The team that dominates the trenches will win this game.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Minnesota Vikings in their second (and third, respectively) game of the season, which means we need a stats-based preview. We’ve got you!


Vikings Defense


The Vikings are a run stop defense first. In the Vikings’ opener, the Saints could not run on their defense. New Orleans amassed 60 yards total rushing, at 2.9 yards per rush. At the start of the fourth quarter, the score was Vikings 26, Saints 9. The high-powered Saints scored one touchdown and four field goals, going 1 for 5 in the red zone. The Vikings had the time of possession (TOP) advantage with 34:22.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to gather 102 yards total rushing, but still at a low 3.2 yards per attempt rate. Although 26 points allowed is a lot, only two touchdowns were generated. The Steelers went 2 for 4 in the red zone. The Vikings lost the TOP advantage in this game with 25:38. The Vikings missing their starting QB Sam Bradford affected the TOP and left the defense on the field more than it should have.

What this means for the Bucs offense

The Bucs need to establish the run game against this stout Vikings’ run defense. We have two scenarios painted above on what happens if you can and cannot run on the Vikings. The right side of the Bucs offensive line must follow its right tackle, Demar Dotson, in pushing the line forward. According to Football Outsiders, we ran particularly well to the right side.


The Bucs have only one game under their belt and did look very good against a Chicago front seven who limited the potent Atlanta offense to 64 yards rushing the week before. In Atlanta’s second game, their run game amassed 141 yards total rushing. So the run blocking of the Bucs may be much improved.

Minnesota will concede a lot of yards in the air, but often do not break when it counts. Their defensive red zone performance is 3 for 9. This will pose a challenge for a Bucs offense that has struggled inside the red zone, going 2 for 5 in its first game of the season.

Scoring touchdowns might be a difficult task for the Bucs offense as the Vikings have allowed three touchdowns to 10 field goals. If the Bucs offense cannot score touchdowns, then kicker Nick Folk needs to be perfect. Folk already shanked an extra point in the one and only game for the Bucs this season.

Bucs Defense


Minnesota’s offense will be highly predicated on who is their quarterback on game day. If it is a Sam Bradford led offense, then that team put up 29 points on the Saints with three passing TDs on 341 yards passing. Without Bradford, then only 9 points were earned against the Steelers without a passing TD on 146 yards passing.

The Vikings’ passing game will determine whether its run game enhances its offense or the run game becomes its only offense. Minnesota is boasting a strong run game in both of its outing so far. Against the Saints, the Vikings rushed for 129 yards, at a 4.3 yards per rush rate. Against the Steelers, the Vikings rushed for 91 yards, at a 4.6 yards per rush rate. Rookie running back Dalvin Cook’s rushing rate in both games 5.3 and 5.7 yards per rush, better than the total average rates.

In two contests, Minnesota has committed only one turnover. That is a very impressive trait for Minnesota’s offense.

What this means for the Bucs defense

The Vikings will start Case Keenum at quarterback, but the Bucs don’t care: they want to stop the run first. Actually, it is stop Dalvin Cook first. This is another huge test for the Bucs run defense. Last week, they stopped the two-headed Midway Monsters of Howard and Cohen from 118 yards in their first game to only 20 yards against the Bucs.

Should Tampa Bay control the run, then it will make Minnesota one-dimensional. Although Keenum has burned the Bucs two years in a row, it was under a putrid Lovie Smith defense and the early stages of a Mike Smith defense last year.

The Bucs strength last year was third downs, but this year they are in the bottom of the league with 50% defense, ranking 26th overall. Last year, the Bucs ranked first in third-down defense conversion at 34.4% success rate.

Conclusion

Two teams with very good defenses who share similar philosophies: stop the run first. Win the trench warfare, then you dictate the flow of the game.

The Bucs won the trench warfare in their first game of the season, 29 – 7. WIn 2016 the Bucs’ defense dominated the trenches in two games:

Vs Seattle: Sea 5, TB 14 (47 yards rushing without Russell Wilson’s scrambles of 80 yards)

Vs New Orleans, game 1: NO 11, TB 16 (46 yards total rushing)

In both games, the defense did not allow a touchdown. In both games, the Bucs offense gave up a safety. In both games, the starting center was not playing due to injury.

I can envision the Bucs defense dominating the line of scrimmage as well as containing RB Dalvin Cook. And although the 2016 games were against teams missing their centers, it did give us fans a glimpse of what it would look like if the defense can dominate the trenches. Limiting the Midway Monsters to only 20 yardcould be foreshadowing that the Bucs will dominate the trenches. The additions of DT Chris Baker and LB Kendell Beckwith shored up the run defense, too.

Turnovers are things the Vikings are not prone to, but if Keenum is the quarterback, then it is possible the defense can induce an interception. Stop the run on first and second downs to create a third and long situation. .

I still am not a believer in the Bucs offense, despite all the added explosive receivers. Going 2 for 5 in the Red Zone with all this talent is a tremendous disappointment.

Prediction: Vikings 3, Bucs 24


Article first appeared on www.bucsnation.com