Sometimes you just have to pick your poison. The simple fact of the matter is that with only 11 guys on the field, the Kansas City Chiefs can’t double-team every good player. At some point, your defensive backs have to step up and ride solo, mano e mano.
But asking a guy to step up is an understatement when it comes to covering Minnesota Vikings All-Pro wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who is averaging 135 receiving yards per game and catching an insane 70.2% of the targets thrown his direction.
“It seems like we’ve got one of these highly-rated exceptional wideouts every week,” said defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. “One of the things we looked at these last couple of days is when he catches the ball. If you’re not really good at what we call angles to the completion point, he can make you all look bad — take it to the house.”
So far in 2023, the Chiefs have placed the responsibility of following the opposing team's No. 1 wide receiver on cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, who is yet to surrender a touchdown and has held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 72.6.
That being said, Spagnuolo also cautioned that Sneed won’t always be able to follow Sneed around the field.
“We won’t we won’t always be able to get LJ on him,” admitted Spagnuolo. “They move him around enough. They got him inside. So there’ll be some times when that won’t happen, but it’ll be a good battle if they end up across from the line of scrimmage.”
If Sneed is not on Jefferson due to him moving into the slot, then the job would presumably fall on cornerback Trent McDuffie, who currently possesses an 87.2 Pro Football Focus coverage grade.
While this is the most recent stud wide receiver the Chiefs will face, it’s by no means the first and it won’t be the last.
“It feels like every team has one, right?” said Spagnuolo. “I think that’s the way offenses are being built now.”
What sets the Vikings' offense apart from others is that they also have a tight end who creates mismatches.
“I’ll tell you what throws a whole wrinkle in the whole thing is how good the tight end is,” said Spagnuolo, referring to Minnesota’s tight end T.J. Hockenson, who has 25 receptions and 12 first downs on the season. “It’s really hard to put a lot of attention on a wideout and the tight end, it’s tough to do. You got to pick your spots.”
Luckily for the Chiefs, this isn’t their first wide receiver-tight end rodeo. Spagnuolo was quick to point out that the Chiefs have plenty of experience at dealing with this sort of duo of playmakers.
“We’ve had similar challenges, we would play the Raiders in years back, right? With Waller and Adams or whoever.”
At the end of the day, Spagnuolo believes that his guys will get the job done.
“I do think that our guys — every time they get a chance to go against an elite receiver — that includes the safeties, not just the corners and nickels, I think they try to rise to the challenge, and hopefully we could do the same thing this week.”