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NFL Minnesota Vikings

NFL Week 8: Five Minnesota Vikings To Watch vs. Tampa Bay

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NFL Week 8: Five Minnesota Vikings To Watch Against Tampa Bay

Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE

The Minnesota Vikings remain one of the most surprising teams in the NFL entering Week 8, with a 5-2 record after a 21-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 7 as they registered seven sacks of Cardinals’ quarterback John Skelton.

It is a short week for the Vikings, as they will welcome the 2-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Mall of America Field Thursday night. The Buccaneers are coming off a disappointing 35-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints last week, as they surrendered a 14-point first half lead. All four of Tampa Bay’s losses this season have been by seven points or less, so another close game may be on the horizon this week. Buccaneers’ quarterback Josh Freeman is coming off a big game last week against the Saints, with 420 passing yards and three touchdowns, so making him uncomfortable will be important for the Minnesota defense.

These two teams met last season in the Vikings’ home opener, with Tampa Bay overcoming a 17-0 halftime deficit to win 24-20. But much has changed for both teams since then, in particular the fact the Buccaneers entered 2012 with a new head coach in Greg Schiano and landed one of the bigger names on the free agent market in wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

Minnesota will certainly need to put together a solid performance on both sides of the ball to have a chance to move to 6-2 on the season and double their 2011 win total.

Here are five Vikings whose performance I feel will be most vital in determining the result of Thursday night’s game.

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5. LG Charlie Johnson

Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is having the best season of his career to this point, with four sacks and 14 quarterback hurries, so keeping him in check will be vital for the Vikings’ offensive line since the Buccaneers’ have otherwise not done much in terms of rushing the passer (eight sacks as a team). The task of neutralizing McCoy will fall to the three interior linemen for the Vikings, but Johnson at left guard will be perhaps the most important player in doing so. Johnson had one of his best games of the season back in Week 4 against the Detroit Lions and defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and a repeat would be big this week.

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4. CB Chris Cook

Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Tampa Bay wide receiver Vincent Jackson is coming off a seven catch, 216-yard effort against the New Orleans Saints in Week 7, and he has four touchdowns over the last three games. Cook has the size to contend with Jackson in one-on-one situations and has had some success against some of the league's best wide receivers so far this season. His ability to be consistently physical with Jackson (within the rules, of course) on Thursday night may go a long way toward determining the result of the game and the success of the Minnesota defense as a whole.

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3. DE Brian Robison

Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Robison had his best game of the season last week against Arizona, spearheading a seven sack effort for Minnesota with three sacks and eight total tackles (two tackles for loss). This week brings a greater challenge against Buccaneers’ quarterback Josh Freeman, especially since Tampa Bay has only allowed nine sacks all season. Keeping Freeman in the pocket and not allowing him to extend plays with his size and mobility will be a big key for the Vikings’ defense all the way around, and Robison will be a big factor in making that happen from his left end position.

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2. WR Jerome Simpson

Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Simpson was active last week against the Arizona Cardinals and had just one catch for eight yards in the game, but he did draw a pass interference penalty on his only other target. If his back issue is indeed behind him, he should be able to put up good numbers against a Tampa Bay pass defense that is 31st in the league entering the week. At some point Simpson has to show up in a significant way on the stat sheet so we don’t have to talk about his ability to draw pass interference penalties as his greatest impact on games. This week may be the “now or never” moment for Simpson, as all signs point to him being able to have a productive night.

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1. QB Christian Ponder

Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE

Ponder is definitely glad it’s a short week, as he can quickly move on from last week’s dismal performance against Arizona (8-for-17, 58 yards). The Buccaneers have allowed at least 283 passing yards in five of their six games this season, but they also rank near the top of the league with nine interceptions. Ponder has been mistake-prone over the last three weeks, with two interceptions in all three games, so if he is again off his game the Tampa Bay defense may be ready to pounce. Ponder’s performance is a key element to success most every week for the Vikings, but a big yardage total on Thursday night may not tell the whole story if he is unable to be effective in key situations and the Minnesota offense struggles to finish drives in the red zone.