No Big Advantage Knowing Bucs

Knowing your opposition personally, like Dennis Green and Tony Dungy do, really doesn't favor either team, said Vikings assistant coach Willie Shaw.

When the Vikings and the Bucs square off in the Metrodome, many will be wondering where the advantage might lie. Will it be with Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson, who will be going against a system he surely learned well during his seven years in purple? Or will the Vikings have a leg up because they are thoroughly familiar with Johnson's tendencies?

Before you try to predict where the advantage may be, consider the intrigue that is also present because of the past association between Vikings coach Dennis Green and Bucs coach Tony Dungy. Dungy's tour of duty as Green's defensive coordinator surely provides him with considerable knowledge of Green's strategy, right? And Green has to be privy to Dungy's approach to the game, correct? Maybe.

But, in fact, what we might have is a standoff, with little or no advantage on either side, according to Vikings assistant head coach/defensive backs Willie Shaw. As Shaw sees it, one side's knowledge of the other has a canceling-out effect and will have little, if any, bearing on the outcome of the game.

"Our defense is a lot like it was when I was here before and Brad was here," Shaw told VU. "But you see a lot of that (in the NFL). Some people actually will sign a quarterback off the waiver wire to get a lot out of him because he's been with a certain other team, then they will cut him. You don't worry about it and you don't let your players worry about it.

"Any offense that's worth its salt is going to be well-schooled. The coaches today are very good. They will know more about what an opposing team is doing on defense than the quarterback does because they study so much. A quarterback may know a couple of things (about his previous team) but not enough to really hurt you. So what you tell your guys is they're going to have us well-scouted anyway, so let's do what we do well and let's not worry about it.

"Sure, we might do a little more disguising and stuff like that, but when it comes right down to it, when they snap the ball, we can't let them change the things we do well. If, for instance, we're in cover-two, the quarterback knows it and he has to try to beat it. That's the kind of confidence we have to have. We just have to say, ‘Hey, we're going to be in cover-two and you still have to beat us.'"

It was a simpler time, but a former pro football sage once said, "There are only about six plays and all the teams know them."

And Shaw agrees. "There it is," he nodded. "You've got it."

Familiar places,
familiar faces

Regardless of which team lines up on which side of the ball, most players agree that there can be an advantage depending on where the game is being played.

By and large, the Vikings prefer the air-conditioned atmosphere of the Metrodome. At the same time, it's presumed that the Bucs might feel that they have an advantage on their home field when they are accustomed to Florida temperatures that can exceed 100 degrees and contain stifling humidity. In either case, there is also the boost a team can receive from playing before a home crowd.

Vikings Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, a native Minnesotan, has no doubt that the Metrodome crowd provides the Vikings with "a great home-field advantage," he admits. "We're inside and we have great fans. We love playing at home."

Home or away, Birk says that the Bucs usually present the toughest test for the Vikings offense. "First off," he says, "the Tampa defense is awesome. Up front, with Warren Sapp, he's as good as there is. He can cause more havoc and ruin your offense as much as anyone in the league. Their linebackers can run and hit. Their safeties are the same.

"The thing that also makes it so intense for us is that there are guys like Tony (Dungy) and other guys who used to be up here. So when you play them it's always a real physical game, and also a mental game because the coaches on both sides know each other so well. So you know going in that they've got a defense that can make plays and their defense can win games for them. They've got those big-play guys ... and we have to make sure that they don't have so many chances to make big plays."

Attempting to
return to normal

Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper acknowledged the fact that the terrorist attack on the United States had a profound effect on how everyone, including the players, view the games.

Said Culpepper: "Everyone is going to try to get out there and be normal, but it's going to be hard. We just want to go out and do what has to be done to try to win the game and hope that everything else turns out the way it's suppose to.

"A lot of guys will worry about security and everything because it's hard not to. But, at the same time, we just have to go out and do our part and try not to worry about it." VU

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