KEY 1: Gang Tackle Adrian Peterson
We have heard it all week from the Buccaneers coaches and players: “11 hats on the ball.” For Tampa Bay to have any success they must control Vikings All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, who in four seasons has amassed 5,880 yards rushing.
As Michael Bennett told us this week, Peterson possesses the unique combination of both brute power and 4.40 speed, making him the most complete back in the league in my opinion. And let’s not forget the additional threat as a receiver out of the backfield.
Trying to stop Peterson one-on-one is nearly an impossible task especially for young players like middle linebacker Mason Foster and defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who as rookies have probably never faced a back like Peterson while in college. While Gerald McCoy and Brian Price aren’t rookies themselves, they at least have had a taste of big-time NFL running backs. Peterson, though, is nothing like anyone they faced last week against the Lions -- or any back they faced in their rookie seasons for that matter.
The key to bringing down and holding a back like Peterson in check will be just as the players and coaches said, 11 hats on the ball. If they don’t gang tackle, and if they allow the Vikings superstar to break tackles and get through to the next level, it will be a long day and there is a very distinct possibility of coming back from Minneapolis 0-2.
KEY 2: Play Like The Preseason And Pressure McNabb
The entire PewterReport.com staff was touting this defensive line as the strength of the defense after the final preseason game. With 13 sacks in the four warm-up contests, it appeared the pass rush would be much improved over last season when the Buccaneers tied Jacksonville for the second-worst league sack total with 26. But after one game we are shaking our heads wondering where all the promise of a sack-happy season went.
Much has been made of Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly, and certainly last Sunday it showed. However there were several plays in the Buccaneers’ 27-20 loss in which Stafford was able to take his time and scan the field for his third and even fourth reads.
I have said it several times, and I’ll say it again, I don't believe the Buccaneers will sniff 10 or more or wins this year if they can't get pressure on the quarterback. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out, as it is basic football knowledge, but until a pass rush is shown it bears repeating over and over. Last week the team didn't record a single quarterback takedown or hurry.
The good news is the Buccaneers players and coaches also know this to be true. But with the talent across the board and the coaching of co-defensive line coaches Grady Stretz and Keith Millard, I think it will happen soon. We aren’t talking the 1985 Bears here, but I have no doubt they will surpass their dismal 2010 total.
Donovan McNabb is a crafty veteran but not the run option he was 10 years ago. He much prefers to set up in the pocket and take his shots off of play-action. He still has enough elusiveness to side step or step up to avoid the pass rush, but I’m not expecting him to take off at the first sign of pressure as he showed early in his career. The Buccaneers will have their shots to take McNabb down this week, and must capitalize, if for nothing else more than their own confidence sake.
KEY 3: Give Blount 20 Touches
If LeGarrette Blount gets at least 20 touches this week then the Buccaneers come home 1-1. First of all, it will be an indication the Buccaneers didn’t fall too far behind early. Secondly, it will mean Tampa Bay will have established the time-of-possession edge.
As we saw last week when the Buccaneers get behind, their up-tempo personnel take the field. As of now, Blount gives way to veteran Earnest Graham. Blount wasn’t jumping for joy with his five carries last week but he also wasn’t seething mad as some local reports [that went national] implied. I was standing there Monday when the comments were made and I can say firsthand they were misconstrued by some members of the media. The second-year tailback certainly wasn’t happy to watch from the sidelines during the second half of the Lions game, and as you would expect from a professional, he felt he could have helped the team if given more of a chance.
I believe head coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Greg Olson were both also not happy after watching the film Monday, seeing arguably their most effective offensive weapon play the part of casual observer.
With Jeremy Zuttah being named a starter Friday it is clear the coaching staff is hoping to try and bring a new attitude to the offensive side of the ball. But regardless of whom the five linemen are, Blount can’t be held in check by his own coaching staff.
KEY 4: Get A First Quarter Touchdown On Offense
Coaches are tired of talking about it and the players roll their eyes when we reporters bring it up. But when the Buccaneers begin games with play calls that make Mike Shula look like Mike Martz, it's an issue that must be addressed. So just sprinkle a magic potion in their Gatorade and it will all be better, right?
We all wish it were that simple. First of all quarterback Josh Freeman must develop a little more of that go-for-the-jugular mentality when starting football games. The cool-collected attitude is a great trait to have when the chips are down -- not so much when trying to get a lead. With that said, the second-year signal caller needs help from his coaches, in particular Greg Olson. Even if they just come out and toss an 80-yard bomb attempt on their first play, it sends a signal to the opponents, and just as importantly their own players, that Tampa Bay wants to be aggressive. Two straight handoffs to Blount or a 5-yard tight end screen to Winslow won’t scare anyone.
I hope we all get a break from the same old postgame and weekly press conference routine talking about the slow starts, as I am beginning to find more and more of my own red hair on the keyboard from writing about it.
KEY 5: Take The Lead Into Halftime And Take Out The Crowd
As having been witness to a Buccaneers-Vikings football game at the Metrodome in 1996, I can attest to the claims of it being loud. Ear-shattering is more like it. And with this sold-out contest being the first game back inside the Dome after a roof collapse late last season, the Vikings’ fans will make life miserable for the Buccaneers, particularly the offense and the linemen.
Donald Penn, a former Viking, told PewterReport.com that the crowd noise is a definite home-field advantage. The offensive tackles will have the hardest time, as they are the farthest down the line from Freeman. And as Penn also told us, it gives the edge to the defense because they can sometimes get a split-second jump before the linemen get out of their stances. It is no coincidence that Jared Allen has almost a 2:1 sack ratio [24.5 to 15.5] at home as a Viking as opposed to being on the road.
The Buccaneers must do something to quiet the crowd. Whether it be a couple early scores, a defensive touchdown or a long return, Tampa Bay can’t afford to try and play both the Vikings and the 12th-man at the same time. Take a lead into the locker room and it will go a long way in helping to assure a victory Sunday afternoon.
Cook’s Final Analysis: A totally different style of offense this week as the Buccaneers defense will need to stop the run first as opposed to last week where the biggest key was slowing down Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. Donovan McNabb always plays well against the Buccaneers and is very familiar with the style of defense Tampa Bay plays. Offensively the Buccaneers must establish some sort of running game or it may be a long afternoon.
Cook’s Prediction: Vikings 17 Buccaneers 14