Buc Up!…with Rob Kriete

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Flags

-The Buccaneers, coming off a late-season, Week 13 bye, host the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday in Tampa at 1pm. Both of these teams have robust postseason aspirations and this week’s game is important for both teams.

-While the NFL continues to experience record scoring and passing records, the games this season have been extraordinarily close. According to the NFL, 70.3% of all games (135 of 192) have been within one score in the fourth quarter.

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-Also, 38 games have been won by an NFL team that has trailed by at least 10 points, the most through Week 13 in the history of the league.

-The inimitable Leo Haggerty of ItsSportsMagazine.com is lovingly nicknamed, Low Ball, but should be called Bulldog. He gets great Q&A with the Bucs and opposing coaches weekly. This week, the Bulldog spoke with Bucs HC Bruce Arians, DC Todd Bowles, TE coach Rick Christophel and even outside linebacker coach, Larry Foote. Here are some highlights:

Leo Haggerty: “Every game is important but with the first tiebreaker being head to head games is this one have added significance because there a decent chance the Bucs and the Vikings could end up tied at the end of the regular season?”
Bruce Arians: “I think you answered your own question. No doubt. It’s a huge game.”

Leo Haggerty: “Minnesota wants to run the ball 20 or 30 or 35 times a game with Dalvin Cook. The strong suit of the Bucs defense is stopping the run. Do you have to prepare differently for a team that concentrates on the run so much as the Vikings?”
Todd Bowles: “You prepare for it, but at the same time, they have a great passing game. They mix it up very well and you don’t get the runs when you think you’re going to get them. We’ve got to be ready at all times for both. We’re preparing to get ourselves better and clean up our mistakes. Then we’ll worry about the Vikings on Sunday. I think when we just come out and play our game, do the things we’re supposed to do, and not beat ourselves, we’re fine. It’s a big game for us. It’s a big game for them, so it’s exciting. We’re looking forward to it.”

Leo Haggerty: “When you line up in multiple tight end sets is it an advantage in the passing game to be able to have the ability to shift them out on the perimeter and the defense is in base?”
Rick Christophel: “It depends on who you are playing. Anytime you can get a mismatch, especially with these guys on a linebacker, or something like that, or a safety, it creates a mismatch. That’s the kind of thing that we look at when we break down film and we set up a game plan during the week. We try to see how they are going to play certain personnel and certain formations. If you can get mismatches on your side of the ball it’s very helpful.”

Leo Haggerty: “Last game you played against arguably the best tight end in the NFL in Travis Kelse. The Vikings Mason Rudolph isn’t far behind. How similar are they and what problems will Rudolph pose for your linebackers?”
Larry Foote: “They’re big. They’re both big. Rudolph is probably a better blocker than Kelce so that’s more of a challenge for us in the run game. Those guys are big and they can definitely catch the ball. Their catch radius is high. Rudolph poses a threat as far as he will knock your butt off the ball. My guys will have to be fast and aggressive and getting their hands on him early. He’s a big, savvy tight end.”

-Tampa Bay RB, Ronald Jones, had 103 yards from scrimmage while scoring his first receiving touchdown. Jones needs 19 offensive yards to reach his 2nd-consecutive 1,000+ yards from scrimmage season. Ronald also has three rushing TDs in his past four games.

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-Vikings standout wide-receivers, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, present notable challenges for the Tampa Bay secondary. Jefferson, a rookie, already has 1039 receiving yards. Thielen ranks third in the NFL with a career-high 12 receiving TDs so far this season.

-Defensively, Lavonte Davis continues to tackle everyone. In fact, David ranks 2nd in tackles (1,096) since entering the NFL in 2012. Lavonte now aims for his 9th game in row at home with seven or more tackles.

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-The Vikings, too, have a standout linebacker in Eric Kendricks who leads Minnesota with 107 tackles, his 5th consecutive season with 100 or more tackles.

The ItsSportsMagazine.com Bulldog spoke with Vikings head coach, Mike Zimmer as well:

Leo Haggerty: “When you line up in multiple tight end sets is it an advantage in the passing game to be able to have the ability to shift them out on the perimeter and the defense is in base?”
Mike Zimmer: “Well, you know, we’re really not focused on four games from now. We’re only focused on Tampa Bay and what we have to do to get better to be honest with you. That’s what we have to do. We won last week. We won the last couple of weeks. We haven’t played as well as I would have liked for us to play. For us, it’s about playing well and executing and doing the things that good teams do. Then, you know, I’ve always been one of those guys where let’s count them up at the end and see where we stand. Obviously, Tampa is a very good football team. They are very talented and have outstanding personnel. We are going to have to play really, really well to beat them.”

Leo Haggerty: “For the last two weeks, the beginning of the second half has been a house of horrors for you. How proud are you that your team found a way to fight back and win?”
Mike Zimmer: “Yeah, we do have a lot of heart on this team. Our guys will keep competing. Obviously, we don’t want to get in these situations that we got in at the start of the third quarter the last couple of weeks. Honestly, we were like that a little bit earlier in the year too, coming out of the locker room. It’s been something that we’ve addressed and continued to talk about but I do think this team will continue to fight and compete and I hope that we play better and not give the ball away at the start of the third quarter.”

Leo Haggerty: “Was the win at Green Bay where you were forced due to injuries down to your last defensive back the turning point for your team?”
Mike Zimmer: “Yeah, we had a lot of young guys in there. We had a lot of defensive backs hurt that game. We had seven defensive rookies on the field at one time this year. More than one time this year. Winning the game up there was big. Obviously, Rodgers is a terrific quarterback and they’re a good football team. We were fortunate that we were able to make some plays and win the football game. That was a good start. I think that was right after the bye week if I remember correctly and we have been playing a lot better since the bye.”

-Great insight from these interviews, Bulldog!

-As Bruce Arians and Mike Zimmer imply from the interviews, this week’s matchup between the Bucs and Vikings has huge implications for both teams. This game does not hearken to the days when Tampa and Minnesota were in the same division, however. The Bucs are an offensive force in an NFL season of unprecedented scoring. The talented receiving corps of the Vikes will provide a challenge for the Bucs secondary who may be without Jamal Dean. But the last three quarters against the Chiefs showcased how strong Todd Bowles defense can be when they provide safety coverage for deep threats. Look for the defense to build on this and the offense to look crisp after the much-needed bye week.

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Prediction: Bucs 41 – Vikings 31

Stay safe, everyone!