But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a different sort of offense. They have huge receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, who both stand 6-foot-5 and have the strength and leaping ability to make big plays happen on jump ball situations.
They aren’t blessed with sprinter’s speed, but they have the size to be go-to receivers in any offense. Between them, they have caught 46 passes, and in the 11 combined games that they have played, they have caught four or more passes in nine of them.
For the Vikings secondary, they present a unique challenge because, while many teams have a big receiver with size and strength, not many have two starters that have the same body type. To limit them, the Vikings know they’re in for a long day of getting physical and taking their style and turning it back on them.
“They’re both really big guys, so you have to get physical with them,” cornerback Josh Robinson said. “They’re guys that aren’t going to outrun you, so our secondary can run with them. The key will be to get physical with them at the line and cover them down the field.” The Vikings spent part of the week in practice working the defensive backs to simulate the kind of downfield problems Jackson and Evans can present. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has been used to serve as a scout team version of both, putting the cornerbacks and safeties through their paces with the kind of pass plays the Vikings expect to see from the Buccaneers Sunday.
“We’re just helping them out in practice – doing one-on-ones with them,” Patterson said. “It just helps give our defense a good look to see how Tampa Bay is going to play against them. We’re just going out there and not giving it to them just easy – just let them have it.”
The key to negating any wide receiver is to try to take away what he does best. Slot receivers with slippery moves are limited by jumping their routes. Speed receivers are limited by corners turning and running with them downfield to make the quarterback think twice about trying to drop a pass in a perfect spot 30 yards downfield. With big receivers, it’s all about being physical and the Vikings are preparing to get down and dirty with the Gruesome Twosome of Tampa Bay.
“I don’t know if you prepare any differently, but you just try to know the strengths of the players you’re going against,” safety Harrison Smith said. “They’re big guys who can go up and get the ball. You have to know how they’re used in their offense. That’s what we’re studying right now.”
Speed receivers are only limited by pure athleticism, the ability for a defensive back to stay stride for stride with them deep down the field. For big possession receivers, it’s much more about technique and positioning.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes has been asked to stick with a team’s top speed guy. On Sunday, he’s going to draw the assignment of hanging and banging with big receivers whose forte is to create throwing windows by using their best assets – height, hands and strength.
“They’re big-bodied guys and are able to separate the defender from the ball,” Rhodes said. “They know how to use their bodies and they have strong hands. If they throw them the ball, more than likely they’re going to catch it. Our job is to stop them from catching them and separating them from the ball.”
The Vikings have the athleticism in the secondary to run with speed guys. They haven’t faced the Bears yet – a team that has a similar tandem in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. They see Jackson and Evans as being almost clones of Chicago’s top two receivers and the challenge will be to take what they’ve learned against the Bears and apply it to the Buccaneers, because, if they can’t get the physical edge, Jackson and Evans have the ability to dictate how the pass offense for Tampa Bay is going to run on Sunday.
“The biggest challenge is going to be covering them so the ball doesn’t come their way,” Smith said. “If they’re just going to throw short passes to them at the line of scrimmage, we have the guys to shut those plays down and keep them to minimal gains. They’re going to get their catches. Our job is just to prevent those catches from being big plays that can hurt us.”