Each week the Pewter Reporters will give our predictions including how we think the game will play out, plus a Pick to Click, a player we think will stand out. Make sure to share your thoughts and your predictions in the comment section.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (1-0) AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-1)
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 1:00 P.M. ET (12:00 P.M. CT)
U.S. BANK STADIUM (66,860)
NETWORK TELEVISION: FOX
PLAY-BY-PLAY: THOM BRENNAMAN ANALYST: CHRIS SPIELMAN SIDELINE: PETER SCHRAGER BUCS RADIO: 98ROCK, FLAGSHIP STATION (WXTB-97.9 FM)
PLAY-BY-PLAY: GENE DECKERHOFF ANALYST: DAVE MOORE SIDELINE: T.J. RIVES
LAST GAME: TAMPA BAY WON VS. CHICAGO 29-7; MINNESOTA LOST AT PITTSBURGH, 26-9
PewterReport.com Publisher & Bucs Beat Writer Scott Reynolds
The Bucs took care of the Bears last week with ease, but this week’s test at Minnesota against a 1-1 Vikings team offers a bigger challenge for two reasons – its defense and rookie running back Dalvin Cook. Let’s start with the Vikings defense first. The big matchup to watch is left tackle Donovan Smith versus defensive end Everson Griffen, who has three sacks through two games. The good news for Jameis Winston is that no other Vikings defender has a sack this season, although players like defensive ends Danielle Hunter, who led the team with 12.5 last year, and Brian Robison, who had 7.5 in 2016. Keeping Winston’s pocket clean and keeping the franchise quarterback upright will be key for Tampa Bay in trying to get its first road win of the season.
The Vikings will likely match up big cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who had five interceptions last year and has a pick this season, on big Mike Evans one-on-one. Look for Bucs head coach and play caller Dirk Koetter to move Evans into the slot occasionally to try to create some size mismatches and foil Minnesota’s coverage plans. Tampa Bay will need to come out throwing the ball to set up the run because Minnesota’s front seven led by defensive tackle Linval Joseph and linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks do a solid job stuffing the run and Jacquizz Rodgers could struggle to produce. The Bucs may have to give more carries to Peyton Barber, a bigger, more physical back. Winston will have to do a good job spreading out the ball and perhaps target DeSean Jackson and tight ends O.J. Howard and Cam Brate on Sunday. Trying to get Howard matched up often against strongside rookie linebacker Ben Gedeon would be a plus for Tampa Bay.
The Bucs defense will be without defensive tackle Chris Baker, defensive end Jacquies Smith due to illness as the flu has hit the team the last two weeks, but the biggest loss will be not having middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, whose hamstring injury hasn’t allowed him to practice this week. The team was impressed with the play of rookie Kendell Beckwith in the preseason playing both SAM and MIKE linebacker spots, and in last week’s season opener filling in for Alexander. Beckwith had five tackles, including a tackle for loss, and will get the start at MIKE. It’s important the Bucs run defense to fill gaps and gang tackle Cook, who is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has 191 yards through two games. With Sam Bradford out, the Bucs will face Case Keenum, who is 2-0 against Tampa Bay with the Rams. That won’t happen again as the Bucs secondary is much improved over the last two years. The key will be generating a pass rush to get to Keenum and force errant throws. Defensive end Noah Spence and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy will have to get to Keenum, and if they don’t, look for defensive coordinator Mike Smith to send linebacker Lavonte David and Beckwith on some blitzes.
Reynolds’ Score Prediction: Bucs win 26-20
Reynolds’ Pick-to-click: TE O.J. Howard
PewterReport.com Editor and Bucs Beat Writer Mark Cook
Case close. It has to be. After seeing the average backup quarterback quarterback beat them two straight years, if Case Keenum beats the Bucs again with his arm for a third straight season, there are some bigger issues that will need to be addressed. Of course the Vikings could still win if the Bucs play sloppy offensively, but there is no way Keenum should be the reason the Bucs come home from Minnesota with a loss.
Obviously the Bucs will need to be wary of rookie running back Dalvin Cook who is averaging 5.6 yards a carry and has three runs of 30 yards so far this season, but Cook shouldn’t be able to beat the Bucs by himself. The Vikings receivers are solid, but again, it will be Keenum throwing to them, not Sam Bradford, who is out again with the bone bruise in this knee. If the Bucs can turn the Vikings into a one-dimensional team, which they should, they should leave with a win.
Offensively the Bucs need to be patient. The Vikings defense has a ton of talent, and head coach Mike Zimmer is former defensive coordinator, so you know he will have his team do everything they can to make quarterback Jameis Winston uncomfortable. The pass protection from the offensive line will go a long way in determining the Bucs success on Sunday, and if they give Winston a clean pocket, he will eventually find people open. There are just too many weapon on this team to not be able to move the ball, even against a stout defense.
Tampa Bay’s run game might not be hugely successful but they can’t give up on it, even if it struggles early. Keep pounding it, and taking your shots with Winston’s arm when they present themselves is the recipe for success.
Cook’s Score prediction: Bucs win 27-13
Cook’s Pick To Click: DT Gerald McCoy
PewterReport.com Bucs Beat Writer Trevor Sikkema
So, no Sam Bradford; no Kwon Alexander.Both are key players for each team for different reasons. Bradford obviously plays the most important position on the football field. Losing your starting quarterback is never easy, but thankfully for Minnesota, they have a man who has really had the Buccaneers’ number the last few times he’s faced them in Case Keenum coming in in relief. For the Bucs, Alexander is like the quarterback of the defense. He’s usually the one calling the plays as the centerpiece, and he’s also a leader of emotion and passion throughout the game. But, in some saving grace for Tampa Bay, rookie Kendell Beckwith has been playing as well as you could hope any rookie would and will get the chance to start in Alexander’s place.Let’s talk about some other matchups. Vikings’ top cornerback Xavier Rhodes going up against Mike Evans will certainly be a big one. Both use physicality as their main trait, so it will be strength versus strength – may the best man win. On the flip side, DeSean Jackson gets to go up against a cornerback who is speedy, but has his struggles in Trae Waynes. Waynes gave up three catches, 91 yards and touchdown to Martavis Bryant last week, so many are thinking this will be advantage Jackson.
However this game, as is the case for many football games, will be won in the trenches. The Vikings offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL last year, and though they have some better pieces, they couldn’t replace every spot. For the Bucs, it starts with McCoy, but to get the advantage, the pieces around him will have to be the ones to finish plays. Clinton McDonald likely getting the start for Chris Baker (illness) will be big, and I have a lot of faith in McDonald to be a difference maker. On the other side, the Bucs offensive tackles will have a tough task against edge rushers Everson Griffin and Danielle Hunter. Both are two of the better edge players in the NFL, and Bucs fans know their tackles have had their inconsistencies. This could either be their coming out party for a great year ahead, or much of the same we’ve seen from them in years past – Demar Dotson and Donovan Smith were two of the top three most penalized players in 2016.
Wrapping things up, yes, the Buccaneers have to contain Dalvin Cook, but I think they will. The Buccaneers will also have a chance to really get the tight ends involved, but I honestly think the player who will make the biggest difference in the game will be DeSean Jackson in that Trae Waynes matchup. Jameis Winston went to Jackson four times on passes beyond 20 yards last week, including three that went into the end zone. I think at least one of those hits on Sunday, and will be the first passing touchdown of more than 50 yards for the Buccaneers since December 27, 2015.
Sikkema’s Score Prediction: Bucs win 24-17
Sikkema’s Pick-to-click: WR DeSean Jackson