There is no reason to believe Vikings coach Brad Childress is going to go away from his hot hand, and that means Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson is going to get the ball early and often against the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay has the NFL's 11th-ranked run defense and is giving up 99.3 yards per game, but Peterson is coming off back-to-back standout games against Houston and Green Bay.
The important thing for the Vikings is that quarterback Gus Frerotte begins cutting down on his interceptions. Frerotte has thrown eight picks in the past three games, including three last Sunday against the Packers.
He also failed to complete a pass to No. 1 receiver Bernard Berrian in that game. Green Bay has one of the NFL's worst run defenses, so Peterson still had a huge day.
But failing to win the turnover battle on the road could have disastrous results for the Vikings and Frerotte as Minnesota attempts to win the NFC North. Tampa Bay, which has the seventh-ranked defense in the NFL overall, is tied for fourth in the NFL this season with 12 interceptions.
The Vikings defense will be facing a team that averages 350.3 yards per game (eighth overall in the NFL). The Bucs are more dangerous through the air (234.4 yards per game) than running the ball (115.9 yards per game.
Considering the Vikings run defense is No. 3 overall in the league, the Bucs figure to try to test the Vikings defensive backs early to try to establish some momentum. The Vikings' pass defense has improved but it's still 19th in the NFL, giving up an average of 219.2 yards.
Run the football and stop the run. That's what the Minnesota Vikings do best. It makes for a daunting task for Bucs coach Jon Gruden. His team has to face the NFL's leading rusher in Adrian Peterson and try to move the ball against the league's No. 3 rushing defense.
But don't look for Gruden to bang his head against the wall if the running game doesn't work. Earnest Graham could miss the game with a knee injury, and Tampa Bay has faced a similar situation in Chicago, when they threw the ball 67 times in an overtime win against the Bears.
"We're going to try to commit ourselves to running the ball," Gruden said. "We went to Chicago and saw a gap-oriented, eight-man front and had a hard time running it. We tried to run it. We didn't make yards running it. We chose another route to try to get a first down and move the ball. And it doesn't mean the passes are going to be open just because they're in there stopping the run...they've got players there, too."
Defensively, the Bucs believe they have the players to contain Peterson, but it will be their biggest challenge of the season. Tampa Bay is allowing just 3.8 yards per carry this season and they know they will have to get 11 helmets to the running back. The good news is that the Bucs are 4-0 at Raymond James Stadium this season.
"You've got to find a way to win," Gruden said. "You've got to find a way to get a first down and eventually score. That's the nature of this league right now."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings CB Cedric Griffin vs. Bucs WR Antonio Bryant – Griffin figures to see a steady dose of Bryant, who leads the Buccaneers with 45 receptions for 566 yards and two touchdowns. Few teams are throwing at veteran corner Antoine Winfield on the left side, meaning that Griffin is the guy teams are picking on. Griffin allows a lot of short completions but rarely gives up the big play. Buccaneers quarterback Jeff Garcia might try to change that on Sunday.
Vikings QB Gus Frerotte vs. Bucs CB Aqib Talib – Frerotte has thrown eight interceptions in the past three games, including four against Chicago in the Vikings' last road game. That means Talib, a rookie, could have significant role in this contest. Talib isn't atop the depth chart, but the first-round pick has a team-leading three interceptions. The Buccaneers have a total of 12 this season. Talib does not have a touchdown off an interception, but Frerotte has given one up in each of the past two games. Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie vs. Bucs RDE Gaines Adams – McKinnie will have an interesting match-up in this one as he goes against Tampa Bay's first-round pick of 2007. Adams has a team-leading four sacks in nine games. That is only two fewer than he had in 16 games last season, and he had two in their last game against Kansas City. McKinnie's play seems to have improved as he's eased back into the starting role after being suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season. Adams figures to provide a good test.
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Bucs LBs: Peterson is the NFL's leading rusher and a very hot back. But the Bucs have excelled against the run and are allowing just over 3.8 yards per carry. Barrett Ruud, Cato June and Derrick Brooks are as good a trio of LBs as there is in the NFL.
Vikings RDE Jared Allen vs. Bucs LT Donald Penn: Allen is playing with a bum shoulder, but he didn't show it last week against the Packers. Penn is the Bucs' weakest link on the offensive line, so Jeff Garcia will be on the move.
Vikings-Bucs game plan
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