Jacksonville Jaguars

The Good

Blaine Gabbert

The sophomore quarterback unquestionably took a big step in the first game of the 2012 season.  It was clear what the Vikings gameplan was: move Gabbert off his spot and find his checkdowns.  As any good quarterback does, Gabbert consistently took what the defense gave him.  From the start, he was getting the ball out before the pressure got to him.  Even when the pass rush or blitzers did find him, he generally handled it well and kept his eyes up.  That’s something that’s relatively new from Gabbert.  He was very accurate with only a few exceptions, the biggest being a missed Justin Blackmon after he gained separation from Antoine Winfield in the endzone.  It was a costly mistake considering the Jaguars had to eventually settle for a field goal.  Overall, Gabbert put the ball in spot for his receivers to make plays and made the big throw in the clutch.

Eugene Monroe

Amidst the relatively poor play of the offensive line was one budding star.  Eugene Monroe’s play was on an All-Pro level on Sunday, holding Jared Allen without a single pressure.  He also showed some athleticism in the running game and was effective there as well.   The Jaguars had far more success running to the left side than to the right, behind Monroe.  His work in the passing game is still most important.  Keeping Gabbert’s blindside clean throughout the year will make him much more comfortable passing from the pocket.

The Bad

Red Zone Offense

The Jaguars inability to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns held them back on Sunday.  They entered the red zone three times, while only scoring one touchdown.  The two failures occurred in the first and third quarters respectively, keeping Jacksonville from putting the game out of reach.  As effective as they were on third downs, it was disheartening to see their drives stall and leave points on the board.

Injuries

Jacksonville’s offensive line was riddled with injuries during the game, leading to their eventual demise up front.  Both Cameron Bradfield and Eben Britton left the game with foot injuries, insterting Guy Whimper and Mike Brewster.  While the rookie Brewster put in a solid shift, Whimper was consistently victimized by Vikings end Brian Robison.  To add injury to more injury, Uche Nwaneri was out for a few plays with a foot injury and was seen after the game with a boot on.  If Blaine Gabbert is going to take the next step, he’s going to need a competent and healthy offensive line.

The Upshot

The Jacksonville defense put in a great shift in the first half, only to succumb to poor pass coverage in the second half.  Aaron Ross and Kevin Rutland had all kinds of problems with both Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins.  The secondary will have to round into shape to give the Jaguars pass rush a chance to get to the quarterback.  Even so, had they not thrown out the gameplan for a prevent defense in the last 20 seconds, we’d be talking about a 1-0 team.

Offensively, Cecil Shorts was the big surprise, having entered the game with 2 career receptions for 30 yards.  He made a big impact late in the game, catching multiple balls on the final 4th quarter drive including the deep touchdown pass.  Shorts played the deep ball perfectly, waiting until the last second to show his hand before contorting his body to make a difficult catch.

The way Jacksonville was able to control the game early on, methodically marching the ball downfield and dominating time of possession should be a promising sign.  Once Maurice Jones-Drew is able to handle the load offensively again, even less pressure will be on Blaine Gabbert.

Minnesota Vikings

The Good

Letroy Guion

Ever since the Vikings decided not to retain Pat Williams, the nose tackle position has been a revolving door of mediocrity.  Letroy Guion took a big step in week one towards making that position his own long-term.  He was instrumental in the Jaguars’ inability to run between the tackles.  He did a great job winning at the point of attack against Brad Meester.  On multiple occasions, he shed blocks and made nice tackle.  He also came through untouched late in the game on a play action pass which led to Chris Cook sacking Gabbert.  Minus one blemish, an ill-advised personal foul penalty in the 4th quarter, this was one of the best performances we’ve seen from a Vikings nose tackle since the Williams Wall was intact.

Rookie Class

The immediate impact the Vikings’ rookie class made was a large part in the Vikings winning the first game of the season.  Matt Kalil was brilliant on the left side of the line, completely shutting down opposing rookie Andre Branch.  He showed off impressive arm extension and mobility to outdo Branch consistently.  He also made a big impact in the running game, combining with Charlie Johnson multiple times and making good blocks at the second level.  Harrison Smith also provided an aggressive safety like the defense hasn’t seen in some time.  He had troubles tackling Maurice Jones-Drew on multiple occasions but made big plays in the  clutch.  Josh Robinson looked the part throughout the game, despite giving an early completion to Blackmon.  He made solid tackles defensively and looked the part on special teams.  Above all, 6th round pick Blair Walsh had in impressive rookie debut.  His 55-yard field goal to send the game to over time shows why the Vikings decided to go with the young field goal instead of Ryan Longwell.  It’s early, but if this play continues the Vikings may have one of the most impressive rookie classes at season’s end.

The Bad

3rd Down

Even though the offense struggled early, they failed to get into a rhythm because they simply weren’t on the field.  Offensively, the Jaguars were 9-18 on third down.  This included a high number of conversions on third and 7+, most in the first half.  The offense wasn’t much better, converting on only 2 of their 10 third down attempts.  The defense’s inability to get off the field and offense’s inability to find a rhythm  led to a very slow start.

Jared Allen

In his first game since finishing last season with 22 sacks, Allen failed to register a single pressure.  He was completely held in check by a fantastic performance by Eugene Monroe.  Allen was also inconsistent in run defense, considering a majority of the Jaguars rushing yards came around his edge.  Luckily for him, Brian Robison was able to generate pressure from the other side.  Even so, Allen’s play will have to pick up because the secondary will be reliant on the line generating pressure.

The Upshot

Despite what the stats say, it was really an up and down performance from Christian Ponder.  He handled pressure poorly in the first half, especially on his first third down attempt.  If Chris Prosinski didn’t have defensive back hands, he would have an awful interception to his name as well.  In the second half, he became more settled in the pocket and threw the ball with more accuracy.  In the end, he made the plays the Vikings needed to win late which certainly counts for a lot.

Adrian Peterson’s return was a huge emotional boost for the team, as well as his play.  While he wasn’t his normal self while making cuts, he ran with the same tenacity Vikings fans have come to love.  His ability to punch it in on the goal line made a big difference.  His healthy and early play is very promising for an offense without much firepower outside of Percy Harvin.

Defensively, the team’s “bend but don’t break” policy made all of the difference.  Even when Jacksonville marched it down the field, the defense shut up shot and held them to field goals on multiple occasions.  Similar to the Jaguars, they were undone late by relying on the prevent defense to win the game.  Aside from the bad drive to finish the 4th quarter, the defense did a great job moving Gabbert off his spot and making him find his checkdowns.

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