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What to watch in Sunday's Bucs-Vikings game

The Bucs are in Minnesota today for their first road game of the season, and here are five things to watch for as Tampa Bay goes for its first 2-0 start since 2010.

FLAGS FLYING

Three times last week, the Bucs kept drives alive by drawing defensive holding penalties against the Bears on third-down incomplete passes. The penalties are only 5 yards each but result in an automatic first down. Tampa Bay might be able to do better against the Vikings — CB Xavier Rhodes had a 22-yard pass interference call against the Steelers and CB Trae Waynes had a 49-yard penalty, part of 131 yards on flags for Minnesota last week.

Obviously the best outcome of throwing deep to DeSean Jackson and others is catches, but a big gain from a flag isn't far behind. And speaking of penalties, the Bucs had just 34 yards on flags against the Bears, which ranks them third-lowest per game out of 32 NFL teams.

MAKE 'EM THROW

This is true for nearly any NFL team — the more pass attempts, the more likely the Vikings are to lose. Taking away the run game and Dalvin Cook won't be easy, but the magic number last year was 37 pass attempts.

When Minnesota passed 37 times or more last season, the Vikings were 0-8; when they passed 36 or fewer, they were 8-0. The same has held up in the first two weeks. It doesn't cause teams to lose. It just accurately reflects a losing team.

GET A RARE INTERCEPTION OR TWO

More throws doesn't mean more interceptions with Minnesota. As a team, they threw five in all of last season, with only New England (two) throwing fewer.

Vikings QB Case Keenum is very careful with interceptions. In 25 career starts, he has thrown more than one interception only five times, and more than two only once. Then again, Keenum has only thrown four pick-sixes in his career, and the Bucs had one last year from Kwon Alexander (who will miss the game with a hamstring injury, as will starting DT Chris Baker and backup DE Jacquies Smith, both due to illness). Kendell Beckwith will step in for Alexander at middle linebacker, with Adarius Glanton likely at strongside linebacker.

ENJOY NEW STADIUM

U.S. Bank Stadium cost $1.1 billion to build and opened last year. The Bucs also get their first trip to Atlanta's brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Nov. 26.

Coach Dirk Koetter said he showed a picture of the Vikings' new home in a team meeting and asked if any of his players had played there and nobody raised a hand. In truth, Bucs LB Cameron Lynch played a preseason game there last year when he was with the Rams, making two tackles.

Keep in mind, Minnesota has only lost three times in the new stadium — to the Lions in overtime and to the Cowboys and Colts last year. The magic number is 16 — hold the Vikings to 16 or fewer points, they've never won; give up 17 or more in that building, they've never been beaten.

BREAK IN NEW STADIUM

Want to set a stadium record? The most rushing yards by any player in any game in that stadium is 135 by Chicago's Jordan Howard in Week 17 last season. Most receiving yards? The Vikings' Stefon Diggs has had as many as 182, but the most by an opponent in that stadium is a measly 92, by Detroit TE Eric Ebron last year. Passing yards? The Saints' Drew Brees had 291 two weeks ago for the opponent record, and the only Vikings game better was Sam Bradford's 346 in the same game.

Defensively, opponents have a grand total of two interceptions in the nine games played in the stadium, neither returned for a single yard. So "first opponent pick six" is up for grabs, as is opponent's first fumble return TD, punt return TD, first kickoff return TD.

Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

What to watch in Sunday's Bucs-Vikings game 09/23/17 [Last modified: Saturday, September 23, 2017 8:43pm]
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