The Vikings are taking on an AFC opponent as big home favorites this weekend. As recent history has shown us, that means a guaranteed win!
Oh yeah, that’s right—the Bills game in 2018.
Even though the Jaguars have lost ten straight after a season-opening win over the Colts and the Vikings are 9.5-point favorites, fans are definitely wary of chalking this one up as an easy victory.
The Jags have certainly struggled this season, but they certainly aren’t bereft of talent either. Since this is only the seventh time the two teams have ever faced each other, we figured that we should talk to someone with a bit more knowledge about the upcoming opponents. Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country was kind enough to provide his perspective on what to expect when the Vikings and Jaguars square off at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
(Click here to check out my answers about the Vikings over at Big Cat Country.)
Daily Norseman: It looks like Mike Glennon is in line for his second straight start on Sunday despite Gardner Minshew being available. Doug Marrone claims that Glennon gives the team the best opportunity to win. Do you agree, or do you suspect a certain verb that rhymes with “planking” is in play here?
Big Cat Country: I don’t necessarily agree that Mike Glennon gives the team the best chance to win, as I think Gardner Minshew is the best quarterback on the roster and definitely the highest-upside player at the position. With that said, I think Glennon may fit a little bit better with what offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants to do — he’s probably better at pre-snap reads, has a stronger arm and isn’t afraid to take deep shots, doesn’t leave the pocket early (Minshew does that often, but is pretty good at making plays on the move), etc. So in that regard, I can see why the coaching staff feels that way, and Mike Glennon most definitely played better against the Cleveland Browns than most people expected, but I still would rather roll with Minshew if the coaching staff truly wants to win.
As for tanking — I don’t think the players or coaches tank because their jobs are on the line. I would say the fans are totally rooting for the Jaguars to lose out and get a top-two pick in order to draft a franchise quarterback in 2021. Perhaps the front office is of that tanking mindset as well, but with general manager Dave Caldwell getting fired last week, there really is nothing there of substance as a new regime will soon begin.
DN: Jaguars fans are in an all-too-familiar position of looking ahead to next year’s draft in December. What kind of changes to the team, coaching, or front office are at the top of your wish list so the Jags can be competitive again sooner rather than later?
BCC: As mentioned above, I think most importantly the Jaguars need to draft a franchise quarterback. It seems the most likely case is Jacksonville will have the No. 2 pick and end up with Ohio State’s Justin Fields, as Trevor Lawrence will almost certainly go No. 1 overall to the New York Jets. But it is still possible the Jaguars land the first overall selection, and it is also still possible the Jaguars will pick after No. 2.
But before the Jaguars can draft a quarterback (or anybody), the team must obviously hire a new general manager. Some names to watch include Michael Bradway from the Kansas City Chiefs, Ed Dodds of the Indianapolis Colts and Brandon Hunt of the Pittsburgh Steelers, amongst others.
It is likely Doug Marrone is fired at the end of the season, and some names I would like to see take over as head coach in Jacksonville include Joe Brady (Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator), Eric Bieniemy (offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs) and Robert Saleh (defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers). You never know how coordinators, especially really young guys like Brady, will fare as head coaches, but those guys would likely bring a sense of energy and urgency, and shift the culture.
DN: Rookie RB James Robinson has been one of the few bright spots for Jacksonville this season. What aspects of his game have allowed him to find success so early in his NFL career? What other young pieces on the team are you most excited about building on going forward?
James Robinson has been outstanding. He is closing in on the all-time yards from scrimmage record for an undrafted free agent, as he currently has 1,170 total yards (890 rushing, 280 receiving) and the record is 1,328 yards set by Dominic Rhodes of the Colts in 2001. I think with Robinson, you just have a player who puts his head down and works — he is a quiet guy but a beast on the field. On the field, he can beat you in many ways — between the tackles with power, speed to the outside, catching the ball out of the backfield, running you over, or hurdling over you with his athleticism. He’s been fun to watch and should be the lead back in Jacksonville for a long time.
As for other players, the Jaguars rely heavily on rookies, and quite a few of them look to have high upside with players like wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and Collin Johnson, defensive tackles DaVon Hamilton (who will likely miss Sunday’s game) and Doug Costin also look promising, while cornerback C.J. Henderson and defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson still have some work to do, but plenty of potential. Of course guys like D.J. Chark and Josh Allen are still really young, too, and should continue to improve. Myles Jack is a veteran now, but he is playing the best ball of his career. The Jaguars are an incredibly young team, and have some pieces to build around. It may take another two years or so before the team is competitive, but a quick turnaround isn’t out of the question.
DN: The Jaguars defense has struggled quite a bit this season, ranking near the bottom in most statistical categories and ending each game with negative expected points added. Outside of Myles Jack putting together a pretty solid season, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of impact players. What defensive weaknesses worry you most about the matchup with the Vikings? Do you see any areas where Jacksonville could have some success on the defensive end? (Hint: attacking Minnesota’s interior offensive line usually works really well.)
As you mentioned, there really aren’t many areas to feel confident about when it comes to Jacksonville’s defense, which is incredibly young and banged up right now. I think Dalvin Cook, who is banged up himself, is obviously the biggest threat to the Jaguars. Jacksonville ranks 26th in rush defense DVOA, and gives up 136.2 yards per game, which ranks 29th in the league. If Cook is healthy enough to play meaningful snaps, he will be an issue and I expect another big game from him.
The problem is, the passing defense isn’t any better, as the Jaguars give up 279.5 yards per game (also 29th) and rank 31st in passing defense DVOA. Jacksonville also gives up 29.5 points per game which ranks 31st in the NFL. So if Cook is able to have his way in the run game, that will open up opportunities for Kirk Cousins in the play-action passing game, and if that happens, it could end up being an all-around blowout.
I think Jacksonville’s only hope is to get penetration up the middle against Minnesota’s susceptible interior offensive line and try to limit Cook as best as possible, but without Hamilton in the lineup that won’t be an easy task. Also, getting pressure on Cousins and hoping he gets rattled is key — but the Jaguars are very bad at getting pressure and sacks, ranking dead last in the NFL with 11 sacks (an average of one per game). “Not great, Bob.”
DN: Name one player on offense and one player on defense that Vikings fans might not be familiar with but could have a big impact on the outcome Sunday.
Outside of James Robinson who we already mentioned, I think Keelan Cole and Laviska Shenault could make an impact in the receiving game, especially if D.J. Chark is back healthy and the defense’s focus is on him. Cole has made plays in both the receiving game and on special teams this season, while Shenault is a player who can catch the ball, run the ball out of the backfield, or even line up as a wildcat quarterback — Jay Gruden wants the ball in his hands. Keep an eye on fellow rookie wide receiver Collin Johnson as well (he is a huge target at 6-foot-6) — did I mention that the Jaguars use a lot of rookies?
Defensively, I briefly brought up his name, but defensive tackle Doug Costin has been a pleasant surprise as an undrafted free agent. With Hamilton likely to miss the game, keep an eye on the little things Costin does that might not always show up on the stat sheet.
DN: What’s your score prediction for Sunday? Do the Jaguars pull off the upset or does the losing streak embrace its inner Spinal Tap and go to 11?
Jacksonville is almost surely embracing its inner Spinal Tap and taking its 11th straight loss against Minnesota. That said, I think we see maybe a more competitive game than many people think with Mike Glennon playing a game manager role and James Robinson doing James Robinson things, but I can’t pick the Jaguars to win any game right now, especially with how hot the Vikings are currently playing.
Vikings 30, Jaguars 21
Thanks again to Ryan for some great insight about the Jaguars. You can read his work along with the rest of the Big Cat Country staff to learn even more about Jacksonville leading up to Sunday’s game.