‘Thursday Night Football’: When force meets force

Following a painful 35-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints last week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Minnesota to take on a red-hot 5-2 Vikings team. After being shredded for 377 yards and four touchdowns through the air, the Buccaneers defense is eager to rebound against Adrian Peterson and a run-heavy Vikings offense.

While Tampa’s secondary struggles have been well documented, their run defense has excelled this year. The Bucs currently rank third in the NFL, allowing just 76 rushing yards per game. They will have a tall order tonight, facing the league’s seventh-ranked rushing offense in Minnesota, which averages 132 yards per game and boasts one of the league’s premier running backs in Peterson.

Tampa will need to bottle him up if they want to have a chance to pull off the upset, but the good news is that they have the tools to do so. They are arguably the best run blitzing team in football, with linebackers Lavonte David and Mason Foster having tremendous seasons, but it is safety Mark Barron’s ability to walk down into the box and be a true player against the run that gives them a unique weapon. The “Playbook” crew breaks it down.

Safety Mark Barron is walking down to the line of scrimmage. He will become the 8th man in the box against this run-heavy offensive set. Wide receiver Dexter McCluster has a close split, putting him in position to block the 1st force player (Barron).

As you see here, McCluster did not cut off the force player and Barron is unaccounted for by the offensive line. Barron is unblocked and inserts himself into the line of scrimmage as an unblocked player in the run game.

Unblocked and unaccounted for, Barron finishes a designed run blitz aggressively. He is an explosive and physical young player who does not back down from contact. Barron has been very efficient against the run as a box player this season.

For the Vikings to combat the Buccaneers’ frequent run-blitz scheme, they have to take advantage of playaction and the holes that will be available in the middle of the field. QB Christian Ponder is going to have to make quick decisions and hang in the pocket on his throws, because there will be openings. Luckily for Minnesota, they have one of the league’s most explosive receivers between the numbers in Percy Harvin. If they can get the ball in his hands in space, it is going to be another long day for the maligned Tampa secondary. This will also keep the Bucs honest and ideally open up a little more space for Peterson. And, as we’ve seen for years, it only takes a little bit of space for AP to abuse opposing defenses.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (NFC) and 9 p.m. ET (AFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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