NFC South: John Sullivan


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.

Another Viking rips on Saints

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
3:00
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Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe isn’t the only member of the Vikings to say that New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma should be permanently banned by the NFL for his role in the Saints’ bounty program.

Sullivan
NFC North colleague Kevin Seifert reports Minnesota center John Sullivan agreed with Kluwe on Vilma and also said former Saints Darren Sharper and defensive end Bobby McCray also should receiver harsh penalties. Sullivan was a first-year starter in the 2009 season, when the Vikings played the Saints in the NFC Championship Game. In its report announcing the Saints’ punishment, the league said Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre was a specific target of New Orleans defenders in that game.

"If you want to offer money to knock somebody out of a game on a clean hit, fine," Sullivan said. "But the guys that went after it in the wrong way, that's the exact opposite of sportsmanship. It's just disgusting. To think that you're going to take money to hit someone illegally and hurt them out of the game, I can't even fathom that somebody would do that."

Sullivan talked about McCray’s hit on Favre after a second-quarter handoff and implied that at least one of Sharper’s hits on Favre was illegal.

"I really think if you go back and look at that game, anybody who took a shot at Brett illegally and you can see with the intention of trying to injury him [should be banned]," Sullivan said. "And the big two that come to mind are Sharper and Bobby McCray. They've got to do something to those guys too, whether it's no Hall of Fame [or] you're not allowed to be associated with the NFL anymore. I have a hard time talking about it. It just disgusts me that you would go out there and try to hurt somebody and take away their livelihood. It' s just gross."

Sullivan also questioned the suspension of New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of the season. Loomis will be allowed to continue in his job throughout the offseason, including training camp and most of the preseason. Loomis’ suspension will start when NFL rosters are cut down to 53 players just before the start of the regular season.

"Seems like it would be more effective as a punishment during the draft," Sullivan said.

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