The Vikings will travel south looking for a turnaround this week and will face former NFC Central rival Tampa Bay on Sunday at noon. The Buccaneers enter the week at 1-5 and coming off a bye, while the Vikings enter at 2-5 and off three consecutive losses.
Let's take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Buccaneers prepare to battle.
1. Vikings Pass Rush Looks to Stay HotThe Vikings have gotten after opposing quarterbacks in 2014 and the defensive line in particular has been hot over the past two games. Entering Week 8, the Vikings rank sixth in sacks with 20, a total that includes 10 sacks over the past two weeks against Detroit and Buffalo. Of those 10 sacks, 9.0 have come from the defensive line, and of the 20 for the season, 16 have come from the front four. Everson Griffen had 3.0 sacks last week in Buffalo, has a sack in three consecutive games and leads the NFL over the past nine games with 9.5 sacks. Also, DT Tom Johnson has a career high 4.0 sacks through his first seven games as a Viking.
2. Buccaneers Getting Healthy After Bye WeekThe Buccaneers enter this week's contest against the Vikings coming off a bye. Their off week came at a much needed time because it allowed several key players to make progress in their return from injuries. According to Tampa Tribune NFL Writer Ira Kaufman, two starting members of the Buccaneers secondary returned to practice after missing some time – CB Johnthan Banks and S Dashon Goldson. Their return to the lineup would be welcome news for a Buccaneers defense that currently ranks 32nd in passer rating allowed, 31st in passing yards per attempt allowed and tied for 29th in passing touchdowns allowed. Also returning to practice on Monday for the Buccaneers was QB Josh McCown, who hasn't played since he tore a ligament in his thumb against Atlanta in Week 3.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Buccaneers.
3. Tall Task: Defending Tampa Bay WRs Mike Evans and Vincent JacksonAssuming both are able to play on Sunday, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson pose as a good challenge for the Vikings defense. One is young but has been quick to adapt to the pro game (Evans), and one is a veteran but is still explosive and productive (Jackson). Both are big targets for whoever lines up under center against the Vikings on Sunday. Evans measures in at 6-5, 231 pounds and Jackson is 6-5, 230 pounds. The Vikings don't have an unusually small set of defensive backs by any stretch, but receivers of this height will have a size advantage over any NFL secondary. The good news is the Vikings secondary has been much improved in 2014, and the top three cornerbacks (Captain Munnerlyn, Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes) have combined for 16 pass breakups through just seven games.
It's interesting to note that in going against Evans this week, the Vikings will have faced the 2014 draft class' top two receivers (Sammy Watkins – No. 4 overall, Evans – No. 7 overall) in consecutive weeks.
4. A Turnaround in Tampa?The 2-5 start to the season is not what the Vikings had envisioned, but the team has continued to fight hard through early-season adversity and this week they have a chance to spark a turnaround in Tampa Bay. If the Vikings can stave off a tough challenge in Tampa Bay get back on the winning track this weekend, they'll have an opportunity to inch another game closer to .500 next week as they return home for their final game before a Week 10 bye. With no team yet to run away with the NFC North and with the three other division teams all on the road this week and on a bye next week, a 4-5 record for the Vikings coming out of their bye along with a pair of division games against Chicago and Green Bay on the docket gives the Vikings a puncher's chance.
5. Lovie Smith, Leslie Frazier are Familiar FoesWhen the Vikings look across the field to the home sideline on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, they will see a couple of familiar faces patrolling the sidelines. Tampa Bay's Defensive Coordinator is Leslie Frazier, who was with the Vikings from 2007-13 serving first as defensive coordinator and then as head coach. While with the Vikings, Frazier helped the team to two division titles as defensive coordinator and also a 10-6 record and Wild Card berth as head coach. Frazier joined the Buccaneers staff and is working under head coach Lovie Smith, who was coach of the division rival Chicago Bears from 2004-12 and authored a record of 11-7 against the Vikings in that time.