The Bucs' offense has played at a very high level the past two weeks and are 1-1 to show for it. The defense which has shown flashes of brilliance against the run, let Drew Brees pass for 313 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone last Sunday. Every loss Tampa Bay has suffered this season has been close and frustration may be starting to set in. The Bucs have to keep their minds fresh and Josh Freeman's momentum going if they want to get win No. 3 Thursday night.
Key 1. Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff
That saying is easier said than done, but in the Bucs’ case it’s the biggest key to beating the Vikings.
At this point, all of the Tampa Bay’s losses have come by an average of five points. That’s the difference of one missed opportunity.
Human nature dictates that disappointment and frustration are setting in. These players have worked extremely hard since training camp in July and they want their blood, sweat and tears to pay off.
Quite simply the only way that will happen is if they do the best they can to focus on moving forward.
Head coach Greg Schiano has Tampa Bay referring to each game as a season. They prepare all week and go all-in each week as if it were an entire season. It really is a smart tactic to attack 17 weeks of the regular season.
The downside is that that pesky human nature seeps back in. One player can think “I can’t help wonder if I made that one block…” It’s bound to happen, if it hasn’t already.
So the best thing the Bucs can do at this point is be thankful for a quick turnaround. There’s no time to wonder about the “what ifs”, because they’ve got another “season” smacking them right in the face.
These are strong players that have fought through devastating injuries, national attention regarding the tactics of their coach, and internal turmoil regarding a teammate.
Mentally, this team has shown they are tough. As individuals and as a team, they need to fight on and put the first six games behind them. There’s still a lot of seasons left.
Key 2. Penn Can’t Let Allen Rewrite History
Allen finished 2011 at the top of the league’s with 22 sacks, but due to Penn, walked away from last season’s Bucs-Vikings contest with just one sack and three tackles, less than Allen's per game average a year ago.
Josh Freeman has played extremely well the last two games, throwing for a combined 748 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception. The fourth-year quarterback is in a rhythm with his three top targets Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and Tiquan Underwood and to win this football game against the Vikings, the
offense has to continue working like a Swiss clock.
The only way that happens is if Penn can hold off a hungry defensive end with only six sacks, two passes defensed, and one forced fumble so far this season.
The Bucs’ front five have done a fantastic job of buying Freeman enough time to find a receiver, surrendering a third-best 18 QB Hits and tied for third-best in the NFL with nine sacks. They have to continue to put up a fortress around the Bucs’ 2009 first round pick and let Jackson, Williams, and Underwood take advantage of two Minnesota defensive backs in CB Josh Robinson and S Harrison Smith.
Key 3. Don’t Let The Vikes Run All Day
Adrian Peterson at 90 percent is better than 98 percent of the running backs in the league. The sixth-year back has no signs of slowing down, even though he suffered a massive knee injury less than a year ago. Had he not, he would have gained at least 1,000 yards for five consecutive seasons.
The Vikings’ 2007 first round draft pick torched the Bucs last season for 120 yards and two scores, and even though Tampa Bay’s run defense has done a complete 180, we’re still talking about one of, if not the premier backs of this NFL generation.
The Bucs’ run defense was able to hold the league’s leading rusher (at the time) Jamaal Charles to 40 yards two weeks ago against Kansas City, but faltered against the Saints, allowing the 30th worst rushing team in the league to pick up 86 yards on Sunday. That’s nine yards more than the Buccaneers on average have allowed and nine more average yards that New Orleans has rushed per game heading into last Sunday.
Against Peterson, 86 yards will be considered a success. The former Sooner also has the ability to catch out of the backfield and in seven games this season - and coming off of ACL/MCL surgery - Peterson has caught four-less yards than last year and 10 more yards than he did in the entire 2008 season.
It’s not easy to bring down Peterson who runs through, around, and on top of defenders. Missed tackles like the ones in the first half of the Saints game will find the Bucs behind early and facing one of the better defenses in the league, Tampa Bay can’t put themselves in a situation of an uphill battle.
Solid, on-target, hard hitting is paramount to managing Peterson. If the Bucs have a repeat performance of last week, Peterson will certainly be able to live up to his “All Day” moniker.
Key 4. Paging Doctor McCoy…
No time is better for Gerald McCoy and Michael Bennett to repeat the performance they had against Dallas. Since the Cowboys contest, the left side duo has played a lackluster few games.
It didn’t help that against New Orleans the Bucs were called upon to send a 3-man rush after Drew Brees. Needless to say with zero sacks and quarterback hits, Brees was able to amass 313 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone.
One of the reasons the Buccaneers passing defense has been burned on big plays is the fact that they aren’t putting pressure on quarterbacks. The blitz didn’t work against the Giants, and the 3-man rush didn’t produce anything against New Orleans. Christian Ponder isn’t Eli Manning or Brees and although a much-improved offensive line has helped the second-year quarterback out of Florida State be more efficient than last season, he has been sacked 16 times through seven games, tied for 10th-most in the NFL.
If McCoy and Bennett can make their way to Ponder, they eliminate two major threats for Tampa Bay – Peterson and Percy Harvin.
Key 5. Study The Slash-er Film
Years ago, Kordell Stewart was nicknamed Slash because of his ability to play multiple positions. With more success than the original, it’s time to pass the namesake down to Percy Harvin.
Harvin can make big plays as a running back, wide receiver, and return man and already has over 1000 yards in receiving and kick returns combined. The former Florida Gator has 53 receptions for 577 yards and two touchdowns, 492 yards and a score on kick returns, and has rushed for a mere 73 yards on 17 attempts, but has found the end zone once as a running back.
Tampa Bay punter Michael Koenen has 15 straight touchbacks on kickoffs, but Harvin is not afraid to try and take it to the house any opportunity that arises and with the Bucs’ special teams faltering the past couple weeks, they have to get to the fourth-year playmaker quickly.
As instinctual as he is, the key to stopping Harvin in studying the film. In last season’s matchup, the dynamic receiver caught 7-of-8 passes for 76 yards and picked up 18 yards on the ground and fumbled the ball, which the Bucs recovered. At quick glance the numbers aren’t flashy, but take into consideration Harvin was on the field for only 45 percent of the Vikings’ offensive snaps and was on the sidelines for 78 percent of the red zone snaps.
Harvin has been struggling to stay healthy and like Peterson, is a factor even when he is not at full-strength. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier reportedly told the Pioneer Press that the multi-dimensional player was limited in practice Tuesday due to a knee injury, but Harvin was not listed on Minnesota’s official injury report.
Never-the-less, the Bucs defenders should have studied the film on Harvin and taken notes. Understanding the nuances of a threat like Harvin is key to keeping him from flying around Mall of America Field.
Cook: 28-21 Buccaneers
LeBlanc: 24-21 Buccaneers