In every NFL matchup, there are a seemingly endless amount of angles to analyze. It's hard to get to them all during the week of practice, and I'm sure there were some that slipped through the cracks despite all of the Vikings vs. Buccaneers preview content we provided on vikings.com this week.
With kickoff fast approaching, here are a few final thoughts on today's Vikings-Buccaneers contest.
How to Take in Today's Game Game Time: 12:00 p.m. CT TV:FOXRadio:Vikings Radio Network; KFAN-FM 100.3/KTCN-AM 1130Mobile:NFL Mobile (exclusively on Verizon)
Vikings ready to run on the road?Did the Vikings running game get back on track last week in Buffalo? The Vikings ran the ball 29 times for 158 yards against the top-ranked Bills run defense and with two backups along the offensive line for much of the game, so it's easy to argue that something may be brewing in the running game. The Vikings may be wise to try to pick up where they left off today. Tampa Bay's defense ranks 25th in rushing yards allowed per game, while the Vikings offense ranks 10th in that same category and seventh in both total rushing yards and yards per carry.
Outside of a barrage of turnovers and easy scores early, there is nothing that demoralizes a team like running the ball down their throats, particularly at home. Don't be surprised if there is a heavy dose of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon early.
A spark on special teams?All three phases of the Vikings have played well at times this season, and the Vikings have lost a few games by narrow margins despite playing well enough throughout much of the game to win. Those two in combination pain the picture of a team just needing a spark to get on a roll. Perhaps a big-time special teams play will provide that spark. After all, the Vikings special teams groups have done it plenty of times under coordinator Mike Priefer and they are due to register yet another one.
Since Priefer joined the Vikings in 2011, the Vikings lead the NFL with four kick return touchdowns, and their six combined touchdowns (4 kickoff return, 2 punt return) are tied for tops in the NFL. Whether it's a big-time return or a fake or a blocked kick, it might take just one big play to give this team the momentum it needs to turnaround the season.
Handling the Florida heatPlaying in warm temperatures is nothing new for NFL players. But at this stage of the season, more than two months removed from the sweltering days of training camp, most teams are not accustomed to playing in high temperatures. The Vikings and Buccaneers will do just that this afternoon.
The forecast calls for a high temperature of 83 degrees today in Tampa, a markedly different climate from what the Vikings practiced in this week at Winter Park and significantly different from what the Vikings played in last week at Buffalo.
Again, playing in the heat is not new for any NFL player. But it's a matter of conditioning, and right now because of circumstances out of their control, the Vikings are not conditioned to play in 80-degree weather. It's certainly something the team can and likely will adjust to, but it takes effort and hydration to do so.
Let's see how far rookie CB Jabari Price has comeWith CB Josh Robinson (ankle) listed as questionable for the game, there's a good chance rookie CB Jabari Price will see increased snaps in today's game, primarily when the Vikings go into their sub packages. Robinson may be out altogether, he may play but may be limited, or he may play and eventually not be able to finish the game. Any way you slice it, there's a good shot Price will see the field a lot against Tampa Bay and it'll provide a good gauge for how far he's come in his debut season.
Price was one of the surprise standouts this offseason and in training camp, which is why the seventh-rounder out of North Carolina made the 53-man roster coming out of camp. Finding a cornerback who contributes regularly in the seventh round is a huge plus for teams looking to build a talented core of players while also managing the salary cap responsibly.
Mid-season makeover for the NFC North?If the Vikings are to reinsert themselves into the competitive and wide open NFC North division race, this is an important two-week span. While the Vikings square off against a one-win Tampa Bay squad, all three division opponents also play away from home today – Chicago in New England, Detroit in London against Atlanta and Green Bay in New Orleans (Sunday Night Football). Next week, all three of the Vikings division opponents are on a bye, while the Vikings play at home (versus Washington). A two-game winning streak right now would give the Vikings an opportunity to give the NFC North race a mid-season makeover.