Key matchup: V-Jack vs. the corners

Vincent Jackson is having a stellar start to his first season in Tampa Bay. The Vikings have been relatively effective in neutralizing opponents' big-play receivers to date. The numbers portend a big matchup on the national stage.

On a short week of preparation, games are often won on mistakes and pure athleticism. Players like Jared Allen, Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin thrive under such conditions, because with an opponent that may be a little banged up and shaking off soreness quicker than usual, players like those are the ones that can make the difference between winning and losing. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have such a difference-maker in their offense – wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Of all the players that need to be accounted for Thursday night when the Vikings meet the Bucs, the battle between Chris Cook, Antoine Winfield and Jackson will be this week's key matchup.

For years Tampa Bay has had relatively nondescript receivers. They have tried over the last few years to draft players that could make a difference in the passing offense, with very limited success. They have brought in aging veterans, only to the learn that most of them were well past their prime and were more involved in moving the chains rather than impacting the scoreboard.

That all changed when the Buccaneers made one of the biggest free agent splashes in the offseason by signing Jackson to a long-term deal. Jackson had a longstanding dispute with the San Diego Chargers that led to a protracted holdout after being hit with the franchise tag and hard feelings on both sides. When he finally got the chance to leave on his own, he jumped ship, but many questioned whether the kind of big-play production he had with Philip Rivers in San Diego would translate in the Tampa Bay offense. Suffice it to say, it has.

Through six games, he has become the most electrifying receiver the Buccaneers have had in years. He has caught 27 passes for 586 yards (a 21.7-yard average) and five touchdowns. He has topped 100 yards three times and, last Sunday against New Orleans, caught seven passes for 216 yards, including a 95-yard touchdown. He has never been targeted fewer than seven times in a game and has been targeted 10 or more times in four of six games. No other Tampa Bay receiver has been targeted more than eight times in any game, so it's clear that the passing offense runs directly through V-Jack.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said it's more than just speed that makes Jackson dangerous. He's more impressed with another asset from Jackson.

"How deceptive he is as route-runner. I've seen where I think guys have pretty good coverage on him and the next thing you know he's behind them," Frazier said. "Great hands. Great route-runner. Knows how to uncover. You can see his experience when he's running routes. It seems like he and Freeman have really found a rhythm of late. They've got a good situation going, but his ability to run great routes and make some unbelievable catches even when guys have good coverage is very impressive."

It will be the job of the Vikings cornerbacks, primarily Cook and Winfield, to keep Jackson in check. It's hard to imagine that they will completely shut him down, but the goal will be to contain him and prevent him from making big plays. In that respect, the Vikings have done a pretty good job of taking away a team's top receiver.

To date this season, the Vikings have faced three wide receivers that would be viewed in Jackson's elite class – Reggie Wayne, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. In the case of two of them, they were able to shut them down. In the case of one, they allowed him to make the play that ended up costing the Vikings the game. For most of their game with Indianapolis, Cook and Winfield held Wayne under wraps. He had been held to 41 yards on five receptions, but, in the fourth quarter, a blown coverage allowed Wayne to run free down the middle of the field and Andrew Luck hit him with a 30-yard touchdown to give the Colts the lead and eventually the win.

Johnson was limited to five catches for 64 yards and was held out of the end zone. Until Monday night, those totals for receptions and yardage were Megatron's lowest of the season. It was no coincidence that the Vikings won that game with the Lions.

The muzzling of Fitzgerald was even more pronounced. He caught just four passes for 29 yards and didn't score. Only the New England Patriots did a better job of limiting Fitzgerald than the Vikings did. Again, the Vikings won the game, due in no small part to neutralizing Arizona's biggest offensive weapon.

Jackson is a different type of player. He specializes in making plays deep down the field, which helps explain why he is averaging almost 22 yards every time he touches the ball. In a game that will likely be defined by which team can make the most big plays, keeping Jackson under wraps will be the top priority. As the Vikings have proved this year, keep an elite wide receiver from making a difference and you win the game. Fail to do so and you lose. Jackson will be looking for the home run-type play early and often, making his battle with the Vikings secondary this week's matchup to watch.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" On a short week of preparation, games are often won on mistakes and pure athleticism. Players like Jared Allen, Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin thrive under such conditions, because with an opponent that may be a little banged up and shaking off soreness quicker than usual, players like those are the ones that can make the difference between winning and losing. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have such a difference-maker in their offense – wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Of all the players that need to be accounted for Thursday night when the Vikings meet the Bucs, the battle between Chris Cook, Antoine Winfield and Jackson will be this week's key matchup. For years Tampa Bay has had relatively nondescript receivers. They have tried over the last few years to draft players that could make a difference in the passing offense, with very limited success. They have brought in aging veterans, only to the learn that most of them were well past their prime and were more involved in moving the chains rather than impacting the scoreboard. That all changed when the Buccaneers made one of the biggest free agent splashes in the offseason by signing Jackson to a long-term deal. Jackson had a longstanding dispute with the San Diego Chargers that led to a protracted holdout after being hit with the franchise tag and hard feelings on both sides. When he finally got the chance to leave on his own, he jumped ship, but many questioned whether the kind of big-play production he had with Philip Rivers in San Diego would translate in the Tampa Bay offense. Suffice it to say, it has. Through six games, he has become the most electrifying receiver the Buccaneers have had in years. He has caught 27 passes for 586 yards (a 21.7-yard average) and five touchdowns. He has topped 100 yards three times and, last Sunday against New Orleans, caught seven passes for 216 yards, including a 95-yard touchdown. He has never been targeted fewer than seven times in a game and has been targeted 10 or more times in four of six games. No other Tampa Bay receiver has been targeted more than eight times in any game, so it's clear that the passing offense runs directly through V-Jack. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said it's more than just speed that makes Jackson dangerous. He's more impressed with another asset from Jackson. \"How deceptive he is as route-runner. I've seen where I think guys have pretty good coverage on him and the next thing you know he's behind them,\" Frazier said. \"Great hands. Great route-runner. Knows how to uncover. You can see his experience when he's running routes. It seems like he and Freeman have really found a rhythm of late. They've got a good situation going, but his ability to run great routes and make some unbelievable catches even when guys have good coverage is very impressive.\" It will be the job of the Vikings cornerbacks, primarily Cook and Winfield, to keep Jackson in check. It's hard to imagine that they will completely shut him down, but the goal will be to contain him and prevent him from making big plays. In that respect, the Vikings have done a pretty good job of taking away a team's top receiver. To date this season, the Vikings have faced three wide receivers that would be viewed in Jackson's elite class – Reggie Wayne, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. In the case of two of them, they were able to shut them down. In the case of one, they allowed him to make the play that ended up costing the Vikings the game. For most of their game with Indianapolis, Cook and Winfield held Wayne under wraps. He had been held to 41 yards on five receptions, but, in the fourth quarter, a blown coverage allowed Wayne to run free down the middle of the field and Andrew Luck hit him with a 30-yard touchdown to give the Colts the lead and eventually the win. Johnson was limited to five catches for 64 yards and was held out of the end zone. Until Monday night, those totals for receptions and yardage were Megatron's lowest of the season. It was no coincidence that the Vikings won that game with the Lions. The muzzling of Fitzgerald was even more pronounced. He caught just four passes for 29 yards and didn't score. Only the New England Patriots did a better job of limiting Fitzgerald than the Vikings did. Again, the Vikings won the game, due in no small part to neutralizing Arizona's biggest offensive weapon. Jackson is a different type of player. He specializes in making plays deep down the field, which helps explain why he is averaging almost 22 yards every time he touches the ball. In a game that will likely be defined by which team can make the most big plays, keeping Jackson under wraps will be the top priority. As the Vikings have proved this year, keep an elite wide receiver from making a difference and you win the game. Fail to do so and you lose. Jackson will be looking for the home run-type play early and often, making his battle with the Vikings secondary this week's matchup to watch. 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