Of all the matchups that has gone largely unnoticed during the past week as the Vikings prepare for the Bucs is the less-than-cordial atmosphere between Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and Vikings defensive coordinator Willie Shaw.
In 1998, when the Vikings were flexing their muscles with a 15-1 record, the Raiders were giving the chain guys a workout with the 30th ranked defense in the NFL. Gruden brought in Shaw to by some dignity back to the Raiders and he did…at a price.
In 1999, the Raiders jumped from the 30th-ranked defense to No. 10. But Shaw and Gruden often clashed on philosophy and delegation of authority. Despite the greatest defensive jump in the league in 1999, Shaw was let go after that season. It was no surprise that, with Gruden also gone, middle linebacker Greg Biekert wanted to get back together with Shaw. His success is there.
While the Vikings are still the 28th ranked defense in the league, the goal this year was to improve the team's rush defense by adding speed. The hope was that, by stuffing the run the Vikings could likely see a ripple effect through the entire defense. Obviously that hasn't happened with awful secondary play, but the Vikings rank fifth in the NFL in run defense and have done better than most in shutting down guys like James Stewart and Anthony Thomas. With the exception of Shaun Alexander's absurd game, the Vikings have done a good job of containing the league's go-to running backs.
You can bet one of the undercurrent storylines along the sidelines will be the first meeting of Shaw as someone else's defensive coordinator and Gruden as someone else's coach. You can bet the Vikings defenders will be looking to lay one of Gruden's offensive boys out Sunday and give a wink to Shaw. A lot of friendships are made in the NFL, but Gruden and Shaw likely don't classify.
* Randy Moss enters today's game for the league lead in receptions with 49 and is on pace for 112 catches this year.
* While the Vikings have moved up to No. 5 in rush defense – up from No. 30 a year ago – the overall defense remains No. 28, thanks to a 31st rated pass defense.
* A big matchup today may be if Gruden takes a page from Tony Dungy and hammers Mike Alstott at the Vikings. The Bucs have mixed Michael Pittman and Alstott from game to game and the Bucs currently have the 26th rated rush offense in the NFL
* The other statistical matchup to watch is the Vikings passing attack, rated No. 9, against Tampa's top-rated pass defense.
* Tampa linebacker Derrick Brooks has as more touchdowns than Keyshawn Johnson, Pittman and Keenan McCardell combined this season.
* Brad Johnson will be protecting a cracked rib, but has been cleared to start today. Rob Johnson still has a pain in the butt – an ironic twist for Bills fans, the recipient of same for three years – and may be dropped to the No. 3 QB today.
* If the Vikings lose today, Daunte Culpepper's record as a starter will drop to 17-18.
* Former Viking Jeff George is likely to be de-activated today for the Seahawks. He's still trying to grasp the offense, since he's never played in a 49er-inspired version of the West Coast Offense, despite half the teams in the league now using it to some extent and George bouncing around the league in recent years.
Gruden v. Shaw Today
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