Tampa Bay lost in heartbreaking fashion on Sunday to division rival New Orleans. Luckily for the Bucs they don’t have time to dwell on it - they have quickly moved on to Minnesota and the challenges playing one of the premier pass rushers, again.
The Bucs have already seen some of the elite pass rushers already this season in Jason Pierre-Paul and DeMarcus Ware. With six sacks, two passes defensed and a forced fumble, the numbers may not scream elite, but the insatiable hunger Jared Allen has for getting to the quarterback shows through on every play.
With Josh Freeman hitting his stride the last two weeks, he can’t afford to have his momentum change now. Allen is a momentum changer. The only thing standing in the way of Freeman being repeatedly thrown to the turf at the Metrodome is Donald Penn.
Last season, Penn kept Allen at bay, holding 2011’s NFL sack leader with 22 on the year to just one against the Bucs, less than Allen's average per game a year ago. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier spoke to Tampa Bay media member via conference call Wednesday about the leader of his defense and the one-on-one matchup with the Bucs’ left tackle.
“Jared Allen is a premier pass-rusher in our league, there’s no question about that,” Frazier said. “That’s obvious with what he’s done in his career. And it will be a good matchup with Donald Penn. Donald’s having a good season, he’s doing a good job.”
Frazier went on to say that along with the brute strength and toughness displayed by Allen week in and week out, he is also a very intelligent football player.
“But Jared – the passion that he plays with, he’s a tenacious guy,” Frazier said. “He’s going 100 miles an hour every single snap. Him to continuously get to the quarterback when every week people are targeting ways to keep him away from the quarterback it’s a testament to his talent, also his intelligence, because he is a guy with a high football IQ. He understands blocking schemes. He knows that people are going to chip him, keep a tight end over there.
“Rarely does he get singled throughout a ball game, so the fact that he works as hard as he does and then is a tremendous athlete it’s a combination for a guy who has turned out to be a great player in our league.”
Bucs head coach Greg Schiano wasn’t around last season for the Penn-Allen matchup, but believes that although the seventh-year tackle is playing well, he can step his game up even more.
“I think Donald (Penn) has been steady,” Schiano said. “I think Donald has better football in him which we are going to see coming up, but he has been steady so far. This will be a great matchup for sure.”
While everyone is focused on talking about the havoc Adrian Peterson can wreak on defenses or the all around playmaking ability of Percy Harvin, keeping Allen away from the Bucs’ signal caller is just as important.
In the past two weeks Freeman has thrown for 748 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception. The fourth-year QB has been sacked nine times this season and the offensive line has done a steady job giving Freeman enough time to find a receiver.
The sometimes open, sometimes not receiver targeted the most is Vincent Jackson, and rightfully so. Long before donning the pewter and red, Jackson made himself known throughout the league as a sure-handed top wideout.
“You know, I’m familiar with him from his time in San Diego and now in Tampa,” Frazier said, “He’s always been a guy you have to account for from a defensive standpoint. He’s a big play receiver and just in the game he had on Sunday with  yards receiving it was like ‘Wow.’
“In some ways I’m not surprised. He’s a guy that is a big time receiver and great target for Josh (Freeman) and they seem to be in rhythm now. Whatever kinks they had early on, they seem like they’ve worked those out. He’s a challenge and we’ll have our hands full trying to defend him.”
Frazier praised Tampa Bay’s offense repeatedly in the conference call, saying numerous times the Bucs are better than their record shows.
“I see an offense that seems to be about to gel.” Frazier said. “I mean, the game that Josh (Freeeman) had on Sunday was scary from a defensive standpoint. The ball was on target, he was getting the ball out in rhythm, their offensive line did a good job and they have a good job. I think the addition of (Carl) Nicks has been a plus for the offensive line. He’s really playing well.
“They’re gelling at the right time. As the season goes on you want to get better as an offensive line and it seems that they’re doing that. They have the ability to run the ball. You mentioned how much Doug Martin has improved – we had him at the Senior Bowl, we had a lot of respect for him. And then you can’t sleep on [LeGarrette] Blount, he’s a very, very good back, hard guy to bring down.
“And then you got two wide receivers in Mike Williams as well as Vincent (Jackson) who are big play guys. I’m familiar with Dallas (Clark) from my time in Indianapolis; he’s an outstanding tight end, great pass receiving tight end. So they’ve got the ingredients to have a high-powered offense and they’re one of those groups that can strike from just about anywhere on the field and they take shots down the field and they’re successful in doing it. So they have the chance to put you away from an offensive standpoint. “
Asked how the former Super Bowl winning cornerback-turned-coach plans on defending the Buccaneers top three receivers with a secondary that features two rookies in CB Josh Robinson and S Harrison Smith, Frazier came back full-circle.
“Well for us it really starts with the ability to get after an offensive line with our defensive front. That’s the key to our defense. And we challenge our defensive line every week to play well and this week will be no different. We have to play well against what we think is a very good offense in Tampa and that’s going to be the key. It won’t be just Josh (Robinson) or Harrison (Smith) or Antoine (Winfield) making plays but our defensive line being able to get at the line of scrimmage when we line up. “
For an offensive line that has been somewhat of a patchwork quilt this year, they’re about to be put to the test once again.
Minnesota has watched tape on Freeman’s performance Sunday and knows how important Freeman is to the offense; Allen knows his job is to make him a non-factor.
Penn’s “better football” has to come through or it will be a painful plane ride home for the Buccaneers, especially Freeman.