Bucs Put Vikings Under Pressure

For most of the preseason, Vikings coach Mike Tice said he was pleased with the play of the offensive line. Sunday, however, the pressure of Tampa Bay's defense threw Minnesota solidly off its rhythm. Plus, get news, notes and quotes regarding the rookie report, the special teams and the many tales of the running backs.

The problem with both the running game and passing game can be attributed mainly to two factors: The Vikings' interior blocking combination of Cory Withrow and Marcus Johnson isn't the same as the combination of Matt Birk and David Dixon was last year, and Tampa Bay brought pressure at those two with defensive tackles Chris Hovan and Anthony McFarland.

Eventually, the Vikings made a change in the second half, bringing in Adam Goldberg at right guard to replace Johnson.

"I thought the young guy – we'll look at the film. It's so hard to see in the middle there really all the time if someone is edgy or if somebody has their head down," Vikings coach Mike Tice said. "I thought the young guy struggled a little bit. We made a change with Goldberg and, quite frankly, that seemed to settle things down a little bit. We'll see how that works out when we look at the tape, though, but I think the young guy had a hard time today."

Hovan looked much sharper than in his days with the Vikings. Playing against Minnesota Sunday, he had two tackles, a fumble recovery and supplied constant pressure on quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who ended the game with three interceptions and two fumbles.

"I think early on (Culpepper) was getting some pressure in his face up the middle. I think that got him a little bit off rhythm," Tice said. "He got hit from behind on one trying to make a play outside the pocket. If there's nothing there, he understands what he needs to do with the ball there. I think it was a combination of a little frontal pressure in front of him, not from the outside. That's a little bit different when it's from the outside. A little frontal pressure tends to make it tough. That's why we talk about keeping their quarterback off-kilter a little bit. It's not so much the sacks all the time, it's that pressure in your face.

That didn't come by accident. The Bucs were fully well aware that they needed to disrupt the quarterback that Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden compared to Shaquille O'Neal.

"We knew we couldn't just let him sit back there," Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly said. "He's a mobile quarterback. He can create space for himself. We couldn't just let him pad his feet, pad the ball and let it go. We had to get some pressure on him, let the front four eat and throw some blitzes at him.

For his part, Hovan continued to be generally cordial in his comments about the Vikings. He refused to needle the Vikings too much, despite an obviously strained ending to his career in Minnesota.

As he did last week, Hovan steered clear of mentioning the Vikings coaching staff, as the two sides were often frustrated with each other last year. But the under tackle turned nose tackle in the Bucs scheme did thank leaders of the Vikings personnel department, Rob Brzezinski, Scott Studwell and Paul Wiggin.

"I think that's how I make my stamp in this league, by being disruptive, and I guess I hibernated for a year and I got back and I got another chance, another chance for myself, and go day in and day out and I'm looking forward to it," Hovan said.

Withrow credited the Bucs defense for getting off the ball quickly, saying it seemed like Tampa Bay's defense knew what play was coming its way.

ROOKIE REPORT

So let's get this straight. Tampa Bay was concerned with its rookies, but the Vikings were confident in theirs?

The results certainly don't match the expectations.

For Tampa Bay, Anthony Davis was making his starting debut at left tackle over former Viking Todd Steussie, and rookie Dan Buenning was starting at left guard while Sean Mahan was making his first start at right guard – and they combined to help hold Minnesota to two sacks.

And what about the Bucs' rookie tight end? Alex Smith scored both Tampa touchdowns and caught four passes for 34 yards. And there is rookie running back Carnell Williams, a player the Vikings probably would have drafted if he would have been available at No. 7 overall. The Bucs committed to running ball and Williams produced 148 yards (see below for more on Williams).

On to the Vikings. Their top draft pick, wide receiver Troy Williamson, who was taken seventh overall, played a decent amount on offense but didn't catch a pass. Granted, some of that had to do with Culpepper not being able to have enough time to throw downfield, which brings us to second-round pick Marcus Johnson.

Johnson was making the start at right guard, but the tough assignment against the Bucs defensive line got the best of him. Eventually, the Vikings resorted to using Goldberg at right guard in the second half and putting Johnson on the bench. Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Steve Loney said there was no point in continuing to overwhelm Johnson in his first real NFL action.

OK, so how about the Vikings' second selection in the first round, defensive end Erasmus James? He was part of the Vikings' inactive list Sunday.

Third-round pick, safety Dustin Fox, is on injured reserve. Fourth-round pick, running back Ciatrick Fason, did not play on offense. Sixth-round pick, defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, was inactive, and seventh-round pick Adrian Ward, a cornerback, was release in training camp.

Actually, the Vikings' rookie class does look like a strong one, but in this game and at this point – the absolute beginning of the regular season – they were a non-factor.

SPECIAL DUTY

In Bizzaro World fashion, the Vikings offense was a dark spot and the defense and special teams were the positives. Go figure.

Even the punting game went well, with rookie Chris Kluwe making his Vikings and NFL debut.

"The kid went out there and did a nice job," Tice said. "He looked unrattled and stroked the ball pretty nicely. It comes off his foot really big. He spent the day with a smile on his face and looked relaxed and poised, and it looks like he could be a good addition. Today certainly was very encouraging.

"He gets the ball off quick, and that's the good thing. The last time we had a young punter, he didn't get the ball off quick, and that was the thing we were trying to get him to do. We never could get it done, but this young man gets the ball off very quickly."'

Kluwe got it off quickly and for distance. He averaged 54.3 gross yards on his punts with a 42.5-yard net. Those are league leader-type numbers.

The kicking game was also a bright spot, as first-year Viking Paul Edinger made both of his field goals, a 22-yarder midway through the fourth quarter and a 53-yarder in the third quarter.

"I think anything from the 36-yard line and in, I'm not going to blink," Tice said of using Edinger for long field goals. "I think he's shown enough consistency from 54, it doesn't bother me anymore. And then the defense is better so you're not concerned about them taking advantage of the field position as much. He certainly is a weapon. We need to continue to get him to be more consistent with his kickoffs, but the coverage was very good today, so that makes up for it."

TWO-RUN CADILLAC

While the Tampa Bay writers were busy talking about the promise of rookie running back Cadillac Williams – like saying he had the best rookie opening game in Bucs history and the total rushing yardage of the Bucs was better than 14 of their games last year – the fact is the Vikings held Williams in check pretty well until he took advantage of a desperate situation with a 71-yard touchdown run.

With the lead in hand most of the game, the Bucs committed to the running game. In Williams' final run, the Vikings had to stack the line and try to prevent a first down. Instead, once Williams got through the traffic of the trenches, he had clear sailing.

Before that run, however, he had rushed 26 times for 77 yards, a 2.96-yard average.

"The front seven were getting after it up front," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "They took the load off me so I don't have to make 100 tackles this year. We had the opportunity to make some adjustments in the offseason, so we are different from last year."

Williams also had a 19-yard run in the first half.

MOE-MENTUM TURNERS

On the Vikings' final multi-play drive, running back Moe Williams was involved in a number of nail-biting plays.

The normally reliable running back had an uneven drive.

The negative portions of the drive started after the Vikings had picked up two first downs and needed a touchdown to take the lead with less than four minutes to play. Williams took a handoff up the middle and gained 3 yards before linebacker Shelton Quarles popped the ball loose from the steady veteran. Fortunately for the Vikings, Marcus Robinson recovered.

Four plays later, Williams returned the favor, recovering the ball after Jim Kleinsasser fumbled following a reception just prior to the two-minute warning.

The final negative of the drive came one play later. Culpepper dropped back and fired a bullet for Williams, who was streaking across the middle of the field. Williams turned to locate the ball with his outstretched hands, and the hard pass ricocheted off his gloves and into the waiting arms of cornerback Brian Kelly.

With both Michael Bennett and Mewelde Moore coming off of injuries, Williams got the start at running back for the Vikings and "led" a feeble rushing attack with 15 yards on 6 carries. Culpepper was the second-leading rusher with 12 yards on four carries, with Bennett bringing it up the rear with minus-1 yard on six carries. It was a far cry from Bennett's 2002 performance against Tampa Bay, when he had 10 carries for 114 yards, including an 85-yard run.

"We had a hard time getting into our rhythm," Withrow said. "As hard as we were trying, changing things up, changing the snap count, we just had a hard time finding our rhythm. Our offense needs to be very rhythmic to be successful and we had a hard time doing that today."

NO MOORE

The Vikings started Moe Williams, and he and Michel Bennett rushed six times each. Mewelde Moore didn't see action on the offense.

Moore did have three kickoff returns for 66 yards, but he suffered a minor ankle injury on a special teams play. This time, it was Moore's right ankle. Last week, he was still recovering for a sprained left ankle suffered in the preseason.





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