Bucs coach Raheem Morris did a fantastic job guiding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 10-6 record and the cusp of the playoffs last year, because everyone thought going in to 2010 that the Bucs were one of the two or three worst teams in the league. That said, this is 2011, this isn't a 10 win team, and I think the Vikings match up very well against them.
It's hard to call a week 2 game 'must win', but with the rest of the NFC North going 1-0, and with two of the other three teams in our division getting favorable draws (the Packers go to Carolina, Detroit hosts the Chiefs, but Chicago travels to New Orleans), 2 games out after 2 games played isn't where the Vikings want to be if they are to be a serious playoff contender.
So what and who can the Vikings attack to throw for more than 39 yards, get AP 100 yards, and get Jim Kleinsasser a touchdown for my fantasy team? (And question my GM skills all you want, but I won my league two years ago and made the playoffs last year. And I'm 1-0 this year, so bite me).
Well, I'll tell you. After the jump, of course.
In 2010, the Buccaneers offense, at least statistically, was as bad as the Vikings, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF actually had their offensive line rated worse than the Vikings in both pass and run blocking, so there is some potential for the Vikings to harass and pummel QB Josh Freeman all day long. Against the Chargers, Brian Robison and Jared Allen both played well, bringing pressure from both end positions. But the push up the middle that the Vikings have become known for with the Williams Wall was spotty in the first half, and just about non-existent in the second half. That was a big part of the reason Philip Rivers was able to cause so much damage on Sunday. Last week, Josh Freeman was sacked twice and hit four times against the Lions, and I'm predicting three sacks on Sunday.
The reason I think the Vikings will do so well rushing the passer is because Tampa Bay's running game, although ranked 8th last year, doesn't seem to match up very well with the Vikings, and Minnesota was very stout against the run against a good San Diego team. LaGarrette Blount had 1,000 yards and a 5.0 average carrying the ball last year, but he only carried 5 times for 15 yards last week. I fully expect the Bucs to try and establish the running game early, and I fully expect the Vikings to largely negate it.
Minnesota has one of the best linebacking units in the NFL, they have a slight advantage at home, and other than some uncharacteristically bad missed tackles last week, they did a very good job at filling the gaps and shutting down the Chargers on the ground last week. There's nothing that makes me think the same won't happen on Sunday. If the Vikings return to their solid tackling ways, I don't see Tampa Bay having much success on the ground.
Which means that the Buccaneers will have to pass a lot to win. 'But Ted', you say, 'didn't Philip Rivers do just that last week in the Vikes 24-17 loss?'
Well, uh, yeah, but this is different. No, really. Josh Freeman is no Philip Rivers, and although he's good, I like the Vikes CB matchups against the likes of Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn. Their leading receivers were RB Earnest Graham and TE Kellen Winslow, which might seem like a bad match up for the Vikes. I disagree. A lot of the damage that San Diego RB's Mike Tolbert and Ryan Matthews did was due to poor tackling or a blown assignment, and again, if the Vikings can clean up their poor tackling, I don't think the Bucs will get near the production San Diego did. Because I don't think the Buccaneers will have a 2:1 offensive play advantage or an almost 3:1 advantage in time of possession like San Diego had.
39 yards passing. Yeah, that's still a Carrot Top-Courtney Love-ginger-bastard-child-ugly statistic, four days later. And it's got to get better, there's no doubt. But do you really think Donovan McNabb will throw for 39 yards again this week?
Neither do I. Michael Jenkins looks like a solid option, and we all know the talent that Percy Harvin has. Matthew Stafford threw for over 300 yards and three TD's against Tampa Bay last week, and you would think that the Vikings have a mismatch or two in their favor in the passing game. That doesn't mean I think McNabb will throw for 300 yards, but 180-200 with a score or two isn't unreasonable, because I think Adrian Peterson will blow up against the Bucs.
Just don't run the Webbcat when AP starts rolling downhill, okay Bill? Thanks, glad we could clear that up.
Last week, Detroit ran for over 120 yards with an average running attack, and in 2010, Tampa Bay opponents gained over 130 yards per game against them, at a 4.7 yards per carry average. That's brutal, and it's something that the Vikings must take advantage of. And I think they will, and I expect to see some more Toby Gerhart in the mix, too.
So why don't I think the Bucs are a 10 win team? Well last year, they were +9 in turnover margin, and turnovers are so critical in the NFL. We witnessed that first hand last week, as the early pick by McNabb that the Chargers converted from the 6 turned out to be the winning margin. It's tough to get a turnover margin in your favor like that on a consistent basis, and if that falls back closer to the +/- 0, the wins fall back as well.
And I think that is what will happen on Sunday. Minnesota wins the turnover margin by a +2, and will win the game 24-13.