MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were unable to keep opponents from effectively running the ball against them last year.
They’re about to get an early season test to see if they’ve made much progress.
“The big-boy pads, you have to put them on this week,” Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib said.
Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings are on the schedule Sunday, and if their first game is even a slight indication of what they’re going to be like as an offense, Peterson will be carrying a heavy load.
The Buccaneers gave up 125 yards on the ground last week, after finishing 28th out of 32 in the league in yards rushing allowed last season.
Donovan McNabb mustered 39 yards passing for Minnesota last Sunday at San Diego, under pressure in the pocket and unable to find many open receivers down the field. Peterson rushed for 98 yards on 16 attempts, but that wasn’t enough.
Talib, at least, didn’t sound convinced that McNabb’s paltry total was a sign.
“He’s got a real good running game now. He doesn’t have to throw the ball as much. Feed Adrian Peterson. They’re usually pretty successful when they do that,” Talib said.
As long as he has room to run.
The Vikings went 0-3 last year when Peterson had 25 carries or more, though those defeats were attributable to turnovers by quarterback Brett Favre and costly defensive lapses. But pounding Peterson into the line and trusting he’ll find space to break free one out of every five times is not a formula for success. That requires balance, enough of a variety of plays and a timeliness of the calls, to keep the defense from digging those heels in and getting too comfortable and confident.
The kind of balance McNabb, Peterson, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and the rest of the Vikings were unable to strike in the season-opening 24-17 loss to the Chargers. McNabb completed one of six passes in the second half, with the Chargers daring them to throw and stacking the line to try to slow Peterson, who gained 22 yards on seven attempts after halftime.
Since they drafted him in the first round in 2007, the Vikings have made no secret of their wish to make Peterson the fulcrum of their offense. But McNabb insisted the Vikings were not too predictable last week, despite the fact they followed five different first downs in that game with a sequence of either run-run-pass-punt or run-pass-pass-punt.
“Everyone expects us to hand the ball off to Adrian, but there are plays in this offense and things that we can do — and that we will do,” McNabb said, adding: “We just have to get back to doing what we were doing in the preseason. We have to get guys involved and give them opportunities to make big plays. We need to sustain our run game, which opens up a lot of things in our play-action game.”
Sounds simple enough, but the Vikings must prove they’ve got enough speed down the field and ability to protect the passer on the line to make their strategy work for them — and not against them.
All around the NFL last week, quarterbacks were zinging passes left, right and over the middle — to the point where a 300-yard game looked rather average. The trend toward a pass-first league that began a couple of years ago gained even more steam.
The Vikings, even when they had Favre the last two seasons, haven’t wavered from their run-first approach, though.
“Running the ball is a great way to remain balanced,” Musgrave said succinctly, “and is tough to beat.”
The Buccaneers have their own balance issues after handing the ball to LeGarrette Blount only five times in last week’s home loss to Detroit.
They trailed at halftime, and coach Raheem Morris decided to turn to the hurry-up offense for the entire second half. Blount isn’t part of that package or in the game much on third downs because he’s still learning pass-protection schemes, so he became a non-factor.
Josh Freeman is part of their running game, too, as one of only four quarterbacks in the NFL since the start of the 2009 season who have rushed for more than 500 yards. Freeman put the onus on himself for reviving what became a stagnant offense last week against the Lions.
“Ultimately I’m the guy who calls the plays, gets the guys up to the line and pushes the tempo,” Freeman said. “Whatever we’ve got to change, it has to start with me.”
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