Week 8: Tampa Bay Bucs At Minnesota Vikings
- QuarterbackJosh Freeman is a much better quarterback this year than he was in 2011. Head coach Greg Schiano has worked with this talented performer and gotten him to focus on each play and that has allowed him to perform with much greater consistency. Freeman threw three TD passes in the Week Seven loss to the Saints and was not overwhelmed by having to play come-from-behind football.The Vikings are one of the great surprises of the season as they continue to play with the big dogs in the NFC North. Christian Ponder was playing quite well earlier in the year, but he is clearly in game manager mode as the season moves towards its midpoint. Ponder was just 8-of-17 for 58 yards in against the Cardinals, but that was good enough to get the Vikings the victory.
- OffenseThe Bucs have proved to be quite effective on offense. While they have the weapons to pound the ball with LaGarette Blount and Doug Martin, they can move the ball quite effectively through the air. Vincent Jackson is their primary receiver and he was huge against the Saints. However, they also have the perfect complementary receiver in tight end Dallas Clark.The Vikings are going to live and die with the running game. Adrian Peterson is probably the most naturally gifted power back in the league and he is playing at or near the top of his game this season. Percy Harvin is a big-play receiver who is dependable when the Vikings need a big catch to keep drives alive. The offensive line has been fairly solid.
- DefenseThe Bucs play hard on defense, but they make a lot of mistakes. The secondary is often out of position and they have a hard time staying with receivers. The Bucs gave up 377 passing yards and four TDs to Drew Brees and the Saints, and that’s a huge issue for this team. However, they may fall behind but they don’t give up. Defensive back Eric Wright had eight tackles vs. New Orleans.The Vikings have established themselves as one of the most physical defenses in the league. They did that with an early season win over the San Francisco 49ers. Defensive end Jared Allen sets the tone and he is coming off a 2.0 sack performance in the win over the Cardinals. Defensive back Harrison Smith had a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown against Arizona and is aware in coverage.
- Special TeamsConnor Barth has been decent as a kicker for the Bucs, but he missed his only attempt in the loss to the Saints. Michael Koenen is a dependable punter and can place the ball fairly well. The Bucs have not been happy with their punt- and kickoff-return teams.The Vikings are not going to lose the special teams battle very often. Harvin is a spectacular return man and he can take advantage of any lapse in coverage. Blair Walsh has made 16-of-17 field goal attempts this year and Chris Kluwe is averaging a dependable 44.9 yards on his punts.
The Vikings have exceeded all expectations to this point in the season and headcoach Leslie Frazier has this team playing with calmness and confidence. The key is the continued productivity of the ground game. As long as Adrian Peterson is healthy, that takes pressure off quarterback Christian Ponder and also keeps the Vikings defense from getting overworked.