What are some of the matchups the Buccaneers must expose in order to get to .500?
And, no, I will not mention Adrian Peterson because as we all know—you can't stop Peterson. You can only attempt to slow him down. If the Bucs couldn't control Lions' running back Jahvid Best, what chance do they have against Peterson?
But I will entertain three matchups the Buccaneers must gain the upper-hand on. If not, 0-2 may be in the not-so-distant future.
Biggest cliche in all of football, right? But it consistently holds true.
The Buccaneers were thoroughly exposed against the Lions on both the offensive line and defensive line—neither steady during the entire game.
For the offensive line, the running lanes were rarely open, and the pass protection was subpar. The Vikings' front four are just as good, if not better than the Lions' defensive line, and they get home-field advantage with an extremely loud crowd to back them—making it more difficult for the Bucs' offensive line to hear cadences and the snap count.
The Chargers fought to run the football against the Vikings—continually grinding the ball throughout the close contest but to little avail. The Vikings held Mike Tolbert and Ryan Matthews to 24 carries for 80 yards. But the Chargers kept running.
Tampa Bay has to do the same. If the game's close and they happen to abandon the run, it could be a long one.
As for the defensive line, I blame bad luck. The front four played with violence and tenacity but were unable to sack quarterback Matthew Stafford once during the loss.
Minnesota's offensive line is good, but they're not what they used to be—allowing quarterback Donovan McNabb to get sacked twice and pressured a few more times. Gerald McCoy doesn't have to worry about the heat with an indoor stadium, and this may be his chance to finally break out.
As previously mentioned, there is no stopping Peterson, but the Bucs' defensive line has to play solid gap control and carry out their responsibilities to slow him down.
McNabb was 7-of-15 for 39 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception last week.
No defense should be terrified with those stats, but the Buccaneers secondary didn't exactly look good, allowing 305 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Who's licking their chops here? McNabb or the Bucs' secondary?
Tampa Bay can't let this be McNabb's coming out party, but with the defense focusing on Peterson and his ability to turn any short gain into a house-call, cornerback's Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber need to be sharp.
Safeties Sean Jones and Cody Grimm will be asked to stack the box in order to contain Peterson, but both will need to be vigilant and identify the play-action fake quickly in order to help the corners.
Expect NcNabb to throw more deep balls and challenge the Bucs' secondary. The Buccaneers cannot be caught guessing on defense.
The tight end is a young quarterback's best friend, and Josh Freeman found Kellen Winslow six times for 66 yards against the Lions.
Although he makes everyone look bad, Charger's Antonio Gates caught eight passes for 74 yards against the Vikings, which helped Matthews and Tolbert find receiving lanes with room to run out in the flats.
The Bucs haven't allowed LeGarrette Blount to showcase his pass-catching skills yet, but they may have to, especially if the Vikings are concentrated on Winslow.
Winslow has to get involved early and often in order to free up Mike Williams as well as assist in the running game.
He has the kind of game to open the offense up, and being underdogs on the road sets up a big-game moment for Winslow.
Freeman tends to play well on the road in high-pressure situations, and the offense will eventually get it together, but it's the defense that ought to concern Bucs fans this week against the Vikings.
Peterson will get his yards.
But the Bucs' defense has to dictate the pace of the game.
24-20, Tampa Bay