Branch will be a great test for Kalil.
We are flipping the script this week on the AFC South blog.
Vikings Offense vs. Jaguars Defense
Test the Corners
If the Jaguars have a defensive weakness, it has to be the corners. Jacksonville has solid corners, but injuries have thrown the unit into flux. Derek Cox is battling a hamstring injury and is still up in the air for the game.
Cox is a shut-down corner, and his injury moves everyone else up a rung on the depth chart. Aaron Ross and Rashean Mathis are no slouches, however, and the Vikings aren't talented enough at wide receiver to exploit the Jaguars' lack of depth.
Beyond Percy Harvin, the Vikings wideouts are mediocre at best. They don't have the scheme to take advantage of the Jags' weakness. But if they try to run the ball first against Jacksonville, the Vikings are in for a lot of three-and-outs.
Whenever the offensive plan starts with a mismatch like this, it's a bad sign.
Grade the Road
The Vikings are going to try to get the run game moving with Toby Gerhart and Adrian Peterson, but that's going to be an uphill climb. Rushing yards are tough to come by against the Jaguars' front seven.
If there's any hope Minnesota, it's that linebacker Daryl Smith hasn't practiced all week. He's the heart and soul of the Jaguars. If have to go without him, it could open up lanes for the runners.
Jacksonville is big and deep up front, and it's difficult to imagine the front seven earing down, even if Minnesota tries to run the ball 40 times. Given the uncertain nature of Peterson's knee, it doesn't seem like running the ball will pay off for Minnesota.
Lock the Pocket
If the Vikings can't run effectively, it's going to be critical that they give Christian Ponder plenty of time to throw. He's been a mess in the preseason, and they'd rather not put the game in his hands. Given the strengths of the Jaguars, however, they don't have much choice.
They are going to have to hope that rookie tackle Matt Kalil can win the matchup against fellow rookie Andre Branch, who has played well in the preseason. But Kalil is one of the most highly touted players from the 2012 draft.
This is an outstanding matchup that Kalil must win for the Vikings to have a chance.
On the whole, Minnesota is going to have a tough time moving the ball.
Vikings Defense vs. Jaguars Offense
Stack the Box
If we learned anything about the Jaguars in the preseason, it's that they want to run the ball as much as possible. Now that Maurice Jones-Drew is back and will back up Rashad Jennings, the Jags are more prepared than ever to bludgeon the Vikings' line.
Minnesota needs to bring Mistral Raymond into the box and play Cover-3 with Harrison Smith to stop the occasional deep pass from Blaine Gabbert.
Stopping the Jaguars means stopping the run, and that's going to take more than the front seven to accomplish. Kevin Williams is a load, and he's going to have win his matchups consistently against Brad Meester, Eben Britton and Uche Nwaneri to close down the holes and force long yardage on third down.
Flood the Zone
Gabbert is clearly improved, but he has rarely been asked to throw a pass of more than 10 yards in the preseason. The Vikings need to fill all the short zones, essentially daring Gabbert to go long to Laurent Robinson. If he beats them, he beats them.
What they cannot allow is Justin Blackmon turning short catches into long ones. He's the great wild card for the Jaguars. Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook will have to do a lot of solo defending on Blackmon and Robinson. But since Gabbert is usually not accurate with the deep pass, they should be free to jump the shorter routes.
The Jaguars' desire to run works against them in the short passing game. Without a heavy dose of play action to keep the Vikings honest, they'll already have men close to the line of scrimmage. That means congested throwing lanes for Gabbert, and that can lead to turnovers.
Collapse the Pocket
The talk of Gabbert being scared in the pocket has always been nonsense, but his sack-taking tendencies were very real. Enter Jared Allen.
He is the one massive advantage the Vikings have against the Jaguars' line. Other than Eugene Monroe, who will have the bulk of the responsibility for Allen, this is a makeshift group at best.
The Vikings must get pressure on Gabbert with the front four. Minnesota's line is better on paper than the Jaguars' offensive line, and if the Vikings have any hope of winning, their front four has to be dominant.
If Gabbert can be forced into taking bad sacks, the Jaguars aren't explosive enough on offense to overcome them. Punts will be the order of the day.
I can't see the Vikings' offense generating any movement against Jacksonville. They simply don't have the weapons. Likewise, the Jacksonville offense will likely struggle to move the ball consistently.
This game is going to come down to which team gets the most explosive plays. There won't be many long drives, so one or two big runs or deep balls could swing it.
I'd love the Jaguars if this game was in Jacksonville, but I suspect that in the Metrodome, it will come down to which young quarterback makes the biggest mistake.
It's a toss-up, but I like Blackmon to do just enough for the Jaguars to sneak out a win in a low-scoring affair.