Thanks to The Daily Norseman for answering our questions ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Minnesota Vikings game on Sunday.
1. The Vikings were one of the hottest teams in the first quarter of the season but then all of that came to a screeching halt around midyear. What the heck happened? Sam Bradford became Sam Bradford? The offensive coordinator leaving was too big a hole to fill? What?
The biggest thing that happened to the Vikings is that opposing defensive coordinators realized that this team can't block anybody. The Vikings lost both of their starting offensive tackles for the season by halftime of Week 3, and they've been shuffling players around the offensive line ever since. The offensive line wasn't going to be all-world even with all of the starters in there, but the constant moving around of players certainly hasn't helped matters.
The running game has been a disaster, and that's put the onus on Sam Bradford to play mistake-free football and put the team on his back. Given the hand he's been dealt this season, I'm not sure why anyone criticizes Bradford's play at this point. He's been accurate, and the fact that he (of all people) hasn't gotten killed playing behind this offensive line yet is almost as much of a surprise as all the Vikings that have been injured thus far.
2. What are your thoughts on how general manager Rick Spielman has built this team? From the outside looking in it looks like a strong team.
I really like most of what Rick Spielman has done with this team. The Vikings have built a defense that's young, talented, and deep at just about every position, and has at least tried to be aggressive on the offensive side of the ball to build the team in the same way. The injury to Teddy Bridgewater, which nobody could have foreseen, pushed him into making the Bradford trade because he thought this was a contending football team, which I really can't blame him for. When this team has everyone healthy, they have all of the talent to make a run. For all the good things he's done, he's also responsible for the offensive line disaster. In the last 10 drafts (which pre-dates Spielman's time in the big chair), the Vikings have only spent two draft choices that would be considered first or second-day picks on offensive linemen. With the rest of this team being built the way it is, hopefully he realizes that it's time for this team to spend some actual premium picks on offensive linemen.
3. If you were the Jaguars coordinators, how would you game plan against either side of the ball for the Vikings?
On offense, you have to be able to take advantage of a short, quick passing game, I think. Minnesota's pass rush is among the NFL's best when they get their opportunities, so longer drops and deeper passes generally aren't going to work. The quarterback needs to get the ball out of his hands before Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter and company can come crashing through. On defense, you really need to be able to get after Bradford without bringing a lot of extra heat. With the Vikings' current offensive line situation, teams really haven't had much of a problem doing that. Getting to the quarterback with only three or four guys allows you to drop as many guys in coverage as you can and make Bradford have to go through his reads before he's inevitably running for his life. Bradford has done a good job getting the ball out of his hands quickly, and since he's not the most mobile of quarterbacks, if he has to hesitate a bit before getting rid of the ball, you can get to him and disrupt Minnesota's offense.
4. Is there a Jaguars player on either side of the ball that you say, "If the Vikings don't stop him, we're in trouble"?
It would probably be someone like Malik Jackson, who came to Jacksonville last season after a big year in Denver. I know that his numbers haven't necessarily jumped off the paper this season, but he's the sort of disruptive force that the Vikings have had issues with. If they can't keep Jackson contained, it could have a domino effect on the rest of the offense and make things more difficult for Sam Bradford.
On the offensive side, it would probably be someone like Allen Robinson. Robinson has had a down year, but is still a very good receiver and can make some plays of Blake Bortles can find him. I'd expect Robinson to see a whole lot of Xavier Rhodes on Sunday, and that's a matchup that should be a lot of fun to watch.
5. What's gonna happen on Sunday? Will the Jaguars lose by multiple scores? Will they keep it close? Is there any chance of an upset?
On paper, the Vikings should win this football game. But, if anyone's capable of helping the Jaguars get back into the win column, it's the Vikings. Neither of these teams can score, and they're both capable of playing pretty good defense, so I wouldn't expect the scoreboard to get lit up on Sunday afternoon. I'm going to take the Vikings in a low-scoring affair, something along the lines of 17-14, but I don't feel terribly good about it.