By Joe Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings are desperate for wins. They likely need to win each of their final four games in order to make the playoffs – even then it may not be enough.
The Vikings have lost six of their last seven games, including a 17-15 loss to the Dallas Cowboys Thursday at US Bank Stadium, and are two games back in the division (plus, they lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Detroit Lions) and one game out of the second wild card spot.
Their Week 14 opponent is on a similar downward spiral. The Jacksonville Jaguars have lost seven straight, including a 20-10 loss to the Denver Broncos Sunday at home. The difference is that the Vikings were good enough in their first five games to stay in contention despite their losing streak.
Jaguars Season Record
The Jaguars are 2-10, including an 0-5 mark at Everbank Field. They have a home win, but it came in London over the Indianapolis Colts (the Vikings’ opponent next week) in Week 4. Their five losses in Jacksonville have come against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans and Denver Broncos.
On the road, they defeated the Chicago Bears while falling to the San Diego Chargers, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills.
The Jaguars were supposed to be contenders for the division title because of an elite offense. However, third-year quarterback Blake Bortles has under performed relative to expectations. He is 17th in passing yards and 12th in passing touchdowns while throwing the most interceptions of any quarterback in the league. Plus, many of his yards and touchdowns have come in garbage time when the Jaguars are behind by multiple scores in the third and fourth quarters.
The Jaguars best player is wide receiver Allen Robinson. However, he has had a down year and it is not all his quarterback’s fault. He has dropped his fair share of passes. Only Brandon Marshall of the New York Jets has fewer catches while being targeted at least 100 times this season. Also, none of the other 18 players who have been targeted 100 times or more this season have fewer yards than him.
Statistically, the Jaguars have the fourth best defense in the league allowing only 311.3 yards per game. Only the Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens have allowed less. Their secondary and pass defense has been their strength allowing 195.8 yards per game, second behind only the Denver Broncos. The notable player in their secondary is 2016 first round draft pick Jalen Ramsey. He is a physical corner who has shutdown potential.
The problem for the Jaguars defense has been in stopping the run. They are 23rd against the run allowing 115.6 yards per game. Both their low pass yardage and high run totals can be explained by their record and propensity to be behind early and often. When opposing teams are ahead, they tend to run the ball more than throw it. So, naturally, the run yards allowed is going to be higher.
Jaguars Players to Watch
Even though his production is well below expectations, Robinson is still a player to watch. The third-year receiver was very outspoken about not getting pass interference calls in his favor after Sunday’s loss to the Broncos. Cornerbacks have been physical with him all season and the league admitted after Week 1 that Robinson should have drawn multiple penalties on the opposing defender.
Robinson won’t get any breaks this week, as the Vikings will likely shadow him with Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes has emerged as a shutdown corner who will get in the receiver’s face and make it physically more difficult for him. It will be fascinating to watch those two battle all game, and whether Sunday’s referees are going to be lenient of the physical play or if they throw flags.
On defense, rookie defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is tied for 28th in the league in sacks with six. He has been the bright spot for the Jaguars defense. He also has an interception, three forced fumbles and two passes defensed. It is no secret that the way to beat the Vikings is by getting to quarterback Sam Bradford. The Vikings tackles T.J. Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles have had their struggles. Ngakoue will have his opportunity to make a big impact in this game.
The formula for the Vikings is simple. Score a couple touchdowns early and get a few quick, short drives on defense and put the Jaguars away early. Don’t give them a reason to stay engaged in the game and they won’t.