When the Minnesota Vikings face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at noon central time, they come in with a roster that matches up well across the board. However, with the status of quarterback Sam Bradford in question for the second straight week, the Vikings could be facing another uphill battle against a tough NFC opponent. The Vikings are 1-1, but a loss against the 1-0 Buccaneers would put Minnesota in an early-season hole with big divisional games coming up on the schedule. So with that said, take a look at three Vikings keys to victory on Sunday.
Week Three Minnesota Vikings Keys to Victory
1) Taming the Quarterback Conundrum
When Bradford missed last Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a knee injury, an offense that was running like a well-oiled machine against the New Orleans Saints came crashing back to earth. Journeyman quarterback Case Keenum came in and was 20-of-37 passing for a paltry 167 yards. While he didn’t turn the football over, he only led one touchdown drive. That sort of production won’t be enough to beat a Tampa Bay team that beat the Chicago Bears 29-7 last week.
While Bradford said Wednesday that he expects to play this Sunday, his left knee has been an issue his whole career and most experts assume that it will continue to be an issue. The team has to weigh whether it is worth the risk to put him back into the starting lineup before being as healthy as possible, otherwise his next knee injury could be more catastrophic than a bruise.
Whoever is at the helm will have to take advantage of the Buccaneers pass defense. While the Buccaneers only gave up one touchdown to the Bears, Chicago quarterback Mike Glennon still passed for 301 yards. What the Vikings quarterback needs to do is avoid turnovers. Glennon threw two picks (one of which was returned for a touchdown) and lost a fumble. Moving the ball is important, but the starting quarterback for the Vikings will need to protect the football to give the home team a chance.
2) Speaking of Turnovers….
The Vikings defense has been solid in the first two weeks of the season, but the unit has yet to force a turnover. While Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston didn’t turn the ball over against the Bears, he enters week three with 33 career interceptions in 33 career games. He is a dynamic player and could give the Vikings fits both through the air and on the ground; but he will take more chances than Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did. The Vikings need to take advantage of errant passes to give Bradford or Keenum a short field to work with.
3) Moving the Chains on the Money Down
When looking at what went wrong between the Saints win and Steelers loss for the Vikings, one only needs to look at the Vikings third down offense in each game. After going 9-of-14 on third down against the Saints in Week One, the Keenum-led offensive attack converted only 5-of-15 third downs against the Steelers.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers were only 7-of-14 on third down defense last week against the Bears. Even if the Vikings roll with Keenum, it’s hard to think that their offense lacks any more firepower than the Bears do with Glennon. If they can convert third downs, then they can balance the time of possession and give themselves a much better chance to win. The Vikings only had the ball for 25 minutes and 35 seconds Sunday. Against the Bears, the Buccaneers held the ball for 33 minutes. The Vikings need to inflate their own number and shrink the Buccaneers number to improve to 2-1 this week.