Jaguars vs Vikings: How Should Jacksonville Attack Minnesota?
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So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. - from Sun Tzu's The Art of War
We're flipping the script today folks.
At this point it's fair to say we know the Vikings very well. We know their strengths and, what's more, we know their weaknesses.
So let's look not so much at what the Vikings need to do to beat the Jaguars this weekend. Because we know that.
Let's look at how the Jaguars will likely attack the Vikings instead.
By examining that, we'll know how the Vikings can overcome them.
When the Jaguars are on Offense
There are a few angles of attack for the Jaguars.
Of course, if Maurice Jones-Drew is available, it is hard to imagine him not getting half the carries. He is learning a new offense, but in terms of a position which can catch up quickly, running back is one of the best to have to do that in.
MJD or no, the Jags will run the ball enough to try and keep the Vikings' front seven off quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert isn't the scared player he's been portrayed as, though he still is pretty raw in many ways. You want to give him time to make his progressions and reads, to give him as clean a pocket as possible for as long as possible.
An effective running attack would help a ton. It won't be easy, as the Vikings can slow the run down, but both Jones-Drew and Rashard Jennings are talented enough to at least keep the Vikings' defense honest.
Giving Gabbert some time will help with the second, and more vital, part of the offensive plan of attack.
The Vikings certainly have a stiff pass rush, but also have a young, unproven and questionable secondary.
It's there where the Jaguars will aim to do the most damage.
The bulk of the targets will go to rookie Justin Blackmon.
The Jags will aim to hit him early and often on short routes to keep the chains moving, something that will be super effective if the ground game forces the linebackers to move up and clog the line.
Blackmon has the talent to overcome a linebacker in coverage most of the time, but it sure will be easier if he can work his route inside a cornerback, rather than have to worry about getting clobbered by a lurking linebacker.
Expect Blackmon and Gabbert to also attack the corners, with a little help from Mike Thomas and Cecil Shorts.
They have to test the corners early, and if Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook are found wanting, and if Harrison Smith and Mistral Raymond at safety don't move to contain quick enough, the Jags will get more and more aggressive downfield.
Look at this offensive plan of attack like it's boxing. A lot of short jabs (runs and short routes with Blackmon) to set up a huge uppercut (stretching the field against questionable secondary) to the chin.
If the Jaguars can do that, the Vikings defense will find itself rocked back on its heels and perhaps on it's back on the mat.
When the Jaguars are on Defense
The basis of the Jaguars' defensive plan is really simple at its core and likely very similar to the one the Vikings will have to attack Gabbert.
Get at the quarterback.
While, just like Gabbert, Christian Ponder appears to have improved with a full offseason, he hasn't proven anything yet. So pressure him and see if he cracks.
The Jaguar defensive front is very solid with rookie defensive end Andre Branch joining Tyson Alualu, Terrance Knighton and Jeremy Mincey on the line and Paul Posluszny, Daryl Smith and second-year player Russell Allen at linebacker.
Expect to see a lot of all-out attacks from this group. I expect a ton of disguised fronts, blitzes and stunts—anything to keep the Vikings line guessing.
They may start with pressuring rookie left tackle Matt Kalil. Until he proves himself to be the elite player folks think he can be, that's just how it goes.
If he stymies them, expect them to see if Charlie Johnson is really stable at left guard and whether Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt can bear the weight on the right side.
Heck, expect them to try and pressure both sides at once.
The key is to get at Ponder early and often and see if he will regress to his 2011 habit of hurrying his reads and throwing ill-advised passes.
The Vikings will, of course, counter this by running the ball. Whether we will see a significant amount of Adrian Peterson or not, know that Toby Gerhart is a very effective back who could start on many teams.
The front seven will have to be very careful in containing both backs as Gerhart, while not as good as Peterson, can still break a long run.
Of course, the flip to that is they can't abandon the pass protection.
However, the Jaguars have an advantage in coverage because beyond Percy Harvin, there are a lot of question marks for the Vikings' receivers.
Jerome Simpson is suspended for three games and there hasn't been anyone looks ready to step up in his stead. I like Kyle Rudolph a ton; however, he's going to have to overcome a lot of attention with John Carlson banged up and no second option next to Harvin.
So locking down Harvin will be as big a focus as getting to Ponder. It will be tough to completely shut him down, as Harvin is really talented, but the Jags can double him up, focus a lot of their attention on him and feel good about gambling that the rest of the receivers won't hurt them too much.
With the plans of attack listed above the Jaguars can come into this game pretty confident that they can contain a lot of aspects of this game. By no means is this anything like a blow out in the making—the Jaguars, after all, have their own issues.
However, if they can attack the Vikings' perceived weaknesses in the secondary and get in Ponder's face, they will put themselves in an excellent position to win.
Meanwhile, the Vikings would do well to keep the above in mind and do their best to plug up those holes and preemptively counter the areas of weakness the Jaguars will try to exploit.
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