Vikings-Bucs Game Plan

The Bucs and Vikings used to have a heated rivalry when they were in the NFC Central together. Although those days are long gone, the makeup of the two teams might still be similar to what it once was. Get the strengths and weaknesses of each team, the key matchups to watch and the injury status.


The Vikings say they are committed to running the ball this season and this will serve as the first test to see if they will stick to that promise. Tampa Bay had the fifth-ranked defense in the NFL last season but was 19th against the rush. Nose tackle Chris Hovan, a free agent who left the Vikings on bad terms, was brought in to help bolster the line and will be starting inside beside Anthony McFarland.

If Michael Bennett or Mewelde Moore can help establish the run - Bennett will start - that will enable Daunte Culpepper to start looking for a receiving corps that includes Nate Burleson, Travis Taylor and Marcus Robinson. Not in that list, of course, is longtime Culpepper favorite Randy Moss.

Moss' presence at times caused Culpepper to focus too much on getting the ball to the Pro Bowl receiver and created mistakes. Culpepper likely will spend Sunday trying to spread the ball around, although Burleson is expected to be his favorite target.

On defense, the Vikings' new-look unit will get an opportunity to prove that it is significantly improved over a group that finished ranked 28th in the NFL last season. The Vikings are expected to have five new starters on the field and weakside linebacker E.J. Henderson has moved over from the middle.

Tampa Bay's offense did not strike fear in the hearts of anyone last season, ranking 22nd overall, but the run game should be improved with first-round running back Cadillac Williams (2005) joining 2004 first-round receiver Michael Clayton.

The Vikings devoted much of training camp to working on special teams, with coach Mike Tice taking a very hands-on approach to this unit. Tice has seen special teams blow too many games in his three seasons.


  • Buccaneers NT Chris Hovan, a former first-round pick who spent his first five seasons with the Vikings, will have plenty of motivation as he goes against center Cory Withrow. Hovan went from having a team-leading six sacks in 2001 to playing in only 13 games last season and being deactivated for both playoff games. The Bucs have Hovan at the nose, which is the position he ended up being shifted to for the Vikings after Kevin Williams arrived.

  • The Vikings' cornerback tandem of Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield will get a chance to prove the team is much improved in pass defense, going against Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton. The Vikings feel that Smoot and Winfield will be good enough in single coverage that the rest of the defense can apply pressure and not worry about seeing the corners get beat.

  • Vikings RE Darrion Scott is expected to be matched up against second-year Bucs LT Anthony Davis, who has never started an NFL game. Scott should benefit from the fact the Buccaneers are expected to start rookie Dan Buenning at left guard, giving Tampa Bay a lack of veteran savvy on that side of the line. Also benefiting should be Lance Johnstone, who plays on passing downs and had 11 sacks in 2004.


  • RB Michael Bennett's sprained neck appears to be fine and he should be ready to go Sunday.

  • RB Mewelde Moore said his sprained left ankle is fine. He will return kicks. The key question for Bennett and Moore is their conditioning.

  • TE Jim Kleinsasser was listed as probable on the injury report because of a groin injury but he practiced Wednesday and barring a setback is expected to be fine.


    50th meeting. The Vikings lead series 31-18, but Tampa Bay has won the past two meetings and three of the past five. The Vikings are 18-6 at home against the Bucs. These teams haven't met since 2002, when the host Bucs beat the Vikings 38-24. These teams were both members of the NFC Central from 1977 until 2001; the Bucs joined the NFC South in 2002.


    Look for the Bucs to try and grind it out against the Vikings, making good use of rookie running back Cadillac Williams. Coach Jon Gruden will also deploy Michael Pittman in the same backfield at times, hoping to catch Minnesota in a mismatch.

    The Bucs defense is getting older but still can present problems for any offense. That said, they need some help now and then. The Vikings are much more versatile with the departure of Randy Moss, who always was going to get three or four deep balls thrown his way.

    Now the Bucs have to defend the whole field.

    "They definitely can spread the ball around better now," linebackers coach Joe Barry said. "You kind of got geared up for Moss and if they were going to launch it, they were going to launch it to Moss. But now they're going to launch it to Williamson. The kid is really fast. And (Nate) Burleson is a go-to guy, too.

    "From what I've seen, this is Culpepper's team now. This guy is special. There's no doubt it. He can do it all.


  • Bucs WR Michael Clayton vs. Vikings CB Fred Smoot. Clayton is coming off a remarkable rookie year in which he caught 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven TDs. He will receive much more attention and try to avoid a sophomore jinx. Smoot is a good cover corner who likely will match up a few times with Clayton.

  • Vikings DT Kevin Williams vs. Bucs LG Dan Buenning. Williams has had 22 sacks in the past two seasons while Buenning is a rookie making his first NFL start.


  • G Matt Stinchcomb has a lower back strain but is probable for Sunday's game.

  • Viking Update Top Stories