A team in rebuilding mode can benefit greatly by playing another rebuilding team at home in the season opener. The Minnesota Vikings got that break when the schedule was released. The Vikings, coming off a 3-13 season, will face the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are coming off a 5-11 season, at Mall of America Field on Sunday.
For what it’s worth, the Jaguars went 3-1 with victories over the New York Giants, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. Its lone loss came in the third game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Jaguars on Offense
The Jaguars run the ball early and often. They have a second-year quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, that really struggled last season. Maurice Jones-Drew ended his holdout early in the week, and it appears will be a third-down back with Rashad Jennings getting most of the carries. Jones-Drew hasn’t taken a hit in game action since last December, so he will be eased back into action at an accelerated training camp pace.
At his press conference, Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey talked about the Vikings defensive line as a challenge for his young offensive line, most notably his left tackle Eugene Monroe. The fourth-year former first round draft pick is charged with protecting Gabbert’s blindside from Jared Allen.
Jaguars on Defense
The Jaguars run a basic 4-3 defensive scheme with a lot of zone coverage. Safety Dawan Landry could be a key factor in the game. He often plays a deep half, but will cheat up towards the line of scrimmage, which can confuse a quarterback into thinking it will be a three-deep zone coverage. He is better in the box than in coverage.
Mularkey also noted that his Jaguars need to tackle better than it did in the preseason. He also said that facing quarterback Christian Ponder is “scary” for any defense because of his athleticism and ability to make plays outside of the pocket.
Jaguars Players to Watch
Wide receiver Justin Blackmon: The first round draft pick from Oklahoma State was named the Biletnikoff Award winner as college football’s best wide receiver. After missing the beginning of training camp, he recorded 10 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown in the last three preseason games, including a four catch, 72 yard effort against the Ravens. It was well documented all season long that the Vikings could not stop the pass last year. Blackmon will be a big test for the Vikings revamped secondary.
Linebacker Daryl Smith: The eight-year linebacker has recorded at least 95 tackles in each of the last three seasons. He is a three-down linebacker that can stuff the run and defend the pass. He did not play in any of the four preseason games. Ponder needs to know where Smith is at during every play. He has good size (6’2″, 248), but if matched up one-on-one with Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings could take advantage of that four inch height difference down the field.
If the Vikings are going to win any game this season, it is Sunday against the Jaguars. Every team should win every game against a struggling team at their own stadium. That doesn’t always happen, but they can be spring board games either way; up or down. Bottom line: the Vikings have to get a win.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.