Last Sunday’s game against Detroit was disappointing. Not because I predicted the Lions to win and they did, but disappointing that Tampa Bay wasn’t able to put up much of a fight. The 27-20 Lions victory was not as close as the score would indicate. Tampa was bullied up front and quarterback Matthew Stafford was allowed to stand unfazed in the pocket far too much. That can’t happen this week against Minnesota, even with veteran Donovan McNabb under center. Here are a few matchups the Bucs need to focus on if they want to come home with a victory this week.
Containing Adrian Peterson: You don’t need to be a savvy analyst to know that Peterson IS the Vikings offense. He has ranked in the top 10 in rushing attempts for the last three years and has recently developed into a nice pass-catcher, totaling 79 receptions over the past two seasons. Last week versus San Diego, McNabb struggled mightily. He completed just seven passes for 39 yards and looked flustered most of the game. San Diego loaded the box early and often, and dared McNabb to beat their secondary. He showed over and over that he couldn’t. With eight or more players up front, Peterson struggled to find running room and it forced Minnesota into many long third-downs.
The Bucs defense needs to follow this example. Their main focus should be containing Peterson, forcing him to run side-to-side rather than straight up the middle. Look for Tampa Bay to stack the box and blitz McNabb. If they can hold Peterson to fewer than 100 yards and bait McNabb into throwing often, expect Tampa Bay to force turnovers and more than likely be on the winning side.
Conversely, LeGarrette Blount needs to get the ball. It is inexcusable for a number one running back to get the ball only five times. Earnest Graham is a good change of pace back, but he shouldn’t handle the ball twice as much as Blount. Count on OC Greg Olson to call several plays for LeGarrette going forward.
Donald Penn vs. Jared Allen: The second-most vital player to contain on Minnesota is Pro-Bowl defensive end Jared Allen. He has made a habit of harassing quarterbacks all game and has accumulated at least 11 sacks each of the last four seasons. Left tackle Donald Penn will definitely have his hands full, but Penn does have something on his side.
After graduating from Utah State, he began his career as an undrafted free agent on the Vikings practice squad. This will be his first game back in Minnesota. Earlier in the week, Penn said he still has a chip on his shoulder. Expect his emotions to be riding high as he returns to the team that didn’t give him a chance five years ago.
Overall, count on this one being a close game throughout. I expect both teams to run often, while mixing in play-action passes sparingly. The Vikings secondary allowed Philip Rivers to throw for 335 yards, so perhaps Josh Freeman won’t be afraid to take a few stabs downfield to Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn. In his lone game versus Tampa Bay in 2008, Adrian Peterson ran for 85 yards and zero touchdowns. I would be thrilled if the Bucs held him to that Sunday. Look for Blount to carry a bigger load – 80 yards and a touchdown would be nice. Again, this one will be close, but I predict Tampa Bay winning on a late field goal 23-20.