When Donald Penn first squared off against Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen, Tampa Bay’s left tackle got the best of Minnesota’s defensive end, holding him to just two tackles and no sacks in the Buccaneers’ 19-13 victory at Raymond James Stadium in 2008. With the rematch set for Sunday at the H.H. Metrodome, with both the Bucs and Vikings coming into the game with 0-1 records, Penn hopes to once again make Allen a non-factor.
“He’s a great player and I have a lot of respect for him,” Penn said. “He’s a game-changer, so I just have to try to play as well as I played him last time, or hopefully a little better.”
The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Allen was a three-time Pro Bowler from 2007-09 as he recorded 43.5 of his 83 career sacks during that span, but his production dropped a bit last season along with the Vikings record and Allen failed to make a fourth straight trip to Hawaii despite recording 11 sacks, two interceptions, forcing a fumble and recovering a fumble. However, Allen has started off the 2011 season with a bang, recording six tackles, half a sack and picking off Philip Rivers in Minnesota’s 24-17 loss at San Diego in Week 1.
Penn knows that Allen is even more dangerous at home where he has recorded 24.5 sacks in the noisy Metrodome, compared to 15.5 on the road during his Vikings career.
“A lot of time he makes plays off the tackle’s mistakes from playing at home,” Penn said. “He might get off the ball a second late and give Jared Allen that jump. That helps him, being at home and having that crowd noise. Hopefully we get stuff going early and that might help me out early on with the crowd noise. I think it plays a big, big factor in how Jared Allen plays at home. It’s hard for a tackle to hear and if a tackle gets off a second later, a second means a lot.
“We’re just going to have to be ready. We’re going to practice some silent counts this week. I’m definitely going to have to pay attention to the silent counts because Jared Allen gets off the ball very well. That’s one of my big things to make sure I’m anticipating getting that count going. I’m older and I’m growing [as a football player]. I’m studying a lot more film and the game is coming a lot easier to me now.”
Both Penn and Allen vividly remember their first and only meeting back in 2008 when Penn got the better of his opponent.
“He tested my inside a lot,” Penn said. “He went inside a lot on me. I don’t know if it was something he saw. I’m a totally different player now than I was back then. I’m a lot more technically sound then I was back then. I was still young and I am still learning. I am much better with my technique. I have to be ready, but he likes the inside. Watching film from last week he was doing a lot of speed stuff, so I don’t know if he was setting me up or what. We’re going to see. I’m going to be ready for both of [those moves]. He’s a great player. One thing about him is that he’s smart. Some defensive ends just go out with natural talent and play. He studies film.
“I can tell by the way he plays and what he does that he studies. Some guys just play like you have to stop them and they just rush and rush. He’s finding ways that he can win. He studies a lot of film and I hopefully I didn’t give anything away last week.”
Allen was impressed with the physical play of Penn, who was just in his second year in the NFL back in 2008.
“I remember it was a physical battle,” Allen said. “I was coming fresh off a busted up shoulder and I definitely felt it. I won’t forget that game. Their O-line and our D-line – we were getting after it pretty good and Jeff Garcia was running around making plays. I don’t remember the final score. I know we ended up losing it, but it was a good battle. It was a fun game and it was a physical game. Those kind of games are fun because as a defensive line we like to think of ourselves as a pretty tough, physical group and when you meet up with an offensive line that feels the same way it’ll push you and it’ll test you and that’s what football’s all about.
“It should be fun, he’s a good player. They’ve had some successes. It’s kind of a fun game for us, they like to run the ball and we like to stop the run. We kind of have a history of being a good run defense around here. The pace of the game will dictate how it is. We could be successful on first and second down and force them into some passing situations hopefully we can get a few one on one looks and have some fun with it. Most importantly we’ve got to tighten up and stop the run.”
Not only will Penn face Allen again on Sunday, he will also have a chance to return to the place where his NFL career started back in 2006 when he signed with the Vikings as an unrestricted free agent. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik, who was Tampa Bay’s pro personnel director back then, urged then-G.M. Bruce Allen to sign Penn off the Vikings practice squad, which proved to be a shrewd move considering that he has become the team’s starter at left tackle since the second game of the 2007 season when he replaced the injured Luke Petitgout.
“I haven’t been there since it happened, and a lot of stuff has changed,” Penn said. “I still have a chip on shoulder and I’m going to play with a chip on my shoulder like I did the last time we played them. I get to go up and see some old friends. I just want to get out there and get this bad taste out of my mouth and try to get on the other side of the win column. It’s loud. I remember playing there. It’s very loud. They have a great fan base there that really supports them and follows them. This is their first home game, so I know it’s going to be sold out and loud.
“I take every game as a must-win. I was very upset we lost last week. I’m a very emotional player, so every loss really, really hurts me. I want to win them all if I can. That’s my mentality.”
In order for the Bucs to claim their first victory of the season at Minnesota, Penn, who gave up a sack and a forced fumble to Detroit defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch last Sunday, will have to shut down Allen once again.