The Vikings not only need to fight jet lag in jumpstarting the connection between Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson on Sunday in London, but also four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
Coming off a career-low 14 receiving yards on three catches against the Lions, Jefferson said he's expecting similar challenges against the Saints defense as he saw against Detroit. What New Orleans brings as a new challenge is Lattimore, a stingy pass defender whose 75 breakups since he entered the league in 2017 trail only the Eagles' Darius Slay, who helped limit Jefferson to 48 receiving yards in Week 2.
Jefferson's confidence is unaffected by his slowed production.
"I'm pretty sure Lattimore is going to be following me a little bit," Jefferson said. "Our schemes and different plays we have up, we're definitely feeling confident about it. It's going to be a tough, tough day [for] him having to follow me and go through all our concepts."
The Saints' 13th-ranked defense has continuity and star power at every level from defensive end Cameron Jordan to linebacker Demario Davis and Lattimore, whom Vikings coaches expect to spearhead the Saints' plan by shadowing Jefferson.
"At least on third down," said offensive coordinator Wes Phillips.
Saints head coach Dennis Allen, their longtime defensive coordinator who took over for the retired Sean Payton, leads a defense that has allowed just two passing touchdowns and an average of 184 passing yards through three games.
They've allowed the fewest passing first downs in the league, presenting a stiff challenge against which head coach Kevin O'Connell will try to once again unleash Jefferson, who had six targets against the Lions.
"I've got to do a better job," O'Connell said. "Getting Justin lining up in different spots and personnel groupings — whatever I need to do to help. Because he's an ultra-competitor, and we'll get him going."
Jefferson said they're not exactly sure how the Saints will defend him beyond having Lattimore follow him around. What Phillips does know is they'll use more than one guy since the days of true one-on-one lockdown cornerbacks have faded.
"There are very few [Darrelle] Revises, where they used to just lock him down on one guy and everyone else was just playing normal defense," Phillips said. "You don't really see as much of that anymore. But most guys are going to have some way to have a [double team] or help — a safety dropping down or a safety over the top."
Receiver Adam Thielen knows it'll be another long day against physical coverage. Last week, the Lions were flagged repeatedly — with cornerback Amani Oruwariye drawing five penalties (two declined) alone for illegal contact in coverage — as they brought the fight to Vikings receivers. Lions coordinator Aaron Glenn, a former Pro Bowl corner, was the Saints defensive backs coach from 2016-2020, so the Vikings are expecting similar aggression.
"In the face of receivers, pressing, getting physical," Thielen said. "They're all over receivers even when there are catches, so those contested catches. They're a good group and you can tell that they've been coached well."
One key area dragged down by Jefferson's recent lull is third downs. In the gotta-have-it moments, Cousins often succeeded finding Jefferson the past two seasons. But the Vikings' 18th-ranked offense falls to 26th on third downs, converting just 10 of 34 attempts (29.4%) with Jefferson moving the chains only twice on seven targets.
"It's getting to the right checks. It's making accurate throws. It's separating vs. man coverage," Cousins said. "It's any of number of things we got to be able to convert on third down and over the course of the game they all show up. So, we did need to watch that and get better at that because that's such a critical stat to winning football games and being there as a playoff team.''
Cousins found Thielen and receiver K.J. Osborn to seal the win against the Lions. Winning is the priority, Jefferson echoed, when asked if he was cool with being a decoy all the time.
"Oh, for sure not," Jefferson said. "But if it helps us win, it is what it is. I can't really control what their defense plays against me. We're just going to go on the fly and whatever they're going to give to us, we're going to take."