The Jacksonville Jaguars (1-10) will head north this weekend to take on the Minnesota Vikings (5-6) in a cross-conference Week 13 matchup. The defense will be tasked with stopping a three-headed monster and doing so with untested rookies in place of their playmakers.
What will it take to even the playing field and get a win? These three defensive keys.
Stop Cook at Point of Contact
This is easier said than done. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is second in the league with 1,130 yards (just for fun, Jags running back James Robinson is third) and Cook is first in the NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns. He picks up on average 5.2 yards per carry. Where he can be dangerous though is after contact. The former Florida State Seminole averages 3.54 yards after contact according to Pro Football Focus, meaning he’s picking up the majority of his yardage after the initial hit. Through 12 games, he’s forced 50 missed tackles.
“I think he might be one of the most explosive backs in the NFL, just in terms of when he gets to the open field, the speed, he can take it the distance and he couples that with great vision and he’s got enough power that breaks some arm tackles, breaks some tackles and gets out in that space,” explains Jags middle linebacker Joe Schobert.
Schobert goes on to say Cook is a different body type than Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, but the philosophy is the same; hit them soon and hard. The Jaguars held Henry to one of his lowest outputs of the season back in Week 2, when he had 84 yards and no touchdowns.
“You’ve got to stop him before he can get going, battle him up, where he can’t get out into the open field, make the people miss some space,” continued Schobert.
“If you’re able to contain him inside the box and get hits on him before he gets going, I think that’s the best way to be able to stop him. I think that’s we were doing against Henry earlier this year and had a good game against him. So, if we’re able to replicate that, then I think that could be a formula for success for us.”
Keep the Top On
If Cook is phase one of the three-headed monster, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are two and three. The veteran Thielen is set to return on Sunday after being activated off the COVID-19 list and he’ll rejoin the rookie Justin Jefferson.
Thielen—who Schobert says is quarterback Kirk Cousins security blanket—is second in the league in touchdowns (11) and Jefferson is seventh in the league in receiving yards overall (918 yards). The duo are so potent because of their ability to get behind the defense and downfield.
Says Schobert, “They’re very good route runners, they have the top-end speed to be able to take it over the top and they’ve got hands to make the [consistent] catches.”
The key then, understandably, will be protecting the backend as safety Jarrod Wilson explains.
“He can take the top off, can run every single route, short, intermediate. So, it’s really just on us in the backend with the passing yards, or what not, to stop him from getting explosive plays and getting the ball thrown over our heads. But he obviously does give an offensive boost, being back this week.”
Bring Along Scott and Barcoo
To help with the above point, the play of rookie corners Josiah Scott and Luq Barcoo will have to take a step forward. Both saw their first significant action last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. PFF gave Scott a score of 32.2 in pass coverage, allowing a passer rating of 118.8. Barcoo received a grade of 30.1 in coverage, allowing a 119.8 passer rating.
With the caveat that it was the first real game action the two have seen since joining the league, Head Coach Doug Marrone understands the missteps but knows there needs to be a big jump this weekend with CJ Henderson, Chris Claybrooks and DJ Hayden all on IR.
“With Josiah [Scott] and Luq [Barcoo], I think you saw at times where they were in somewhat of a good position but weren’t able to make as many plays as you need to make when you’re out there playing. It was the first time that they’ve played so you hope that you can see a great increase. Like I’ve always said, practice is fine, you can see those things, but it has to carry over into game days. I think they got their first taste of it.”
Adds Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash, “With both of them, I thought it was really good to see how they got their feet wet with a lot of playing time and a lot of reps. I think you’re going to continue to see them get better.
“Obviously you have [Adam] Thielen and then you have [Justin] Jefferson on the other side, so it’s going to be a tough matchup. We’re going to do some things to hopefully kind of take the deep ball away from them, make them earn everything they have. They know that they have a tough challenge, but at the same time I think both of them are really excited about it. We’re going to find out exactly where they are versus a couple really elite receivers and I like where their mind frame is right now to go in and compete with them.”