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Vikings' interior offensive line will have matchups to watch in Jacksonville

Every week following the Access Vikings game preview podcast, we’ll delve deeper into the matchups to watch for the upcoming Vikings game.

However the Vikings decide to attack the Jaguars defense, they’ll need the interior trio along the line to play well on Sunday.

The strength of the 2-10 Jaguars’ fourth-ranked defense may be right up the middle, where former Broncos defensive tackle Malik Jackson and linebackers Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith form a young group’s current backbone. They’re a lone bright spot for Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator.

“It starts by the way they play team defense,” interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “Same style of defense that you see in places like Seattle and Atlanta. They’re very fundamental in the way they play. They don’t do a lot. When they go into a game, they’ll have a little bit of a game plan for you in certain situations.”

The Vikings are running the ball less since Shurmur took over following Norv Turner’s resignation. Under Turner, the Vikings preferred a between-the-tackles rushing attack behind center Joe Berger and guards Alex Boone and Brandon Fusco. It didn’t produce much and no gimmicks or gadget plays have been able to save the rushing attack, which is just one of four in the NFL to not have produced a 100-yard runner.

They have become more efficient by downsizing under Shurmur, averaging more than four yards per carry on just 17.5 attempts per the last two games against the Cowboys and Lions. Moving the chains isn’t easy against the Jaguars, but the Vikings might find some creases on the ground if they can win interior matchups. Against the turnover-prone Blake Bortles, they should get plenty of chances.

Offenses run against the Jagaurs as much as any defense in the NFL, because they’re playing with the largest average deficit (-4.74 points) at the start of a drive, per Football Outsiders.

And through seven straight losses, the Jaguars have surrendered at least 140 rushing yards to the Raiders, Titans, Bills and Texans.

Should the Vikings generate their first 100-yard running game since Oct. 3, they’ll need Berger (or Nick Easton), Boone and Fusco to gain a foothold. Berger was held out of practice Thursday while in the concussion protocol.

Jaguars linebackers jump out as perhaps their best unit, even with second-round pick Myles Jack playing sparingly. Posluszny leads the Jaguars with 97 combined tackles in his 10th season while Smith, a former college safety, has developed into a playmaker leading the Jaguars with 12 tackles for a loss and five pass deflections. At times, it can be difficult for an offensive lineman to get a hand on either linebacker.

Take this play from the Jaguars-Bills game a couple weeks ago for example. On first down, Tyrod Taylor’s pitch to LeSean McCoy is thwarted when the speed of both Smith and Posluszny puts Bills left guard Richie Incognito (64) in a bad spot. Incognito doesn’t touch either linebacker as both converge on McCoy for a loss of two yards.

 

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When quarterback Sam Bradford drops back to pass, the Vikings’ biggest threat will also come from the interior. Malik Jackson (6-5, 300) can be a real push for the Jaguars’ pass rush. His 4.5 sacks trails only third-round rookie Yannick Ngakoue (6.0) for the lead in Jacksonville.

On this second-and-12 below, Jackson’s quick hands and feet allow him to beat right guard John Miller on the outside for the sack on Taylor.

 

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Harris gets additional work during Vikings practice without Smith

Second-year safety Anthony Harris appears in line for his third career NFL start.

Harris worked alongside safety Andrew Sendejo during Thursday’s practice, the third session this week without injured star Harrison Smith (ankle).

Harris, undrafted last year out of Virginia, previously started twice last season when starters were injured. He’s been active for all 12 games this season, but has played just 56 defensive snaps, fewest among safeties.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer previously started rookie seventh-round pick Jayron Kearse when Sendejo was unavailable earlier this season. Kearse was pulled on the first drive of his only start in Chicago after he took a bad angle on a 69-yard run by Jordan Howard.

Zimmer said Thursday he believes Kearse will be a good player down the road, but that he’s currently thinking too much. Harris’ experience has given him an advantage, according to Zimmer.

“At this point, it was funny in the preseason, [Kearse] was going and playing,” Zimmer said. “Now he’s playing a little tight, so that’s the difference in the way he’s been. He’s trying to be perfect all the time instead of cutting it loose.

“Anthony is a little quicker with understanding the different nuances of things he has to do. I think that’s a little bit of second year, first year.”

Veteran cornerback Terence Newman is also capable of playing safety in a pinch, as he did last year. However, as the Vikings secondary walked through coverages, it was Sendejo and Harris at safety with Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes lined up at cornerback.

Center Joe Berger (concussion) was not spotted at the start of practice after he was limited during yesterday’s session.

Also at Thursday’s practice, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee) was seen stretching with teammates before leaving the field.

12:00 PM, 12/11 (FOX)
Minnesota 6-6
Jacksonville 2-10

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