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Matchup Index: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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The Daily Norseman dives deep into statistical trends and player grades to find possible matchups to exploit.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

This coming Sunday afternoon the Vikings travel to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers.  In this week's installment of the Matchup Index, we'll be digging through statistical trends and player grades in an attempt to find areas where the Vikings have some advantages and disadvantages.  As I've done in the last few articles, we'll start with the Bucs offense versus the Vikings defense.

Well first off, the Bucs are struggling to consistently move the ball on offense, generating an average of only 306.8 yards per game (ranked 30th).   As such that has caused them to have trouble scoring, averaging only 20 points per game (tied for 25th overall).  With what little offensive production they do have has been stymied by a -2 turnover margin over the first 7 games of the year.  They have also been poor on 3rd down converting only 37% of their attempts (ranked 24th).  Their passing attack has been just a little bit better than their running game, but neither has been particularly effective.

Through the air, Tampa Bay is averaging only 218 passing yards per game (ranked 24th overall), but this is due largely to the fact that they haven't attempted that many passes (only 211, ranked 26th).  Despite the low number of attempts they still aren't very effective when they DO throw the ball as their 6.7 yards per attempt through a combination of Josh McCown and Mike Glennon is only ranked 27th overall.  That said Glennon has been a much more efficient quarterback than McCown collecting a higher QB rating and higher yards per attempt average with a 7-3 TD/INT ratio to McCown's 2-4 TD/INT ratio.  That said, while Glennon has been an upgrade over McCown so far, Glennon's Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt rating of 6.09 ranks him 24th among passers making still an ineffective option overall.

On the ground Tampa Bay has seemingly struggled even more, only averaging 89.8 rushing yards per game (ranked 28th).  However, they also have the 2nd fewest rushing attempts of any team in the NFL, and when they do run the ball they are somewhat effective averaging 4.3 yards per carry (12th best).  It would appear that this team simply needs to run the ball more often.  They have dealt with some injuries though as lead running back Doug Martin missed weeks 2 and 3 which might have cut into their attempts.  Never-the-less, outside of Bobby Rainey getting 22 carries in week 2 with Doug Martin out, no Bucs running back has seen more than 14 carries in a game.  As in past weeks, the indices below will start in the trenches looking the Bucs passing game, followed by their running game.

Matchup Index: Bucs Pass Blocking vs Vikings Pass Rushing

Bucs Player

RT Demar Dotson

RG Patrick Omameh

C Evan Dietrich-Smith

LG Logan Mankins

LT Anthony Collins

PFF Grade

+2.1

+1.8

-3.1

-5.3

-7.9

Vikings Player

DE Brian Robison

DT Shariff Floyd

DT Linval Joseph

DE Everson Griffen

PFF Grade

-4.1

+0.4

+0.4

-1.1

First off, I was surprised to see Logan Mankins with such a low pass blocking grade.  If he really is in decline, then the Patriots look very smart in trading him away earlier in the year.  He has yet to have a single good game as a pass blocker.  Their individual grades from Pro Football Focus don't look good collectively, although they appear to hold up ok on the right side of the line.  The pass blocking statistics seem to back up their low grades though as Pro Football Focus ranks them 25th overall in their Pass Blocking Efficiency statistic which measures all types of pressure (sacks, hits and hurries) against their pass attempts.  Football Outsiders ranks them 24th in Adjusted Sack Rate as well.

The Vikings defensive line has improved their individual grades after last week's game, but that is most likely thanks to the drop in competition.  Still, we like seeing the defensive line play well!  Last week, I highlighted Linval Joseph's positive matchup and he did not fail to deliver notching another sack on the day. But Everson Griffen had an even better game as the Vikings attacked Cordy Glenn with stunts and blitzes which lead to 3 sacks for Griffen.  Both Griffen and Joseph have great individual matchups once again, so I would expect both of them to take advantage.

The Vikings passing defense continues to stifle quarterbacks this season, allowing an average of only 219.7 passing yards per game (9th best).  With their defensive tackles applying strong pressure to collapse the pocket up the middle, Football Outsiders ranks the Vikings defensive line 5th best in adjusted sack rate.  So, I would expect Mike Glennon and the Bucs offensive line to struggle in the passing game as a result.

Matchup Index: Bucs Run Blocking vs Vikings Run Defense

Bucs Player

RT Demar Dotson

RG Patrick Omameh

C Evan Dietrich-Smith

LG Logan Mankins

LT Anthony Collins

PFF Grade

-0.3

-3.6

-1.0

+0.2

+0.7

Vikings Player

DE Brian Robison

DT Shariff Floyd

DT Linval Joseph

DE Everson Griffen

PFF Grade

+2.2

+1.4

-2.5

+3.6

Looking at the individual Pro Football Focus grades paints a less than encouraging picture for the Bucs offensive line.  No player is graded "in the green" (better than +1.0), which means this line as a unit on the whole is below average.  In addition, Football Outsiders ranks the Bucs offensive line 28th in adjusted line yards, which attempts to determine the extent that the offensive line provides rushing value independent of the running back.  As mentioned above, the Bucs are averaging 4.3 yards per carry on the ground, which is above average, but that would appear to be on the strength of their running backs Doug Martin and Bobby Rainey as opposed to dominant run blocking.

The Vikings defensive line grades out very well against the run on an individual standpoint, although as a team their defense allows 118.1 rushing yards per game (ranked 19th) and 4.4 yards per carry (ranked 20th).  Their run defense is not as strong as their pass defense and I still remain surprised that nose tackle Linval Joseph grades in the negative in run defense (although he has improved since last week).  Still, for some reason Football Outsiders ranks the Vikings defensive line worst in the league against the run in adjusted line yards allowed.  So there is clearly some advantages that the Buccaneers could take advantage of here.  They would be smart to go with a run-heavy attack against the Vikings.

Matchup Index: Bucs Receivers vs Vikings Defensive Backs

Bucs Player

WR Mike Evans

WR Louis Murphy

TE Brandon Myers

WR Vincent Jackson

PFF Grade

0.0

+3.0

-3.9

-0.1

Vikings Player

Xavier Rhodes

Robert Blanton

Harrison Smith

Captain Munnerlyn

PFF Grade

+0.4

-0.8

+7.3

+0.9

I'm still skeptical that this particular index table has any value, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out the fact that Scott Chandler looked like he could exploit our secondary, especially if he was matched up against our linebackers.  And sure enough, it was Scott Chandler that beat Chad Greenway in coverage on that 4th and 20 play that gave the Bills a substantial chance to come back and win the game.  Chandler also had another potential big play earlier in the game on a drop where he had our linebackers beat.  That said, I did not expect Sammy Watkins to go off to the tune of 9 catches, 122 yards and 2 touchdowns.

So, after two weeks of mixed calls on these receiver tables I remain skeptical of their value.  But we'll trudge on with them anyway!  This week Captain Munnerlyn sees a little uptick in his coverage grade and after recording an interception last week too, Robert Blanton sees the biggest improvement after his best game in coverage.  Rhodes and Smith look about the same.  On the outside, the matchups between their wide receivers and our cornerbacks look pretty even.  Louis Murphy is an underrated #3 wide receiver for the Bucs as a deep threat sporting the 19th best catch rating on deep balls.  So if he is matched up with Robert Blanton that could be one the Bucs look to exploit.   I don't see a lot of major advantages for either team in the secondary.

At the end of the day the Vikings defense allows an average of 22.9 points per game, ranked 14th in the NFL.  I expect the Bucs passing game to struggle, but their running game could find a little breathing room assuming they commit to running the ball more than their average of 20.7 times per game.  Ultimately, I think our defense will be able to hold their offense in check and I wouldn't expect more than about 20-23 points from their offense at most.

Next we'll need to consider the Vikings offense against the Bucs defense.  The Vikings offense as a whole is struggling, generating only 309.1 yards of offense per game (ranked 29th, one spot ahead of the Bucs).  With Bridgewater having thrown 5 interceptions the past two weeks, our -3 turnover margin is certainly not helping anything, but neither is our terrible 33% 3rd down conversion percentage (ranked 29th).  Our anemic offense that has only averaged 17.1 points per game (ranked 30th) is due mostly to what is now the league worst passing offense, capable of only generating 183.9 yards per game.  Teddy Bridgewater and our offensive line have struggled the past two weeks against very strong passing defenses and defensive lines.

The woes in the passing game might stem from poor pass blocking, but it is also related to rookie Bridgewater's inefficient passing.  He is 2nd worst in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt with a lowly 3.97, ahead of only Blake Bortles.  His passer rating though actually is league worst as his 1/5 TD/INT ratio has brought it down to a paltry 67.4.  That said Bridgewater showed some meager signs of improvement last week in Buffalo after a horrible game against Detroit the week prior where he improved his yards per attempt, QB Rating and adjusted yards per attempt stats slightly.

The Vikings running game finally showed some signs of life last week with Jerick Mckinnon rushing for over 100 yards against what was previously the best run defense in the league.  The Vikings, with Adrian Peterson only playing one game have managed to generate 125.3 rushing yards per game, good enough to rank 10th best in the league.   Even better, their 4.6 yards per carry average ranks 7th best in the league.  The Vikings have switched from Matt Asiata to Mckinnon as their starter and primary ball carrier the last two weeks and it's paying off big dividends on the ground.  The matchup indices below will start in the trenches with a look at the Vikings passing game first, and then the running game.

Matchup Index: Vikings Pass Blocking vs Bucs Pass Rushing

Vikings Player

RT Phil Loadholt

RG Vlad Ducasse

C John Sullivan

LG Charlie Johnson

LT Matt Kalil

PFF Grade

-1.2

-0.6

-0.9

-4.0

-14.2

Bucs Player

DE William Gholston

DT Gerald McCoy

DT Clinton McDonald

DE Michael Johnson

PFF Grade

-3.8

+16.5

+0.6

-4.2

In looking at the individual grades, you might notice that there is still not a single member of the Vikings offensive line with a positive pass blocking grade.  It's worth pointing out that backup center Joe Berger and offensive tackle Michael Harris (playing out of position), both came in early in the game last week to replace starting center John Sullivan and backup guard Vlad Ducasse, and both earned positive pass blocking grades (both +0.6).  If the line continues to struggle some shake-ups in personnel will be necessary, if nothing else than to simply try something different to see if it works, because what they've got right now clearly isn't working.  The Vikings offensive line is ranked 2nd worst in Pass Blocking Efficiency from Pro Football Focus, and league worst in Football Outsiders adjusted sack rating allowed.  Yes they have faced some of the league's best defensive lines during the first part of the year, but that doesn't excuse such poor rankings and grades in these efficiency statistics.

On the other side, the Bucs defensive line has an All-Pro among their ranks in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, and he has an obscenely high pass rushing grade from Pro Football Focus.  He will be a matchup nightmare for Vlad Ducasse and John Sullivan.  So while the overall trends may look bad for the Vikings passing game (and the McCoy matchup aside), the matchups overall look pretty even.  And fun fact, the Bucs currently have the worst passing defense in the NFL allowing 294.5 passing yards per game and the highest passer rating allowed (111.9).  I would expect Teddy Bridgewater to get back on track this week against the Bucs and for our offensive line to look somewhat respectable in the pass blocking department for once.

Matchup Index: Vikings Run Blocking vs Bucs Run Defense

Vikings Player

RT Phil Loadholt

RG Vlad Ducasse

C John Sullivan

LG Charlie Johnson

LT Matt Kalil

PFF Grade

+1.3

-6.4

+1.4

-3.3

-5.7

Bucs Player

DE William Gholston

DT Gerald McCoy

DT Clinton McDonald

DE Michael Johnson

PFF Grade

+4.7

+2.4

-5.9

-4.8

The Vikings continue to have something of a mixed bag when it comes to run blocking.  Sullivan and Loadholt have always been good against the run and they are continuing their high level of play while Johnson and Kalil continue to look poor, at least according to Pro Football Focus grades.  Football Outsiders doesn't think too much of their run blocking on the whole, ranking them 21st in adjusted line yards.  Despite the apparently poor run blocking, rookie Jerick Mckinnon is averaging 5.2 yards per carry on an admittedly small sample size (only 60 carries so far).  But he is extremely athletic and explosive, and capable of busting off long runs.  I don't see any big advantages for the Vikings although they may find success up the middle running over Clinton McDonald and to the right against Michael Johnson.  It looks like the Bucs may have a slight advantage in runs to the left.

But, lucky for the Vikings the Buccaneers do not have a strong run defense overall, as they allow an average of 128.3 rushing yards per game (ranked 25th) as well as 4.1 yards per carry.  This appears to be a team that can be run on, even though their defensive line is ranked 12th overall against the run by Football Outsiders in adjusted line yards allowed.  I think the Vikings should be able to find success on the ground against Tampa Bay.

Matchup Index: Vikings Receivers vs Bucs Defensive Backs

Vikings Player

WR Greg Jennings

WR Jarius Wright

TE Chase Ford

WR Cordarrelle Patterson

PFF Grade

-2.6

-2.3

-0.7

-2.9

Bucs Player

CB Alterraun Verner

SS Mark Barron

FS Dashon Goldson

CB Jonathan Banks

PFF Grade

-0.1

+0.2

-3.9

-6.0

Well, the Vikings receivers look pretty terrible with all of them grading in the negative.  The good news is that both Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright saw a slight uptick in their PFF receiving grades since last week.  Unfortunately, Chase Ford and Cordarrelle Patterson both saw slight declines in their receiving grades.  I guess when you're dead last in the NFL in passing offense, everyone is to blame.

The good news is that the Bucs secondary looks atrocious in their individual grades with only safety Mark Barron grading positively (thanks Leslie Frazier).  It would appear that the passing defense that was league worst (or near league worst) during nearly every year of Frazier's tenure in Minnesota also doesn't appear to be working in Tampa Bay.  In addition to 2nd year corner Jonathan Banks low coverage grade, Alterraun Verner is allowing the 5th highest QB rating (out of 70) to passes thrown his direction (128.5) among cornerbacks that have played at least 50% of their team's snaps.  This is a secondary that is in shambles.   As bad as our receivers have been at getting open, they should find it much easier this week to find soft spots in Frazier's zone scheme and get open.

When it is all said and done this Bucs defense looks poor, and they allow a league worst 34 points per game (and it's not particularly close as the 31st ranked team allows 29.3).  They also allow the most yards per game (422.8) and allow the 3rd most time of possession.  This will be the weakest defense the Vikings have faced all year, and the Vikings veterans on offense should be intimately familiar with Leslie Frazier's defensive scheme after practicing against it every week for years from 2010-2013.  If you split the difference between what our offense has achieved, and what the Bucs defense allows, I would expect our offense to be able to put up at something in the neighborhood of 24-25 points.

My prediction last week of a Buffalo win, 20-13, was a little off by a field goal in either direction as they actually won by a score of 17-16.  And this week in a battle of two struggling teams, I'll predict a rare Vikings win on the road, and their first ever in Raymond James Stadium, with a score of 23-17.