Preview: Fast start needed for McNabb, Vikings to keep boobirds at bay
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Who: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1) at Minnesota Vikings (0-1).
When: Noon Sunday.
Where: Mall of American Field at the Metrodome (capacity: 64,111), Minneapolis.
Line: Vikings by 3.
Coaches: Vikings -- Leslie Frazier (1st year, 3-4); Buccaneers -- (3rd year, 13-19).
Series: Vikings lead 31-20, but Buccaneers have won last four.
Last meeting: Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia threw for 255 yards on 23-of-30 passing and Chester Taylor lost a fumble with 1 minute, 23 seconds remaining, sealing the Vikings' 19-13 loss on Nov. 16, 2008, at Raymond James Stadium.
At stake: Both teams led in their season openers last Sunday. Both teams lost by a touchdown, putting them up against a wall if they lose again this week. Since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, only 22 of the 177 teams (12.4%) to start 0-2 have reached the postseason. It's also the home opener for the Vikings.
Vikings: MLB E.J. Henderson (knee) is "pretty confident" he'll play, but he missed practice on Thursday and Friday because of knee swelling, was listed as questionable and is expected to work out before the game to determine if he'll be active. DE Adrian Awasom (knee) also is questionable. WR Michael Jenkins (groin) and CB Asher Allen (toe) are probable.
Buccaneers: WR Sammie Stroughter (foot) and CB Myron Lewis (ankle) are out. LT James Lee (knee) is questionable. DE Da'Quan Bowers (shoulder) is probable.
Five things to watch
Get in a rhythm: Coordinator Bill Musgrave took blame on himself for the Vikings' putrid offense in the second half of last week's loss at San Diego, but it was a true team effort. The protection unit was shoddy. The receivers and tight ends couldn't beat man coverage. QB Donovan McNabb made one big mistake early and a bunch of small ones later. Musgrave talked this week about building rhythm for McNabb, and that likely means a West Coast-type approach to the passing game early. The Tampa-2 defense encourages teams to throw underneath coverage anyway. It will be interesting to see if the Bucs defense challenges the Vikings the same way the Chargers did -- one safety 8 yards off the line on virtually every first- and second-down snap, outside pressure against the Vikings' tackles, all daring McNabb to stand in the pocket and try to get the ball to the perimeter.
'Dome, sweet, 'Dome: If RE Jared Allen and LE Brian Robison play as they did at San Diego, the Bucs' shaky offensive line will be in trouble. Last week, Allen and Robison combined for a sack, nine QB pressures and a piece of two turnovers -- and that was with Allen working against Marcus McNeill, who is physically superior to Bucs LT Donald Penn, the onetime Vikings camp body. Toss in the volume level inside the Metrodome that can make visiting tackles a half-step slow, and the Vikings' ends could be in for a game-changing performance, depending how much help the Bucs are willing to give Penn and company.
Wrap it up: The Vikings unofficially missed 13 tackles at San Diego and often were slow to react to dump-off passes into the flats, allowing Chargers QB Philip Rivers to rack up 26 completions for 238 yards and two touchdowns to his backs and tight ends. They can't afford a repeat performance against the Bucs and HB LeGarrette Blount, who broke 50 tackles last season and was fired up after getting only five carries for 15 yards in last week's home loss to Detroit. With NT Remi Ayodele playing the nose, the Vikings think they're built to stop the Bucs' power-running game. But it remains to be seen what happens when a team commits to pound the run -- especially if Henderson can't make it back for the game, leaving his brother, Erin Henderson, in the middle and special teamer Kenny Onatolu in Erin's place on the weak side.
Clean it up: All platitudes notwithstanding, the offensive line can't play the way it did at San Diego, particularly in the protection phase -- nor can coaches let it happen. Allowing 13 QB pressures on a night McNabb only got off 15 passes was a black mark, no matter how competently the line fared in run blocking. The matchup appears more favorable this week against a 4-3 Bucs defense featuring young players at both ends in Michael Bennett (two sacks in two-plus NFL seasons) and rookie Adrian Clayborn, the first-round draft pick (20th overall) out of Iowa. If LT Charlie Johnson and RT Phil Loadholt struggle, though, it's on Musgrave and company to adjust and run more extra-man protections than the five (not including chips) they deployed in Week 1.
Listen up: The last time the Vikings played a regular-season game at the Metrodome was Dec. 5, two weeks after a blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers sealed coach Brad Childress' ouster. Frazier surely has a longer leash with fans than Childress did at that stage, but what about McNabb? If the Vikings are anywhere near as incompetent offensively as they were last week, odds are good the boos will rain down by halftime. And that's not something anyone on the home team's sideline -- not to mention owner Zygi Wilf's box, where the fight to gain public support for a new stadium never is far from mind -- wants to be dealing with so early into the new season. Getting off to a fast start, particularly on offense, would go a long way towards erasing the memory of how things ended in San Diego.
This game's a coin flip, as the betting line shows. The guess here is the home team finds a way, with the defensive line leading the charge.
Prediction: Vikings 27, Buccaneers 23.