Pewter Report's Dory LeBlanc examines five keys for a Buccaneers victory each week prior to the game. Following Tampa Bay's 36-17 win over Minnesota on Thursday, LeBlanc reviews her keys to victory and offers up her grades on each one.
Key 1. Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff
Head coach Greg Schiano has instilled in his ball club that every week, every opponent is its own season and the Bucs will prepare all-in every week without looking back. Coming off the toughest loss of the season, a heartbreaking 35-28 defeat at the hands of division rival New Orleans at home and in front of a locally televised game Sunday, Tampa Bay forged ahead, went into the Metrodome and did what they’ve worked so hard since training camp to do – they played Buc ball.
Entering Thursday night’s contest, all of the Buccaneer’s losses had come by a touchdown or less. Frustration and disappointment was starting to set in. They drew an early bye week and used it to re-group; coming back and beating Kansas City two weeks ago. Then the Saints loss happened and facing a quick turnaround, the Bucs had two choices: worry about the “what ifs” or put it behind them and go all-in for the Vikings.
The entire team chose the latter.
Aside from a few personal foul penalties, including the off-setting penalties resulting from the Donald Penn-Jared Allen skirmish and Roy Miller’s roughing the passer which from the looks of it wasn’t intentional – just ill-timed; the Buccaneers were focused on the task at hand, winning.
Key 2. Penn Can’t Let Allen Rewrite History
In last year’s matchup between the two organizations, Penn allowed three tackles and sack to Allen, who finished the year with a league-leading 22 sacks. This time around, the Vikings’ defensive end recorded four tackles, two QB hits, and a sack in the third quarter. There is also the fight that broke out on the snap before the sack. Penn and Allen were in a battle all game when finally things got personal and Penn ripped off Allen’s helmet and causing a gash across the All Pros’ nose. Allen grabbed the tackle’s facemask and held him away while the flags flew. The penalties were off-setting, but the damage was done on the ensuing play as Allen threw Freeman to the ground for a loss of five yards.
Other than the back-to-back penalty and allowed sack, Penn had a great performance Thursday night and was a key component in Tampa Bay's run blocking.
Key 3. Don’t Let The Vikes Go All Day
Adrian Peterson ran for 123 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries Thursday might, by far the most yards the Bucs run defense has allowed this season. If you take away the 64-yard TD, the stats are much more impressive against one of the best running backs of this generation, but unfortunately for Tampa Bay, you can’t. On the play, Peterson found a small hole and turned it into a big play as Lavonte David was closing in on the Viking running back and was blocked out of the equation. Had the rookie WLB not been blocked, he would have caught Peterson and saved the touchdown.
The Bucs had numerous short-yardage stops on the dynamic running back and nearly took him out of the passing game all together; Peterson had only one catch for four yards and lost the ball on a forced fumble by Ronde Barber that was recovered by SLB Quincy Black.
Key 4. Paging Doctor McCoy…
The return of Da’Quan Bowers who was activated hours before kickoff was good news for the Bucs. The second-year defensive end didn’t start or record any stats, but did put pressure on Minnesota QB Christian Ponder.
The Bucs lost Bowers in May to a torn Achilles tendon and Michael Bennett was asked to step in. Entering Thursday night’s contest, Bennett was leading the team in sacks (4) and forced fumbles (2) and added one of each, five tackles – two for losses and a QB Hit against Minnesota.
Tampa Bay suffered a blow to the defensive line when Adrian Clayborn suffered a season-ending knee injury against Dallas in Week 3 and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim replaced the Bucs’ leading sack leader from a year ago at right end. The third-year player hasn’t made any flashy plays until, ironically, Thursday night when sharing time with Bowers. Te’o-Nesheim recorded his first NFL sack, two QB hits and a tackle for loss in addition to adding three tackles.
The Bucs defense kept pressure on the Vikings’ sophomore quarterback the entire night with blitzes and rushes and forced Ponder into several errant throws including an interception towards the end of the game by undrafted rookie Leonard Johnson.
Officially, Gerald McCoy registered one tackle, but he kept the pressure on Ponder despite being double teamed most of the game. The third overall draft pick in 2010 played a bigger role in the defense’s big night as the Vikings were focused on containing McCoy, allowing his teammates to have their way with the Minnesota offense.
When all was said and done, Tampa Bay sacked Ponder three times, had four quarterback hits and seven tackles for loss.
McCoy was a major factor Thursday night in the Bucs’ 36-17 road victory, even though the statline doesn’t show it. Recording a sack of his own would have been great for McCoy, but he was a bigger presence in the pass rush then he is credited for.
Key 5. Study The Slash-er Film
Minnesota’s Percy Harvin can do damage running, receiving and in the return game. From the onset of the opening kickoff, the former Florida Gator’s powers were removed as Michael Koenen kicked yet another touchback. Later in the third quarter, Harvin flashed what makes him so dangerous as he ripped off a 43-yard return that set up Peterson’s 64 yard touchdown two plays later.
In the receiving game the third-year all around playmaker was a non-factor for the first quarter, but started to turn things around for the Vikings at the start of the second when he caught an 32-yard reception that set up his own 18-yard score later in the drive to bring Minnesota within six points. Covered by CB Eric Wright for much of the game, Harvin caught a total of 7-of-12 passes for 90 yards, mostly by outmaneuvering the Bucs’ free agency pickup. To be fair, Wright was responsible for several of the incompletions thrown Harvin’s way, but the corner’s inability to stop big plays continues.
On the ground, Harvin was held to one carry for minus-1 yards as the Bucs’ run defense continues to tackle opposing backs for losses behind the line of scrimmage.
Because Ponder was under so much pressure throughout the game, the former Florida State quarterback used Harvin as his safety net, attempting to dump pass after pass to the versatile receiver. Despite the 90 receiving yards and TD and the 43-yard kick return, Harvin’s damage could have been much greater and was limited due to the Tampa Bay’s solid tackling and constant QB pressure.