The Minnesota Vikings being without their No. 1 option on offense couldn’t come at a worse time with the team needing to climb out of a 1-4 start to the season — and that possibility is looking more like a probability with each passing day.
After being hopeful Jefferson could return for the team’s division opener against the Chicago Bears, O’Connell has shifted his tone on the star wide receiver’s outlook.
“He’s down today,” O’Connell said of Jefferson, per ESPN’s Kevin Seifert. “He’s obviously one of the most ultra-competitors I’ve ever met. He was trying to go back in the game as it was yesterday. We’re going to have to medically make a good decision and help almost protect him from himself a little bit in a way where we’ve got to take care of him and get him back to 100%.”
O’Connell added that the Vikings are considering the “big picture” and Jefferson’s long-term health — a concerning update amid a season where every game feels like a must-win moving forward.
Heavy’s prediction engine, Quarter4, has Minnesota with just a 0.02% chance of winning the division, which will likely be the only chance the Vikings have at making the playoffs after a slow start to the season. A loss to the Bears would drop those odds of winning the division to 0.00% in Quarter4’s projections.
O’Connell hasn’t been given any indication whether Jefferson will play this week, but with Jefferson’s long-term health becoming a vocal consideration, his absence is looking to be part of the game plan at Solider Field on Sunday.
In dealing with hamstring injuries, O’Connell said the assessment of when a player is ready is on a case-by-case basis. But for Jefferson at wide receiver, explosiveness is tantamount to success and he likely will not be rushed back until he is truly 100% healthy.
“We’re going to do what’s best for Justin to give him the treatment and a plan that is a big picture positive for him,” O’Connell said.
Kevin O’Connell Confident in Jordan Addison, Pass Catchers Beyond Justin Jefferson
With Jeffeson’s availability in Week 6 coming into question, O’Connell expressed his confidence in the rest of the pass catchers to thrive without secondaries sending double- and triple-coverage to Jefferson.
“Whether people decide to play us straight up or true, how we run it against some looks we frankly don’t get a lot, all that will work together to marry the run and the pass and we’ve got to find a way to find the best matchups on third down and in the red zone to score but I’m very confident in our group,” O’Connell said.
He tipped his cap to rookie Jordan Addison, who had 6 catches for 64 yards on Sunday against the Chiefs.
“What really jumped out was really just how fast he was playing,” O’Connell said. “No matter what he was doing, he was running and he was going getting on edges running away from coverage. His touchdown was a great example of playing fast and getting to the void, not necessarily having it present itself.
“How fast he did it, avoiding contact, I think he’s improving on avoiding some of the physical play that young players tend to get in their first few weeks in the NFL, throwing off their rhythm and timing. He had some good releases yesterday. … Really excited about Jordan, lucky to have him.”
Vikings Run Game Will Be Leaned on in Jefferson’s Absence
The Vikings running game has undergone a dramatic improvement since averaging just 2.7 yards per carry through the first two weeks of the season.
Minnesota’s 4.4 yards per carry on the season through five weeks ranks 11th in the league. The Vikings still rank dead last in rushing attempts due to game script leading the team to chasing leads in the second half.
Ideally, the Vikings could get out to an early lead and ride the running game if Jefferson is out of the lineup on Sunday.