Tampa Bay failed to overpower their match-ups last week against the Lions. This week they will face (and it’s hard to believe this is a truthful statement) a much weaker Minnesota Viking squad also in search of their fist win. The match-ups seem more drastic on paper then they actually are but the consequences of not winning them are the same as it was against the Lions: embarrassing defeat. It’s the Bucs first road game which only adds to the complexity of winning, especially since its in one of the NFL’s loudest stadiums. The general objectives for Tampa in the match-ups remain the same, however with the risk of going 0-2 at hand the stakes are a lot higher.
1. Bucs D-Line vs. Adrian Peterson
They don’t call him AP/AD for nothing. Adrian Peterson is without a doubt one of the top two, if not the top running back in the NFL as of current. He’s the backbone of the Vikings defense and that’s their ultimate strength. It’s also their weakness as having a guy of Peterson’s caliber is a double-edged sword. For as good as he is, the Vikings still find ways to lose games and this comes down to how they use Peterson. They aren’t shy about letting teams know they’re running Peterson 20-30 times a game and have the mind set of making the team stop Peterson rather than work with his talents. This means if the Bucs D-Line can contain Peterson and take him out of the game (and that’s an incredible task to accomplish), this will force the otherwise weak Vikings offense to find ways to beat you. But if the gang up front allow Peterson to see daylight and find lanes, it’s going to be a long day for Tampa with Peterson’s tread marks as the scar of the loss.
2. Donald Penn vs. Jared Allen
This isn’t the first time Penn and Allen are going blow for blow, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be crucial and interesting. Penn got the better of Allen in their last matchup during Allen’s monster 2008 campaign and he needs to repeat that performance to keep the rabid sack master off of Josh Freeman. It will not be the same task as last time for Penn in terms of the situation in which he is facing Allen. It’s the Vikings home opener, which means a packed house in an already unbearably loud stadium. This is important because Allen’s fuel is crowd noise and crowd swagger; if he unleashes a devastating sack on Freeman, which he will no doubt be itching to do, the crowd will erupt and Allen will feed off this energy. If Allen gets hot, the whole defensive line for the Vikings will catch sack fever and try and get the medicine: Freeman. This will also shut down a run game the Bucs must establish to open up the passing game. Allen isn’t invincible, but is is like trying to beat Shao Khan in Mortal Kombat. It’s not impossible to stop him but it’s going to take your best effort and then some to do so. Josh Freeman is going to rely heavily on Penn protecting him and LaGarrette Blount will appreciate having Allen and his monster football prowess taken out of the game.
3. LaGarrette Blount vs. Vikings D-Line
The reason the passing game failed and the Bucs subsequently lost last week was a failure to establish the run. This forced passing situations and a two minute offense to be run. Blount isn’t a part of this offense and therefore got just 4 touches. This week he is facing another tough defense but one that isn’t as capable of stuffing the run. Blount will be mindful (as will all of the Bucs offense) of where Jared Allen is at all times. But the middle of the Viking line isn’t nearly as fierce or punishing. Kevin Williams would change this statement entirely, but he’s in the last game of a two game suspension and won’t be able to do anything about Blount. Instead that task falls on Remi Ayodele and Letroy Guion in Minnesota’s 4-3 defense. Ray Edwards replacement Brian Robison isn’t to be ignored, but shouldn’t be chalked up as more than a Jared Allen wannabe (see his long ponytail as a direct imitation of Allen’s famous mullet). The Bucs must challenge Ayodele and Guion and establish the run. Blount isn’t the type of runner that demands eight men in the box, but if he chips away at the Vikings defense, he will eventually bring a linebacker up, most likely Chad Greenway. Greenway’s presence in the middle will slow Blount, but at this point hopefully the run is established and the Vikings will bring blitz packages that free up receivers and change the pace on the Vikings. Blount and the establishment of the run is detrimental to Freeman having a good day.
4. Josh Freeman vs. Viking Corners
The Lions mauled Josh Freeman and his passing game last week due in part to knowing it was coming. If the run is established, Freeman will be able to pass with comfort and the Vikings secondary is one you’d want to have that luxury against. The one real threat is Antoine Winfield but after that, the Vikings defensive secondary is very beatable. Had Philip Rivers been on his game last week, the Vikings get blown out in San Diego. Numerous times Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd had the Viking corners beat by at least seven steps but were over thrown. This should be exploited by the Bucs in every way this week. Chris Cook is looking like a draft bust and is paired with Cedric Griffin in both position and injury proneness. Both have had lower body problems in recent history with both missing significant portions of last season with knee and hip problems. The lack of corner talent will put the Vikings on their heels if Blount unleashes a few big runs. his also opens up the tight ends as viable options and deadly weapons for Freeman. Kellen Winslow will most likely see an Henderson brother in linebacker coverage as will Luke Stocker. The potential for big days from these two is at a high is Freeman can get the passing game going. He has the skill to hit a deep target as well as eating away the defense with hitting short range targets like Preston Parker and Dezmon Briscoe. Josh Freeman is hungry for a big game and may satisfy that appetite this week in Minneapolis.
5. Buccaneers vs. Metrodome Crowd
The hardest matchup for the Bucs on Sunday will be crowd control. Viking fans love their purple and gold and come in droves to make some noise in their honor. The concealed environment of the Metrodome only amplifies their noise and makes it very hard to play offense in opposing colors. Expect a few false start calls, especially early on if Tampa isn’t careful. It’s almost a necessity to run a hard count in the dome and that can create all kinds of problems other than false starts. Just ask Aaron Rogers who’s hard count in 2009 was read and exposed by the Vikings defense who ate him alive. The loud crowd of the Vikings will be extra loud as it’s the home opener for Minnesota, whose faithful take very seriously. Their energy is directly fed off of by the players and results in a larger than life swagger for Vikings players. It’s not hard to manufacture that energy either: it just takes one long Adrian Peterson run or one vicious Jared Allen sack to super charge the Dome and in turn super charge the Vikings. Tampa can quiet the crowd by jumping out to a lead or pounding the ball and creating ‘boring’ football. But the difficulty is retaining that low volume crowd who are so easily sparked into a blaze of noise again. Bucs fans are no strangers to the noise of the Dome from Tampa’s NFC Central days and hopefully this new squad can adapt and conquer.