Don't expect any fine offensive displays Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
That's because the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both are struggling on offense. The Vikings (2-5) and Bucs (1-5) are starting young quarterbacks and ranked near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories.
The Vikings, led by rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, rank No. 29 in overall offense and are last in passing offense. The Bucs have been starting second-year pro Mike Glennon and they're ranked No. 30 in overall offense.
ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas preview the matchup:
Yasinskas: Ben, I know the numbers aren't pretty. But has Bridgewater been showing any signs of progress?
Goessling: He has shown some. He hit 12 of his 15 throws after a pair of interceptions in Buffalo on Sunday, and I thought he did a better job of trusting himself to find his receivers downfield than he has in recent weeks. He has looked great at times, especially in the Vikings' win over Atlanta last month, but he's still figuring a lot of things out.
He needs to be better about throwing on target, and he has fallen victim to the same problems that plague many rookies, when he has held the ball a little too long or thrown late because he didn't make up his mind soon enough. But it's important to remember Bridgewater doesn't have Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and an offensive line that can protect him. The Vikings have given up 27 sacks this season, which is the second-most in the league, and they've forced Bridgewater to run for his life on a number of other occasions.
Speaking of quarterbacks, will Glennon remain the starter or will Josh McCown get the job back now that he's getting healthy?
Yasinskas: Coach Lovie Smith has been coy about his plans. My best guess is Glennon will get at least one more start because McCown returned to practice only this week and was out for more than a month. I think Glennon has played well enough to be the full-time starter, but I'm not sure Smith sees it that way. McCown was Smith's hand-picked quarterback and the two have history together from their Chicago days. Smith's history has shown he prefers to go with veterans. Back in Chicago, he once benched Kyle Orton, who was playing well, as soon as Rex Grossman got healthy. It wouldn't surprise me if Smith goes back to McCown.
You mentioned Minnesota's offensive line. I know it has been banged up. Will it be any healthier this week, and can it at least give Bridgewater some protection against a Tampa Bay pass rush that hasn't been good?
Goessling: It's hard to say at this point if it will be healthier. Guard Vladimir Ducasse is optimistic about his chances to play after injuring his knee on Sunday, but John Sullivan is still going through the concussion protocol, and his loss would be a big one. He's the Vikings' most reliable blocker, and does plenty to help Bridgewater set protections.
The biggest problem, though, has been left tackle Matt Kalil, who got beat again several times on Sunday and has struggled in pass protection all season. Kalil was the No. 4 pick in the draft in 2012 and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but got hurt last year and hasn't looked like the same guy. The Vikings were able to protect Bridgewater effectively against Atlanta, another team with an underwhelming pass rush, so I'd expect they'll fare better this week than they have against Detroit and Buffalo.
Shifting to the defensive side of the ball, how has the Vikings' old coach, Leslie Frazier, fared as the coordinator? The Bucs have obviously been shredded on defense; how much of that do you think is Frazier and Smith's old Cover 2 scheme and how much is personnel?
Yaskinsas: Tampa Bay ranks last in total defense and also is No. 32 in pass defense. That's shocking since Smith and Frazier are supposed to be defensive gurus. I think this team has good defensive personnel, especially with tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. But the pass rush has been non-existent, and that has taken a toll on the secondary. The main problem might be Smith's stubbornness. He's sticking with the Tampa 2 scheme even though it looks like it might be outdated. I'm not saying he should totally ditch the Tampa 2, but it might be wise -- and productive -- to mix in some man coverage at times.
The Vikings lost a last-minute game against Buffalo last week. That reminded me that the Vikings lost a lot of games in the final minutes last season. Is there some sort of flaw there or is this just a young team that needs to learn how to win?
Goessling: They believe it's the latter. The approach the Vikings took on the final drive on Sunday didn't look like what they did last year, when they sat back in coverage on a lot of those final drives. They were aggressive with their fronts, blitzing Orton four times on the drive and sacking him twice. But there were breakdowns that probably can be traced to inexperience. Josh Robinson needed to reroute Sammy Watkins when he pressed him on third-and-12, Xavier Rhodes misplayed Watkins' game-winning touchdown, and first-year coach Mike Zimmer said he probably should have called a timeout before a fourth-and-20 play -- like Frazier did in a couple games last season -- to get the defense settled. The Vikings gave up a first down there after Chad Greenway was trying to get Captain Munnerlyn in the right spot in a no-huddle situation. Greenway had his head turned at the snap and didn't get deep enough in coverage to keep Orton from hitting Scott Chandler for a first down.
The Vikings are young in the secondary, especially, and I think that showed up Sunday, but I continue to see progress in what they're doing. They have Pro Bowl-caliber players in Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith, and Rhodes has continued to improve as a corner. It'll take another year of player acquisitions, but they're headed in the right direction.
To wrap this up, why has the Buccaneers' ground game struggled so much? It might be a function of playing from behind as much as they have, but it seems like they've struggled to run the ball in closer games, too. What do you think the problem has been there?
Yasinskas: It's true they have had to abandon the running game at times because they've fallen so far behind. But even at the start of games, they've struggled to run the ball. That's puzzling because they have a rebuilt offensive line and running back Doug Martin is healthy after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury. I put the majority of the blame on the offensive line. But I also put some blame on Martin. He is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. His backup, Bobby Rainey, is averaging 4.9 yards a carry. Martin needs to make more out of his opportunities.
Smith said he was disappointed in fullback Jorvorskie Lane and defensive lineman Da'Quan Bowers, who each were suspended for the next two games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
“For both guys, they hurt our football team by not being available this week and next," Smith said.
Smith said he’ll welcome both players back when they’re eligible. Smith said he doesn’t think the Bucs have a problem with performance-enhancing substances.
“Everybody in the world is trying to lose weight," Smith said. “My point is you make mistakes. Everybody tries to lose weight. Do I think it’s a major problem? No."
But Smith said he believes Bowers and Lane knew what they were doing was against league rules.
“Even if you’re educated, people make mistakes all ways," Smith said. “And they make bad decisions all ways. I think they knew what they were doing and they chose to go that route."
"I don’t see it that way at all," Smith said. "We have two quarterbacks. You might say that, but I don’t say that at all. Guys know where they stand in the rotation that we have."
So what’s the rotation? Smith wouldn’t say.
Josh McCown, who started the first three games before suffering a thumb injury, has returned to practice this week. But the signs are pointing toward Mike Glennon, who's been playing in McCown's absence, getting the start Sunday against Minnesota. But that may be only because McCown isn’t 100 percent healthy.
"We’ll see how the week goes," Smith said. "As soon as Josh, we feel like he’s fully ready to play, he’ll have a role with us."
But will that role be as the starter or as the backup and mentor to Glennon? Smith danced around that question several times.
"We don’t have a quarterback controversy," Smith said. "Our quarterback position has been strengthened with Josh coming back."
All indications point toward Glennon remaining the starter -- at least for now. Smith simply might be borrowing time. I think he’ll start Glennon against Minnesota and see how things go. When McCown is fully healthy, that’s when Smith truly may have a controversy on his hands.
Glennon went first among the quarterbacks during the portion of practice that was open to the media. He also spoke to the media before practice. Those are pretty good indications Glennon will remain the starter, at least for now. I don't think the Bucs would have trotted Glennon out for the media if he is not still the starter.
It also should be pointed out that Glennon has played well at times and the starting job could remain his even when McCown is fully healthy.
“It’s good to see [McCown] get back," Glennon said. “But it doesn’t change my mindset. My mindset is to win games. No matter if he’s back or not, that’s what I’m prepared to do. I’m going to prepare just like I have every week, just to be the guy. I don’t think anything in my preparation is going to change."
The Bucs have avoided talk of a quarterback controversy and that might be due in large part to the way McCown has handled the situation.
“Having a guy of his personality and his intentions, yeah, he wants to play but he wants to see this team succeed," Glennon said. “He wants to help those around him. That’s just a credit to him as a person. I see it and guys see it, how much he wants to just help. It’s probably a better question for him. But I think he just wants to see us win. It’s been great to have him. It might be different if he had a different personality, but he’s been nothing but helpful to me. We’re definitely lucky to have a guy with his personality."
Rookie Charles Sims will practice for the first time since the preseason. Sims has been on injured reserve with the designation to return due to an ankle injury. Sims isn’t eligible to play until the Nov. 2 game against Cleveland.
Sims’ return brings some intrigue to the backfield. Doug Martin has been averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. It’s important to keep in mind that Martin was inherited by the current coaching staff.
That same staff and the front office saw some reason to use a third-round pick on Sims when there appeared to be bigger needs at other positions. It’s likely the Bucs will try to work Sims into the rotation gradually.
But Sims could end up playing a lot more as the season goes on.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tuesday's news that defensive lineman Da'Quan Bowers has been suspended for two games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances was just the latest twist in what has been a disappointing career. It also puts Bowers one step closer to the likely end of his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It's a sad story that could have been a great one if things had gone differently. But Bowers hasn't produced much of anything since joining the Bucs in 2011. When Bowers was entering the NFL draft, the early word was that he would be a top-10 pick, maybe even the top overall pick. But a knee injury caused a drop in Bowers' stock.
When Bowers still was available in the second round, former general manager Mark Dominik decided to take a shot. Even in hindsight, it wasn't a bad move. As a second-round pick, Bowers' risk factor wasn't as high and he still could have come with a large reward.
The Bucs gave Bowers his chances. In 2013, they tried to hand him a starting job at defensive end. But Bowers showed up at camp in poor shape and he returned to his backup role.
With a new coaching staff taking over this season, the Bucs decided to shift Bowers to defensive tackle, but there haven't been any miracles there. Bowers has been used as a rotational player and hasn't had much of an impact.
Bowers' contract is up after this season, and that's why I say his time with the Bucs probably is coming to an end. The Bucs already have seen firsthand that Bowers isn't an impact player. Some other team will remember the pre-draft hype surrounding Bowers and take a shot on him. But don't count on the Bucs offering Bowers another contract.
The Bucs shook up their return game Tuesday, signing Trindon Holliday and releasing Solomon Patton. Holliday has appeared in 31 regular-season games and totaled 80 punt returns for 752 yards with two touchdowns and 49 kickoff returns for 1,327 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bucs promoted defensive end T.J. Fatinkun from the practice squad to the active roster. The Bucs also released defensive end Scott Solomon.
The team also signed linebacker Mister Alexander and receiver Marcus Thigpen to the practice squad. Linebacker Shayne Skov was released from the practice squad.
Bowers will be eligible to return to the active roster on Monday, Nov. 3.
In his fourth year out of Clemson, Bowers has six tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery in five games this season.
He will join suspended Buccaneers fullback Jorvorskie Lane in sitting out Sunday's home game against Minnesota, as well as the game at Cleveland. Lane's two-game ban for violating the same policy was announced last week, when Tampa Bay had a bye.
Lane will be eligible to return to the active roster on Nov. 3 as well.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
They are ranked by targets, which is a true measure of how much a receiver is utilized. We’re using the qualifier of having a minimum of four targets per game.
Here’s the list of the top-targeted rookie receivers (28 targets needed to qualify):
Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina (61): He only had three catches for 61 yards on six targets in a 38-17 loss to Green Bay, though one was for a touchdown. He has 34 catches for 477 yards and five touchdowns. The yardage and TDs lead all rookie receivers.
Allen Robinson, Jacksonville (52): He had four receptions for 60 yards in the Jaguars’ 24-6 victory over Cleveland. One was a 31-yard catch-and-run that resulted in his first career touchdown. He has 34 catches for 371 yards.
Brandin Cooks, New Orleans (42): Cooks had just two catches for 23 yards in the Saints’ 24-23 loss to Detroit. He has 34 catches for 278 yards and one touchdown.
Allen Hurns, Jacksonville (40): He had just one catch for 7 yards against the Browns and has 19 receptions for 305 yards and three touchdowns.
Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia (36): The Eagles were idle. He has 23 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay (33): The Buccaneers were idle. He has 21 catches for 258 yards and two touchdowns.
John Brown, Arizona (33): He had a light day in the Cardinals’ 24-13 victory over Oakland, catching just two passes for 41 yards. He has 17 catches for 197 yards and three TDs.
A major reason Tampa Bay's offense ranks 30th in the NFL has been the lack of production from the running game.
Just look at what Doug Martin, who rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, is doing. Martin, who missed two games with a knee injury, is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. He's gained only 139 yards on the ground, and his longest run of the season went for 19 yards.
A rebuilt offensive line that still is trying to get the proper chemistry undoubtedly is largely responsible for Martin's slow start. Watch the film and you don't see a lot of holes for Martin.
But some of the blame has to fall on Martin because the team's other running back, Bobby Rainey, is faring much better. Rainey is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and he's doing it behind the same offensive line as Martin.
The Bucs have stuck with Martin as their starter, and that may pay off in time. Martin still is a talented runner, and maybe things will open up for him. But the Bucs can't wait too long for Martin to break out of his slump.
If Rainey continues to outplay Martin, it might be time to switch starting running backs.
But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the NFC South, a division that no one is running away with. The Bucs are only one game behind Atlanta and New Orleans in the win column. And they're not all that far behind division leader Carolina (3-2-1). The Bucs were on a bye Sunday as all three other division teams lost.
"I watched all of the games this week," Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said. "I know what happened in our division. I realize how many games we're out of first place. We're in it as much as anyone with our record. That's what we're focusing on. Again, there's life when you take a little bit of time off to not play a game and end up in a better position than when we started the Sunday. We're in a lot better of a position now. We're excited about that.”
The Bucs could be a lot more excited if they could string together some victories. There is no denying their start has been dismal. But the rest of the NFC South has been unable to pull far away from the Bucs.
Tampa Bay didn't help itself by losing to all three division opponents the first time around. But the Bucs might be able to pull back into the division race if they can beat Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans the second time around.
Harvin ended up being traded to the New York Jets. Jackson still is a member of the Buccaneers. Coach Lovie Smith said Monday that fans shouldn’t buy too much into rumors.
“Just kind of one blanket statement, as I’ve said to you, we’re always trying to improve our ballclub,’’ Smith said. “Teams in the NFL talk each week pretty much. You’re always talking about different guys. If there is a player that’s available, we look at him. Was there a player that was available? No. We’re not looking at players from some other football team.’’
So Smith shot down the Harvin rumor. But what about the report that said the Bucs are getting a lot of calls about Jackson?
“I wouldn’t put too much into what sources said, unless they said ‘I talked with (general manager) Jason (Licht),’ or ‘I talked with Lovie, and they said this.’ I haven’t been looking at a whole lot of news. I didn’t see that. We like our football team that we’re going with and have here right now. We’re not trying to shop any players to answer any questions out there. And if people call about some of their players, we take all calls. We don’t say ‘Nope, this area code, we’re not going to take this call.’ We don’t do that. We listen to what everyone has to say and we go from there. You saw who was on our roster today, and I would just kind of go with that.”