Tale of the tape: Buccaneers at Vikings
The Bucs roll into Minnesota for what promises to be a physical affair against the Vikings in this week's installment of Thursday Night Football. Take a look at how this matchup breaks down in all three facets of the game with our tale of the tape:
The Bucs offense has exploded over the last two weeks, putting up a combined 66 points against the Chiefs and Saints. Of course, both of those performances came at home and at the expense of two struggling defenses. They'll face a much stiffer test on the road against a stout Vikings defense Thursday night. Bucs QB Josh Freeman has thrown six touchdown passes over the last two games while rookie RB Doug Martin found the end zone for only the second time this season against New Orleans last week. Offseason acquisition Vincent Jackson has been the star of the offense, hauling in four touchdown catches over the last three weeks.
Minnesota's offense relied heavily on RB Adrian Peterson last Sunday, as QB Christian Ponder was only able to complete 47 percent of his passes for a miserable 58 yards. The sophomore pivot has now thrown exactly two interceptions in three consecutive games. To make matters worse, he's nursing a sore knee heading into this contest. But can an already conservative offense really be scaled back all that much? It won't be a surprise if Peterson remains the focal point of the offense Thursday, as the issues in the Vikes’ passing game aren't likely to be fixed in a short week.
Edge: Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay has alternated good and bad performances on the defensive side of the football this season. So, after giving up 35 points in a losing effort last Sunday, one would assume it would bring its “A” game Thursday night. The Bucs are giving up an ugly 6.3 yards per play on the season and have really struggled against the pass, allowing nearly 13 yards per completion. Corner Aqib Talib's suspension has left a gaping hole in the secondary and his absence was certainly felt last Sunday, as the Bucs were ripped for 377 yards and four touchdowns against Drew Brees and the Saints. They'll need their pass rush to relieve the pressure on the secondary this week.
The strength of the Vikings defense remains up front, as they come into this game averaging over three sacks per contest. Their explosive pass rush has helped limit opposing offenses to a weak 5.9 yards per pass attempt. Last Sunday, the Vikes forced a pair of key turnovers against the Cardinals, including an interception they took to the house - ultimately proving to be the difference in the 21-14 victory. They're giving up just a shade over 14 points per game at the Metrodome, where they're a perfect 3-0 SU on the season.
Tampa Bay's return game has struggled for the most part, averaging only 6.5 yards per punt return and 20.1 yards on kickoffs. Without a proven return man (Arrelious Benn and Roscoe Parrish have been sharing the duties), that shouldn't come as a surprise. The Bucs have been terrific at holding opposing returners in check, giving up just slightly north of 21 yards per kickoff return, but will face a big challenge in the form of the electric Percy Harvin Thursday. Tampa Bay kicker Connor Barth has been steady since entering the league and has made good on 10 of his 12 field goal attempts so far this season.
The Vikings are a load to handle on special teams with speedsters Percy Harvin and Marcus Sherels capable of taking it to the house every time they touch the football. They're currently gaining well above the league average at 12.3 yards per punt return and 29.9 yards per kickoff return. On the flip side, they've had a tough time defending kickoffs in particular, allowing 31.7 yards per return. Rookie kicker Blair Walsh has been terrific for the Vikes, converting 16 of 17 field goal attempts. They also boast a quality, veteran punter in Chris Kluwe.
Word on the street
"Again, we're sitting here, what are we, 2-4 now? And we're saying this old song and dance. That's the way it is. Until we get it changed, until we find a way to change it, close but no cigar." - Bucs head coach Greg Schiano on the frustration of dropping another close game against the Saints last Sunday.
"That's what we want to pride ourselves on, being the toughest team, the most physical team. We were able to come out today and do that, we just have to keep doing that going forward." - Vikings DE Brian Robison speaking about the seven sacks they recorded against the Cardinals last Sunday.