NFL Preview - Minnesota (2-5) at Tampa Bay (1-5)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - It's a blast from the past for the Minnesota Vikings this week as the Norsemen will travel to Central Florida to take on their old NFC Central division rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Vikes will also be matching up with their former head coach Leslie Frazier, who is now the defensive coordinator for the Bucs. Frazier mentored the Vikings from 2007-2013, including serving as Minnesota's head coach from 2011-13. He compiled an underwhelming 21-32-1 mark and was jettisoned after a 5-10-1 record in 2013.
"It will be interesting," Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Obviously I've been with the guy for a long time and I have a lot of respect for him as a man and as a coach. It will be fun to play against, to compete against him."
Frazier might be feeling good about getting out when he did, as new Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer has had to deal with some serious issues, including the child abuse allegations that have banished star running back Adrian Peterson and a season-ending foot injury to starting quarterback Matt Cassel. Heck, Zimmer himself has even been dealing with kidney stone issues over the past few weeks.
The pain of those stones was likely nothing compared to the heartache of a last-second loss at Buffalo last weekend, though.
Kyle Orton found Sammy Watkins for a 2- yard touchdown with one second left to lift the Bills to a 17-16 win over the visiting Vikings.
The prospect of the Bills winning appeared dim when Orton was sacked at the Buffalo 40 on third down inside the two-minute warning. However, the veteran quarterback converted a 4th-and-20 with a 24-yard pass to Scott Chandler.
Orton later hit Chris Hogan near the sideline at the 2 for 28 yards before spiking the ball to stop the clock with five seconds remaining. Orton then connected to Watkins in the front left corner of the end zone, and Dan Carpenter made the decisive extra point.
The Bills overcame four turnovers and the loss of running backs Fred Jackson (groin) and C.J. Spiller (collarbone).
Minnesota rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, making his first road start, was 15-of-26 for just 157 yards. He threw his first touchdown pass, but was also picked off twice by Leodis McKelvin in the Vikings' third straight loss.
Zimmer said his team "didn't get the job done" and that they "have to continue to learn when we get in these situations."
A bright spot for the Vikings was Jerick McKinnon. The rookie rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries against a Buffalo defense that entered Week 7 leading the NFL in allowing 67.5 yards per game on the ground.
The Bucs, meanwhile, are coming off their bye week and likely needed the extra time to forget what Joe Flacco did to them in Week 6.
The Ravens' QB threw for a career-high five touchdowns in a near-flawless performance that propelled Baltimore to a 48-17 rout over Tampa Bay. Flacco ended each of Baltimore's first five possessions with scoring strikes as the Ravens roared out to a 38-0 halftime lead.
Mike Glennon put up a personal-best 314 yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-44 passing for the Buccaneers, though most of the damage came with the outcome already decided in the second half. The second-year quarterback was intercepted once and sacked five times while under heavy pressure for much of the game.
"The bottom line, the Ravens played better than us," said Glennon. "There's nothing else really to say. They out-executed us, they outplayed us and obviously the score showed it."
Louis Murphy had seven catches totaling 72 yards and a touchdown in the lopsided defeat, with Mike Evans recording four receptions for 55 yards and garnering Glennon's other TD pass.
The Vikings and Buccaneers, who played in the same division from 1977 through 2001, have played 53 times overall with Minnesota holding a 31-22-0 series record. Tampa Bay, however, has won six straight and Minnesota has never won in Raymond James Stadium.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
In Bridgewater's first career start, the Vikings totaled 558 yards of offense versus Atlanta, the third most in the NFL in 2014 and the fourth most in team history.
Things have hit the skids since as the Louisville product has struggled behind an offensive line that was perceived as a strength before the season started. Left tackle Matt Kalil has been the key culprit, regressing rapidly from his Pro Bowl form of 2012.
Injuries have also been a concern as right guard Brandon Fusco was lost for the season to a torn pectoral muscle and center John Sullivan (concussion) and guard Vladimir Ducasse (knee) -- Fusco's replacement -- went down against Buffalo.
The Vikings expect Sullivan back in Tampa and Ducasse may be able to go but no matter who lines up in front of Bridgewater, they have to do a better job because the rookie's confidence is eroding rapidly as he gets punished further each and every week.
"I think they should both be fine," Zimmer said. "(Sullivan) has passed his first protocol test or whatever, so I would assume that he would be fine."
The continued development of McKinnon and the running game is also necessary. McKinnon had his second career 100-yard game against the NFL's top rushing defense at Buffalo and is third in the NFL, averaging 5.2 yards per rush.
Overall Minnesota is mustering just 309.1 yards per offense but the Bucs defense have struggled mightily while trying to implement the cover-2 defense favored by Lovie Smith and Frazier. Tampa Bay is surrendering an ugly 422.8 ypg so if the Vikings can't get it going against the Bucs, it's time to start worrying.
Conversely the Minnesota stop unit has been much-improved under Zimmer as expected, allowing 337.9 ypg. It's still a work in progress, though, as evidenced by the late-game implosion against the Bills and the trouble getting off the field at times, something that reminds Vikings fans of the struggles in the Frazier regime.
Certain individuals have performed well. Defensive end Everson Griffen is tied for second in the NFL with seven sacks after matching a career-high with three against the Bills, while safety Harrison Smith is third in the NFL with three interceptions.
The Bucs offense has been even worse than Minnesota's, amassing 306.8 ypg and their biggest attribute may be the element of surprise as veteran QB Josh McCown practiced for the first time since injuring his right thumb in Week 3.
Smith has been coy to this point about who will go against the Vikings although Glennon certainly has outplayed McCown this season.
"We'll see how the week goes," Smith said. "As soon as we feel like (McCown's) fully ready to play, he'll have a role with us. I don't see it that way (having a quarterback controversy) at all. We have two quarterbacks. You might say that. ... I don't say that at all. Guys know where they stand (with) the rotation that we have."
The Vikings haven't won in Tampa since the days of the Big Sombrero (Tampa Stadium) and seem to invent ways to lose on a weekly basis. Fourth-and-20?
Furthermore, it's hard to pick a rookie QB to win on the road until you have actually seen him do it.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Buccaneers 23, Vikings 16
10/26 07:23:01 ET