Can the Buc o-line protect Josh Freeman?
You have to scratch your head on this one. Seriously. It's tough to think about what the Buccaneers really have going for them as they go up against the Minnesota Vikings Thursday night at 8:20 p.m. or thereabouts.
This one's in front of a big national audience and a big, noisy Vikings home crowd.
The Bucs have lost four of their last five games, the Vikings have won four of their last five.
The Bucs are nearly a touchdown (6.5 point) underdog. Led by Greg Schiano, they are winless on the road and this was a really, really short turnaround for them.
The Buccaneer secondary tends to burst and flood at the wrong time.
Other than that, it's business as usual. Sounds like Mission Impossible, doesn't it?
Let's take a quick look at who may have what advantages tonight in the Metrodome.
Quarterback: Josh Freeman vs. Christian Ponder.
Seriously? Freeman's the man, at least he has been for three weeks in a row. Looks like he's getting the hang of Mike Sullivan's offense and it shows. Ponder? Threw for 58 yards last week? We can only wish.
Will Percy Harvin hurt the Bucs tonight?
Advantage: Buccaneers, big advantage.
Running backs: Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount vs. Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart.
Seriously? Don't let Blount anywhere near first, second or third and short. Doesn't matter, goal line, any line, he's a slow-accelerating dump truck. Won't hurt anyone off the line, can only do damage when he's at full speed, which isn't that often this year. Martin's doing fine, improving each week and would need a big game tonight.
What can you say about Peterson? Total, absolute beast, complete runner, lethal weapon. Gerhart is solid.
Advantage: Vikings, big advantage.
Receivers: Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams vs. Jerome Simpson, Percy Harvin.
Tough call here. V-Jax and Williams are coming up huge, but Harvin is a one-man wrecking machine.
Will Adrian Peterson rush for 100 yards or more?
Tight ends: Dallas Clark vs. Kyle Rudolph.
Clark is getting more looks from Freeman. With the attention being paid to V-Jax and Williams as well as Tiquan Underwood, that's going to free him up.
Offensive line: Donald Penn (LT), Carl Nicks (LG), Jeremy Zuttah (C), Jamon Meredith (RG), Demar Dotson (RT) vs. Matt Kalil (LT), Charlie Johnson (LG), John Sullivan (C), Brandon Fusco (RG), Phil Loadholt (RT).
Tough call here. Not sure there's a clear advantage for either team.
Can the Bucs come up with a pass rush?
Defensive line: Michael Bennett (LDE), Gerald McCoy (DT), Roy Miller (DT), Daniel Te'o Neisham (RDE) vs. Brian Robison (LDE), Kevin Williams (DT), Letroy Guion (NT), Jared Allen (RDE).
Can't wait to watch the Donald Penn-Jared Allen combat. Should be right out of MMA.
The New Orleans game showed how the Buc's unit is really starting to miss Adrian Clayborn.
Linebackers: Lavonte David (WLB), Mason Foster (MLB), Quincy Black (SLB) vs. Chad Greenway (SLB), Jasper Brinkley (MLB), Erin Henderson (WLB).
Haven't seen anyone playing better than either David or Foster this season.
Advantage: Tampa Bay.
Secondary: E.J. Biggers (LCB), Eric Wright (RCB), Ronde Barber (FS), Mark Barron (SS) vs. Antoine Winfield (LCB), Chris Cook (RCB), Mistral Raymond (SS), Harrison Smith (FS).
The Buccaneers secondary has an advantage over NO ONE.
Vikings love Smith out of Notre Dame. Tampa folks get a chance to see former USF Bull Mistral Raymond.
Mike Koenin (P), Connor Barth (K), Roscoe Parrish (PR), Arrelious Benn (KR) vs. Chris Kluwe (P), Blair Walsh (K), Marcus Sherels (PR), Percy Harvin (KR).
Koenin's job is to kick it through the end zone. Harvin's simply dangerous.
Field goals may play a big factor in this game and Barth is big.
Advantage: Tampa Bay, slight advantage.
There you have it folks. Tough nut for the Bucs to crack.
Minnesota 24, Tampa Bay 20.
Breaking News: Buccaneers activate Da'Quan Bowers, he'll play tonight.