When the 4-6 Jaguars host the 5-5 Minnesota Vikings at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Sunday, the Jaguars will be looking at the team they were, and it wasn't that long ago. The Vikings are fourth in the league in rushing and number two against the run.
It was just two short seasons ago that the Jaguars had those kind of "Big Boy" numbers. The Jags finished the 2006 season as the league's number three rush-offense and number four rush-defense. This was a game that was their kind of football. This was a game they dominated.
Run the ball and stop the run; it was the Jaguars' trademark. They were the team nobody wanted to play because you spent the next week recovering from it.
The Jaguars' rush-offense improved to number two in the league last year, but the rush-defense began to decline. It sagged to number 11, which some thought was a temporary drop. This Sunday, the Jags will take the league's number 11 running game and number 20 run-defense into battle against the Vikings.
This is a game that will go a long way toward deciding the NFC North title. The Vikings are currently tied for the division lead with the Bears and Packers. For the Jaguars, who've all but been eliminated from AFC South title contention and cling to slim wild-card hope, this is a measuring-stick game. Can the Jaguars still play muscle football? Do they still have what it takes to line up against one of the best "Big Boy" teams in the league and hold their own?
Here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Vikings.
- Stop the run—Adrian Peterson is the best running back in football. He has the ability to embarrass a team. The Jaguars must not allow that to happen.
- Pressure the quarterback—Gus Frerotte has thrown 11 interceptions. Even though he's a seasoned veteran, he can be pressured into game-deciding goofs.
- Play harder—The effort in the first half against Tennessee was fine, but it wasn't in the second half.
- Win at quarterback—David Garrard must out-play Frerotte for the Jaguars to win this game. Quarterback is where the Jaguars should enjoy their greatest advantage.
- Help on the long ball—The Jaguars didn't get it from their safeties in the Tennessee game and that has to change this week against the speedy Bernard Berrian or the Jaguars will have a long day.
- Run the ball enough—Against defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams, a big day running the ball isn't realistic, but the Jaguars need to run the ball enough to make the Vikings play run and not tee off on the quarterback.
- Block Jared Allen—Khalif Barnes will be facing one of the most feared pass-rushers, Jared Allen, in the game. This is the game teams will use to grade Barnes in free agency.
- Re-dedicate—There are six games remaining in this season. It's too early in the season to start thinking about the end.
- Play on a short field—The Vikings punter has been inconsistent and will get short and low, the thing of which punt-returns and field position are made.
- Accept the challenge—The Vikings' muscle challenges a team's manhood. Respond.