This is a big game for the Minnesota Vikings, as they want to win and both keep pace with the Chicago Bears and stay ahead of the surging Green Bay Packers. For the Vikings, the non-divisional games are just as vital as the one against their regular rivals.
Tampa Bay is coming off another disappointing loss against the New Orleans Saints—one which they arguably could and should have won. They’ll be hungry, but also traveling and on a short week. While the Vikings are also on a short week, they are coming off a home win and aren’t traveling.
On these short weeks, you can’t overstate how big that travel can be.
Let’s see how the Vikings will try to make things play out.
When the Vikings Are on Offense
The key here remains getting Ponder to be more judicious with his passes. Last week he threw two totally unnecessary interceptions. While it’s all really a learning process, if he keeps doing it, the team will pay for it.
This is something only he can fix, really. He needs to choose his throws better when under pressure, and when he does throw, he needs to execute.
The intent behind either of the two throws last weekend wasn’t the problem—the fact that he couldn’t be accurate on either one is.
Luckily for Ponder and the Vikings, they face the 31st-ranked defense in the league that has compiled only eight sacks so far.
Ponder should find himself under less pressure this week.
This doesn’t mean he can get careless, though, as the Bucs defense has also generated nine interceptions to date, tying them for sixth in the league in that category.
They may allow a lot of yards and a fair amount of touchdowns, but they are opportunistic so Ponder had best make sure his throws are smart ones.
More than likely, the offense will stick to what it knows—throw short passes to Percy Harvin and run Adrian Peterson.
Yes, the Buccaneers are ranked third in run defense, but as I always say—that’s only part of the story.
Because the passing defense is so weak, teams just don’t worry about running on the Bucs, who have faced just 148 attempts or just 24.7 a game.
I’ve said before that with Peterson you don’t shy away from good run defenses—this run defense isn’t even as good as it appears.
So, short routes and lots of running. Despite the ability this Bucs defense has to get interceptions, I wouldn’t avoid throwing a few deep to Jerome Simpson as most of Ponder’s interceptions are on short passes.
I actually feel better about him airing it out than I do him scrambling and trying to make a play short.
When the Vikings Are on Defense
While Josh Freeman put up 420 yards and a trio of touchdowns against the Saints last week, I wouldn’t sweat the overall passing game too much—they’ve been mired in the middle of the pack in passing offense all year long.
The Vikings will want to pressure Freeman from the first whistle, though, and not let him have the time to find Vincent Jackson deep.
Jackson is earning his money this season and, according to him, he caught seven balls for 216 yards and a touchdown when he wasn’t even 100 percent.
If you saw him get caught from behind on a 95-yard catch, you’d agree with him.
The Vikings don’t have a guy who matches up with Jackson really well. Chris Cook is probably their best bet, really. Ultimately, though, this defense needs to get after Freeman and sack him.
Their line has been playing all right—the more "vital" left side holding up well (especially left guard Carl Nicks) but the right side missing guard Davin Joseph who, while not great, is better than anyone who has replaced him since he was hurt.
They allow a lot of pressure, but only a few sacks (six so far this season) and aren’t prone to too many false starts.
Overall it’s a decent unit but they will be hard pressed by the front seven of the Vikings. If they overload the right side, they should have no problem getting after Freeman.
That should help stifle Jackson and slow down the offense.
On the ground they’ll have to keep an eye on rookie Doug Martin, who has been up and down this season. He’s averaging 4.1 yards a carry—more than respectable—and the Boise State back has shown good speed, and he’s starting to show the vision to find space and create some long runs.
The Vikings are among the best in the league against the run, and while they need to keep one eye on Martin, overall he shouldn’t be much trouble. Both he and LeGarrette Blount are not playing well in short-yardage and goal-line situations, either.
The Vikings should be able to make the Bucs one dimensional offensively, which should give them the edge they need to shut the whole offense down on most plays.
This won’t be a romp in the park, but it should be a win for the Vikings. However, as I have been saying for weeks, this team has suddenly started lacking the violent physicality which helped them win against teams like the 49ers.
I’d like to see them get back to that this week against Tampa Bay, by physically imposing their will both through the run (which they have been doing) as well as with hard hitting, jarring play by both the defense and the offense.
Nothing gets into a linebacker’s head like a player such as Percy Harvin knocking them on their back.
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