The Jaguars will not only be without Maurice Jones-Drew full strength against the Vikings, as they’re going to limit him to 3rd down work only about a week after a return from suspension, but they will be missing two key defensive players, Daryl Smith and Derek Cox. Smith was ProFootballFocus’ 2nd ranked outside linebacker last season, only behind Von Miller, while Derek Cox was a real shutdown cornerback in limited action in his 3rd year in the league last year, before going out with injuries.
Cox, a surprise 3rd round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, didn’t play well as a starter in either 2009 or 2010, but was awesome to start the season last year. He allowed just 9 completions on 28 attempts (32.1%) for 105 yards (3.8 YPA), no touchdowns, and no interceptions, while deflecting 3 passes and being penalized once. His 44.5 QB rating would have been 2nd in the league had he had enough snaps to qualify. If he can stay healthy and keep that up over an entire season, he’ll emerge as one of the top cornerbacks in the league, but those are pretty big ifs, especially now that he’s missing this game.
Both Smith and Cox missing this game will make things even harder on the Jaguars travelling to Minnesota. The Vikings will also be without star running back Adrian Peterson in his usual capacity, but he’s not as big a part of their offense as MJD, who accounted for 47.7% of the Jaguars yards from scrimmage last year, most since OJ Simpson in 1974. The Vikings also have the superior 2nd year quarterback. In the 9 games in which Ponder led the team in passing attempts, the team scored 22.9 points per game, which would have been 16th in the league last season.
The Vikings’ back 7 is pretty bad in coverage, which is why they ranked 30th against the pass, allowing 8.1 YPA last year, despite 50 sacks. However, Blaine Gabbert really struggles with pressure in his face and the Vikings can pressure the quarterback as well as any team in the league. Gabbert ranked 2nd worst in the NFL with a 52.9% accuracy percentage under pressure (discounts drops, throw aways, spikes, batted passes, and hit as throwns) and worst in the NFL taking a sack on 26.1% of his pressured drop backs.
Unless he is a dramatically different quarterback in the face of pressure from last year to this year, he doesn’t figure to be able to take advantage of Minnesota’s poor back 7 in coverage. The Vikings 6th ranked run defense from 2011 should be able to stop Jennings and the Jaguars will have trouble moving the football. Ponder, meanwhile, won’t against a Jacksonville defense missing Smith and Cox.