success, but the way he thrives trying to get his teammates open and play his role whether he’s getting the ball or not — shows such growth for a young player.”
Washington, like any squad who meets with Minnesota, grasps that covering Jefferson is paramount in the effort toward securing a victory. That’s as obvious as advising someone to look out for the dinosaurs in one of the Jurassic films.
To counter that, the Vikings vary where Jefferson lines up before each snap. So far, he’s actually seen more reps from the slot (263) than on the outside (181).
That means Commanders third corner, Rachad Wildgoose, figures to be dealing with Jefferson for much of Sunday’s showdown.
“I watch their targets throughout the week,” Wildgoose answered Thursday when the topic of scouting opposing wideouts was brought up. “See what they like to do, tendencies.”
So what has he noticed about Jefferson?
“He plays all over the field,” he said. “He’s got good speed, he opens up the field well, he makes tough catches.”
Sounds a lot like Del Rio’s wide-ranging praise.
Fortunately, the coach’s secondary has tightened up following a poor start to the campaign. Del Rio’s defense ceded 300-plus passing yards in Weeks 1 and 2, but in the six matchups since, the unit has allowed just one 300-plus yard output and has kept four foes below the 200-yard mark.
Unfortunately, that improved stretch has featured some lackluster quarterbacks on the other side of the ball and, perhaps more importantly, zero receivers who are even close to Jefferson’s ability. He and Cousins will represent the Commanders’ best test since Jalen Hurts, Devonta Smith and A.J. Brown showed up in Week 3, and that trio was awfully productive.
“We’re just continuing to hope to grow our offense around Justin and everything he’s able to do,” O’Connell said ahead of his weekend date with Washington.
O’Connell’s opponent, of course, will be aiming to delay that process for, oh, roughly three hours come Sunday.