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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Buccaneers?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings (1-1) are set to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. The Vikings, who will once again be led by Case Keenum, are coming off a loss to Pittsburgh while the Bucs cruised to a win over the Chicago Bears. How do the two teams match up? Let’s have a look…

Quarterback

Bucs will test Vikings’ secondary with deep passing game

Jameis Winston has had a promising start to his career, clearing 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. But he is still prone to young-QB mistakes. Last year Winston threw the second most interceptions in the NFL and he threw the fifth most in his rookie year. In part, his high INT rate is due to a downfield passing offense, but Winston still has a tendency to throw into coverage when he should play it safe.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said this about Winston on Monday:

“He’s a very talented guy, very strong arm, moves well in the pocket, gets out of the pocket and he makes big plays, he’s looking to throw the ball down the field. He’s got two excellent receivers, actually he’s got a few guys. I think he believes he make every throw and sometimes he’s going to take his opportunities to throw it.”

The Bucs have stacked up weapons around Winston in the form of DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans and OJ Howard, giving them one of the most dangerous deep passing games in the NFL.

As for the Vikings, Case Keenum will get the start again with Sam Bradford on the shelf with a knee injury. Keenum’s limitations were on display last week against Pittsburgh, but a bounce-back performance of some sort is likely. According to ESPN’s QBR statistic, Keenum’s game against the Steelers was the fourth worst of his last 18. Still, the Vikings will need to provide Keenum with help in order to beat Tampa Bay.

Advantage: Bucs

Running backs

Tampa Bay’s running game struggled nearly as much as Minnesota’s did last year, but they appear to have improved by using the combo of Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber. The Bucs ran for 117 yards to open the year against the Bears. Also, Rodgers can be a threat in the passing game, having cleared 50 receptions twice during his time with the Atlanta Falcons.

In his first two weeks, Dalvin Cook has looked like a star, ranking fifth in the NFL in total yards and third in yards per carry. The Vikings would like to get him going earlier in the game than they did last week, when he ran just six times for three yards in the first half. Cook can also make an impact in the passing game, but has struggled to catch the ball in the first two games.

Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray haven’t been major parts of the offense through two weeks. It’s possible we will see more plays set up for McKinnon. Whether Murray gets many touches at any point this year is questionable.

Advantage: Vikings

Wide receivers/tight ends

Can Trae Waynes atone for slow start by stopping DeSean Jackson?

Tampa Bay might have the best set of receivers/tight ends in the NFL. Mike Evans has emerged as one of the 10 best receivers in the league, picking up 96 catches last season. At 6-foot-5, he is incredibly difficult to defend. The addition of DeSean Jackson, the league’s premier deep threat over the last decade, makes Tampa Bay’s downfield passing game even more threatening.

But it doesn’t end there for the Bucs. OJ Howard was the top tight end prospect in the NFL draft this year and fellow TE Cameron Bate caught 57 passes last season. Jameis Winston has great options no matter where he looks.

With Case Keenum under center for the Vikings, it’s difficult for receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to be as dangerous as they would be if Sam Bradford was playing quarterback, but the Vikings’ 1A and 1B receivers give their backup QB a chance to succeed by consistently finding ways to get open on both underneath and deep routes. We haven’t yet seen much from Laquon Treadwell or Jarius Wright, so Thielen and Diggs will likely have to carry the complete load until Michael Floyd returns – though Kyle Rudolph has gotten off to a solid start with seven catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Offensive line

Since Tampa Bay requires deep drops from their QB, their offensive lineman have a difficult task in slowing edge rushers for five or seven-step drops. Left tackle Donovan Smith has ranked toward the bottom of tackles in the NFL by Pro Football Focus metrics all three years he’s been in the league, which could be an advantage for Vikings DE Everson Griffen. Center Ali Marpet is very big (6-foot-4, 307-pounds) for his position, which should make for a good matchup against Linval Joseph.

For the Vikings, their O-line has been better than last year, but D-lineman Cameron Heyward gave them all sorts of problems last week. Can Nick Easton have a bounce-back game against Gerald McCoy? That’s a tall task. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will need to find a way to give Easton help. The Vikings’ tackles have mostly held up, but quicker edge rushers tend to give Mike Remmers problems. We may see blitzes off the edge from linebackers on his side.

Advantage: Draw

Defensive line

Gerald McCoy, a five-time Pro Bowler, is about as good as it gets for three-technique DTs. He is massive, powerful, quick and smart. The rest of Tampa Bay’s D-line is less impressive. Noah Spence had 5.5 sacks last year and may improve this season, but William Gholston isn’t a huge threat as he’s picked up just six sacks over the last two years as a starter.

There aren’t many teams who can match the Vikings up front and Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph showed that last week. Griffen dominated his man for a pair of sacks and several more pressures and hits on Ben Roethlisberger while Joseph has dominated his matchup each of the last two weeks, making it difficult for opponents to rush up the middle. Danielle Hunter is looking for his first breakout game this year, which could be on the way against the Bucs.

Advantage: Vikings

Linebackers

Under the radar: Buccaneers’ linebacker Lavonte David presents problems for Vikings

With Kwon Alexander out, the Bucs are weakened. Alexander is extremely quick (4.55 40-yard dash) and can make plays in coverage, as evidenced by his INT last week. Still, Tampa Bay will use star LB Lavonte David to rush the passer. He might be one of the most underappreciated players at his position in the NFL.

If the Vikings get the same Anthony Barr that showed up last week against the Steelers, they will be a nightmare for opposing offenses. Barr tracked Le’Veon Bell in coverage at times, blitzed the quarterback and shredded blocks to make plays in the running game. If Barr stays on track, his play combined with the consistency of Eric Kendricks could make Vikings’ linebackers even more effective than they were in 2015.

Advantage: Vikings

Corners/safeties

With Brent Grimes hampered by a shoulder injury, the Bucs could be in for a long day if Case Keenum has time to throw. Even with the addition of TJ Ward to their secondary, Tampa Bay still has weaknesses. Chris Conte, who was once a quality player for the Bears, hasn’t been good for several years and corner Vernon Hargreaves struggled last season, allowing 9.7 yards per attempt according to Football Outsiders. He was also the most targeted corner in the NFL in 2016.

No rest for Xavier Rhodes as he will likely match up against Mike Evans. He was able to slow Antonio Brown last week, but Evans presents a much different challenge with his size. The matchup to watch is DeSean Jackson vs. Trae Waynes. The first two weeks have been forgettable for Waynes, but he’s the Vikings’ fastest corner and gives them the best chance against the blazing-fast Jackson. Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo will also be tested by Winston on downfield throws.

Advantage: Vikings

The post Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Buccaneers? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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