The Vikings make their only scheduled regular season appearance Thursday night with a home battle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Vikings are 4-0 at Mall of America Field and look to up their record to 6-2 at the half way point of the season.
When the Vikings have the ball:
Christian Ponder is coming off of one of his worst statistical games of his career throwing for 58 yards. The Bucs pass defense might be exactly what he needs to bounce back. Tampa Bay offers the 31st ranked pass defense and has given up more than 280 yards in all but one game this season.
Adrian Peterson continues to get stronger every single week. Sunday, he ran for 153 yards against a tough Arizona Cardinals defense. The Bucs offer a stiffer run defense on paper ranked third overall allowing only 456 yards on the ground in six games. If you look closer at those numbers, of those games only Washington ran the ball more than 20 times and in that game, Alfred Morris ran for 113 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings will run the ball more than 20 times and Adrian Peterson is by far the best back the Bucs have seen this season.
If Ponder can get back on track, Percy Harvin will probably have a big day. Against the Giants, the Bucs pass defense allowed huge receiving days to both Victor Cruz (11-179), and Hakeem Nicks (10-199) both caught touchdowns.
When the Bucs have the ball:
You can search, but will struggle to find a quarterback in the NFL that is hotter than Josh Freeman with six touchdowns and 750 yards passing. Freeman has been consistent, throwing for at least one touchdown in every game. His offensive line is ranked fifth in the NFL and has allowed nine sacks (3rd least in the league).
Rookie Doug Martin has received the majority of the carries (100) to LaGarrette Blount's (25). The duo averages 4.0 yards per carry and have a combined four touchdowns. The Vikings boast the 11th overall rush defense and have only allowed runs of 20 or more twice and 40 or more once.
Vincent Jackson has quickly become Freeman's top target. With 27 catches for 586 yards and five touchdowns, Jackson has given the Bucs passing game life. The Vikings passing defense is also ranked 11th overall and does not allow big plays in the passing game. The defense ranks fourth in plays of 20 yards or more with 14, and second in plays of 40 yards or more with one.
Harvin is third in the league in kickoff return average at 35.1 yards. His opening kickoff return for a touchdown last week was negated due to a penalty.
Rookie Kicker Blair Walsh has 27 touchbacks out of a total 38 kickoffs this season which is best in the NFL. He is also 16 for 17 on field goals including 3 for 3 beyond 50 yards.