With the emphasis that is being placed on the running games for both the Vikings and Jaguars, other matchups have been lost in the shuffle. While players like Adrian Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew are grabbing all the media headlines, this week's "Matchup to Watch" will take place when the spotlight isn't on the running games, as Bernard Berrian and Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis battle one another for downfield supremacy.
The difference Bernard Berrian has been able to make in the Vikings passing game has been pronounced. He is the only player in the NFL with more than 25 receptions that is averaging 20 yards per catch. He doesn't get his hands on passes as often as other top go-to deep threats, but when he does, big plays tend to follow. When teams force eight men into the box in attempts to stop Peterson or Chester Taylor, cornerbacks are often left on an island to defend the deep ball. The Vikings will be looking to take a few deep downfield shots in hopes of cashing in the big play that could turn the game around.
While Mathis is acknowledged as one of the game's better cornerbacks, the Jaguars secondary has been scorched much of the season. Jacksonville has allowed 18 passing touchdowns in 10 games – only Arizona (19) has allowed more. Opponents average 12.4 yards per reception and the Jags defense has been vulnerable to allowing the big play all season.
This matchup may be most vital early in the game. The Jaguars have struggled all season in the first quarter, being outscored 58-27. With the team expected to be ramped up in what many view as a playoff elimination game if they lose, taking the emotional Jaguars and their fans out of the game early could be aspect. The longer the Jaguars can stay tied or ahead, the harder it will be for the Vikings to get a rhythm and deal with the crowd noise and other problems that often plague road teams. A quick-strike bomb to Berrian could be the critical turning point that could deflate all the pregame emotion the Jaguars will have coming into the game.
The Jaguars clearly have problems this season. They have lost four of their five home games and have put themselves behind the 8-ball in their quest to return to the playoffs. One of the primary reasons they're in their current situation is because of their pass defense. It has been too easy for too many teams to burn them for big scoring plays and their minus-10 differential in TD passes thrown and TD passes allowed is the worst in the league.
Peterson, Jones-Drew and the respective Taylors are going to be the focus of attention heading into and during the game. But the potential of scoring a game-changing touchdown via the bomb makes the battle between Berrian and Mathis this week's Matchup to Watch.
Matchup to watch: Big-play Berrian?
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