As we embark on the 55th meeting between the former NFC Central foes, we’ll break down some key stats on how the our Bucs can siege those purple Norseman in the new “Metro Dome”.
Most analysts, including Vegas oddsmakers, fully believe Sam Bradford starting or not will be the difference. But here in Tampa, I know we vividly remember what Vikings backup Case Keenum did to us last season in the Rams game at the Pirate Ship. Now, a full year later and a different team could play out differently; but one thing is for sure, if Keenum starts he will be a very confident QB against this defense.
The real story of the 2017 Vikings is the fantastic start for 2nd round pick RB Dalvin Cook who is playing with not a chip on his shoulder, but a boulder after slipping down to the 41st pick. DC Mike Smith this week called Cook a ” a real game wrecker.” The FSU product is already 3rd in football in touches at 39 with 34 carries for an extraordinary 5.6 ypc. He has already ripped off two 30+ yard runs as well displaying the explosiveness. If it’s Keenum going on Sunday, expect a heavy dose of Cook with possibly a few appearances from the Raiders 2016 TD machine Latavious Murray in short yardage situations.
Cook’s offensive running mate, WR Adam Theilen, has really surprised the NFL at how consistent he is since his emergence last year working with Bradford. Whichever QB, Theilen, and his 16 targets, is the #1 wide out with a few looks to speedster Stefon Diggs to stretch the defense over the top. But the spotlight for the Bucs defense will be #19 and his NFC best 201 receiving yards through two games.
Mike Smith’s defense will look to continue to dominate the turnover battle as they did against the Bears with 4 first half turnovers. Smith talked about his weekly goals for this squad, “…we try to have a goal defensively. We try to get one fumble recovery and two interceptions a game. That’s what we shoot for.”
Offensively, the Bucs will look to repeatedly attack Vikings CB Trae Waynes; presumably with the taller Mike Evans after the Steeler’s Martavis Bryant abused him last Sunday with a 51 yard catch a 49 yard pass interference. Waynes, since about mid season last year, is the most targeted Vikes defender on the field. Jameis’ former FSU teamate, CB Xavier Rhodes, is a solid corner on the other side and will generally be avoided in favor of attacking Waynes. Interesting enough, as good and physical as Minnesota is under Mike Zimmer and DC George Edwards, they are 1 of 3 teams in football without a defensive turnover and have given up 45 points; with only 3 tds through the air though and nothing over 30 yards.