The Vikings square off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Daniel House provides five areas of emphasis to watch for during the game.
Updated: October 25th, 2014 9:25pm
By: Daniel House
The Vikings are looking to bounce back after dropping three consecutive matchups. Tomorrow, they will have a chance to rebound against a team that is in a very similar position. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 2-5 and have lost their last two contests. Their defense has had their share of patchy stretches and has surrendered 30 points or more in three of their last four games. The Vikings have faced the opposite issues and their offense has been the critical problem over the last few contests. In each of their last three games, they have been unable to score over 20 points per game. Tampa Bay hasn't won a game at home this season and their lone win came during a late game comeback over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They are allowing 34 points per game, which is the lowest mark in the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This sounds all too familiar to Vikings fans who watched Leslie Frazier's defense perform over the last two years in Minnesota. The Vikings defense has dramatically reversed roles this season and have surrendered just 17 points over their last two games. In addition, they are currently ranked 13th in the league in total defense. Last year, they were ranked 31st in this category and are showing steadfast performance at the midway point of the season. Now, the offense needs to get into a rhythm against a Tampa Bay defense that hasn't performed at a high level in 2014.
Getting into a groove on offense
The Vikings offense has been anemic, ranking 29th in yards per game and their 17.1 points per game marks; their lowest average since 1979. More importantly, they've accumulated a measly 29 points and eight turnovers during the three-game losing streak. The Vikings need to jump on a Bucs defense that has awarded an extremely high volume of points. This will happen by completing short and intermediate passes that ultimately will take the top off the defense. The running game has been improved, but the offense hasn't been able to convert on third-and-long situations. Much of this issue has been attributed to poor offensive line play, but Teddy Bridgewater has displayed his fair share of rookie pains. Playing mistake free and sustaining drives is one of the major areas the Vikings offense needs to build confidence from. The Tampa Bay defense is nothing special and Minnesota needs to take advantage of this.
Jerick McKinnon has been showing some growth over the last three games and last week he provided the lone spark to the Vikings offense. He registered nine carries for 103 yards against Buffalo, which was ranked as the the league's top rush defense entering the game. In addition, the Vikings are the only team to record more than 100 yards against the Bills. This is a big statement for McKinnon and it is encouraging to see him developing better vision to add with his athleticism. The Bucs run defense is allowing the eighth-most yards per game to opposing running backs this season. McKinnon needs to be running to the edge, while continuing to grow as a runner between the tackles.
The offensive line has been a sieve and just one team has allowed more sacks to opposing defensive lines than the Minnesota Vikings. 19 of these sacks have come over the last three games and the poor pass protection has directly impacted the performance of the entire offense. The Bucs have registered just nine sacks this season and have been unable to put any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Vikings offensive line needs to show they have taken every measure necessary to fixing all of their problems. The perfect opportunity to gain confidence is against an opponent that hasn't been able to provide any pressure this season. On the other hand, this could also lead to a demoralizing game for a unit that has easily been the most disappointing position group this season.
Pressure the QB
Everson Griffen notched three sacks last week and the Vikings recorded a season-high six takedowns in the process. The Vikings have registered two 3+ sacks performances in each of their last two games and appear to be returning to normal form as a unit. The Tampa Bay defense has allowed multiple sack performances in three games this season and awarded a whopping five sacks to the Baltimore Ravens last week. Mike Zimmer has been dialing up more stunts that involve Griffen and Sharrif Floyd, along with Anthony Barr on certain packages. These have yielded positive results and the Vikings defense has been producing well up front over the last two weeks of play.
Not allowing the big play and finishing the game
The Vikings defense couldn't finish the game last week and blew a late lead by awarding a last-second touchdown. Leading up to the final play, the defense allowed the Bills to convert on 4th-and-20. Minnesota has one of the best conversions rates when getting off the field on third down, but their most timely lapses have came during critical portions of the game. This team is very inexperienced and they need to learn how to close games with more discipline. They have been performing well throughout the game, but as I said last week, one or two plays can dictate the entire game. This is a habit that this group needs to break and it will take time for results to show on the field every week.