The Minnesota Vikings should, theoretically, be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ ‘easiest’ remaining opponent. They are the only one with a losing record, for one thing, at 5-7, though the Cleveland Browns are not much better off at 6-6. Yet they are an unfamiliar opponent, on the road, on a short week.
And they do have talent, such as second-year wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who is already one of the premiere receivers in the league. Head coach Mike Tomlin talked about the threat that the LSU product poses during a taping of the Mike Tomlin Show aired yesterday.
“Jefferson is good in the one-on-one circumstances. You better not get beat down the field with him too often by yourself”, he warned. “Even when there’s often a safety, he’s still pretty productive and successful at the things that he does. He’s very good with the ball in his hands after the catch. He’s fast and fluid. He’s got good vision. He’s just a real challenge. He’s one of the talented, young, elite receivers in our game”.
By the numbers, the wide receiver has 78 receptions this year for already 1209 yards and seven touchdowns. He is averaging a very healthy 15.5 yards per receptions, and his 14.9 yards per touch is the highest in all of the NFL. it helps that his average depth of target is 12.2 yards down the field, yet he also averages about five yards after the catch per reception over his first 28 games played.
He is also coming off of a huge game, during which he caught 11 passes on just 14 targets for 182 yards and a touchdown. It’s the third time in the past four games in which he has put up at least 140 receiving yards.
And he’s looking for some vengeance after his Vikings were frustrated by the previously winless Detroit Lions with a last-second victory that sent Minnesota to 5-7 on the season, keeping them below .500 and leaving them with a daunting road to the playoffs.
“You just better work to stay out of one-on-one circumstances with him down the field. To really get familiar with the talent that they had in Baton Rouge a couple years ago now is staggering. When you look at Joe Burrow and [Ja’Marr] Chase and the running back in Kansas City [Clyde Edwards-Helaire] and Jefferson, it’s not surprising that they won the national championship. These guys are tops in this league.
“It’s time to go bring the pain to somebody else”, he told reporters on Monday. “Just show our frustration off of last game, us not getting that win and us not playing as good the first half. Coming off of that, just trying to get a win and bouncing back”.
That is, of course, exactly what the Steelers cannot afford to allow to happen, as they are in ‘playoff mode’ right now. They know that they cannot afford to lose any games, currently seeded eighth in the AFC playoff race behind three 7-5 teams for the three Wildcard spots, themselves sitting at 6-5-1.