Scouting Report: Greg Schiano's Bucs seeking less-ignominious identity
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The Minnesota Vikings will try to get four games over .500 when they host Tampa Bay on Thursday night. Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down tape from every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Buccaneers in his weekly scouting report:
Under new coach Greg Schiano, the Bucs are still trying to craft an identity that extends beyond attacking kneeldowns and trying to trick a field goal unit into false starting.
At heart, the Bucs want to be a run-first offense, and they will employ far more I-formation than most teams, trading receivers for extra blockers in an attempt to control the clock and move the chains on the ground. When that is working, they can open big holes with their power-blocking scheme up front and work the play-action pass game off that success.
However, QB Josh Freeman often seems most comfortable in the shotgun with his back against the wall, trying to pass the team back into the game. So, the Bucs' identity is still far from resolved on that side of the ball.
On defense, Tampa runs a 4-3 scheme with an under-shifted front line their most common alignment, with the front four shifted away from the strong side. On the back end, the Bucs are still primarily a zone team, though this defense does not stick as rigidly to those origins as it once did.
Coming off a monster week against the Saints, big-money free agent WR Vincent Jackson is the biggest (literally and figuratively) receiving weapon the Bucs have. At 6-foot-5 and more than 240 pounds, he presents the kind of physical stature cornerbacks rarely have to contend with, and he has elite ability to go up and high-point the football in case of any jump balls. In CB Chris Cook, the Vikings have a player who is relatively well-suited to contending with someone like Jackson, but they need to be prepared to let him mix it up with the big receiver and not simply play 8 yards off and watch him rack up receptions. Jackson has been hampered with a calf injury that didn't prevent him from notching 216 yards against the Saints, but it did prevent him making the end zone on a 95-yard sprint down the sideline.
There was a sizeable section of people who thought DT Gerald McCoy was the superior player to Ndamukong Suh when the two were drafted. Suh began his career with gaudy sack numbers, while McCoy couldn't get away from the trainer's table, but this season we're starting to see why those people weren't crazy to hold that view. McCoy has three sacks but four more knockdowns and 14 further hurries and has been displaying an impressive ability to cut through offensive lines quickly and disrupt plays in the backfield. With Tampa Bay struggling for legitimate pass rush, McCoy has been their best defensive lineman this year and is the player who needs to be shut down for the Vikings to succeed on the ground or in the air.
Tampa Bay spent big in free agency for once, and one of the players they gave it to was CB Eric Wright. There is no doubting Wright has real talent, but he is equally capable of awful games like the one just days ago against the Saints, who repeatedly victimized him with double moves for 147 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings' success in the pass game will be largely determined by which Eric Wright turns up. If it's the player who bit badly on every fake that came his way against New Orleans, the Vikings may have some major success. If it's the player who allowed just 39 yards in his previous two games combined, they might have far bigger problems shaking loose to make catches.
• After leading the league in missed tackles by a distance last season, Tampa Bay have missed 48 this year (eight per game, down from 10.6 in 2011).
• The Bucs have three different runners averaging 4.0 yards per carry or better, and they average more than 4.5 yards per carry rushing to the edge of the line around either end.
• Three members of the Bucs secondary have missed six-plus tackles this season. If the Vikings can get to that level, they might break a long one, because WR Percy Harvin and HB Adrian Peterson break tackles for fun.
• RT Demar Dotson is the only Tampa Bay lineman to allow more than one sack. (He has allowed three.) He and LT Donald Penn (one) are the only members of the line to allow a sack all year.
• Slot CB Brandon McDonald is allowing 79.2% of all balls thrown his way to be caught.