NFC South: Kyle Rudolph


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.

Around the NFC South

April, 15, 2011
4/15/11
10:11
AM ET
Time for a quick stroll through the NFC South headlines.

Georgia linebacker Akeem Dent worked out for the Falcons on Thursday. He previously made a visit to the Buccaneers.

Southern California offensive tackle Tyron Smith visited with the Buccaneers on Thursday.

Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson is critical of the Bucs traveling to London again this season. He writes that he hopes this isn’t a response to last year’s sea of empty seats at Raymond James Stadium. That’s exactly what it is. The Bucs have said season-ticket sales have been going strong this offseason. But when your season ticket base was probably somewhere in the low 30,000s last season, that leaves a lot of tickets to be sold. And they’d end up being sold to Chicago fans, who would take over the stadium and cause an embarrassing scene like the Pittsburgh game last year.

Pro Football Weekly has a look at the top 21 Wonderlic test scores among draft prospects. Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy tops the list.

D. Orlando Ledbetter has his latest mock draft and he has the Falcons taking Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph at No. 27. Makes some sense. Although most experts see the Falcons taking a defensive end or wide receiver, I’m not seeing one there I really like as Ledbetter’s draft shakes out. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Falcons take Rudolph as the heir apparent to Tony Gonzalez.

Draft experts say it’s unlikely the Carolina Panthers will trade the No. 1 pick in the draft. That’s largely because no other team seems willing to trade up.
Time for a trip through some NFC South weekend headlines.

Williams
Williams
Add DeAngelo Williams to the list of people in Carolina who suddenly have realized this is a quarterback-driven game. In this radio interview, the running back sounded like he’s tired of seeing defenses that are geared toward stopping the run. Williams is in somewhat of a state of limbo. The Panthers have placed a tender on him, but it remains to be seen if that will hold up in a new labor agreement.

In this radio interview, New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins said he’d rather, at least temporarily miss out on his team-high $350,000 offseason workout bonus if players can get what they’re looking for in the long run in a new labor agreement.

UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers is making his round of private visits to teams, and the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the list.

Speaking of linebackers visiting the Bucs, add Georgia’s Akeem Dent to the list.

The Falcons are having private workouts with tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Virgil Green this week. Again, I don’t like to read too much into what players visit which teams, but I think in this case it’s pretty obvious the Falcons are beginning to look to start grooming an heir apparent for veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez, who plans to play at least one more season.

Mike Triplett and James Varney, the fine beat writers for the New Orleans Times Picayune, have their mock drafts out. Both have the Saints taking Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward. They differ on their first-round picks for the rest of the NFC South. Here are Triplett’s picks and here are Varney’s.

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