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Countdown to Kickoff: Buccaneers-Vikings, Week 1 2023

The Buccaneers and Vikings will battle in the 2023 regular season opener…Key stats, lineup notes and more

C2K week 1

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers launch the 2023 regular season slate on the road against the Minnesota Vikings. The contest pits two defending division champs against one another and after both teams made an untimely exit from the playoffs, each franchise will vie to prove doubters wrong on the gridiron. The Buccaneers' new-look offense will make its debut on Sunday under the direction of coordinator Dave Canales. Baker Mayfield, Tom Brady's successor in Tampa Bay, will make his highly-anticipated introduction in red and pewter. He won the tight head-to-head battle for the starting signal-caller duties with Kyle Trask and Mayfield will seek to reinvigorate his career after a 2022 season stint with both the Carolina Panthers and the Los Angeles Rams. On the opposite side of the football, the Vikings will field a restructured defense under the tutelage of Brian Flores. After Minnesota concluded the 2022 season ranked 31st in total defense, the Vikings replaced coordinator Ed Donatell with Flores. Tampa Bay's defense boasts the majority of proven playmakers at all three levels. Todd Bowles' crew will receive an early litmus test from the Vikings offense that contains one of the NFL's most prolific players: Justin Jefferson. After a week of preparation, here is what the Week One clash comes down to: 

4 Stats that Matter 

  • Kirk Cousins leads the NFL in downfield passing yards since 2021 (4,736 yards). His 34 pass touchdowns on downfield passes since 2021 rank third-best in the NFL. 
  • The Vikings allowed 25.1 points per game in 2022 (third-most in the NFL behind Chicago and Arizona). Additionally, Minnesota surrendered 265.5 passing yards per game and 388.7 total yards per game in 2022 (both second-most). 
  • Minnesota forced opponents to go three-and-out on 22.4 percent of drives in 2022 (last in the NFL). 
  • The Vikings allowed the third-most deep pass yards (20-plus air yards) last season per Next Gen Stats. Conversely, Mayfield leads the league with a 43.3 completion percentage on deep pass attempts since 2020 (minimum of 100 such attempts). 

3 Lineup Notes

  • Rookie Cody Mauch, who was slated to start at right guard for the Buccaneers, is now questionable for Sunday's regular season opener in Minnesota. Back spasms sidelined him for the previous two practices. Todd Bowles confirmed on Friday that Mauch's back spasms did not occur during any football contact. Instead, the club's second-round pick was bending over when the issue began, resulting in Mauch going down to the ground. Bowles stated that sixth-year veteran Aaron Stinnie would step in at right guard if Mauch is not cleared to play against the Vikings. 
  • For the first time in over a month, Bucs rookie defensive lineman Calijah Kancey practiced in full capacity on Friday in the indoor facility. Kancey suffered a calf injury on July 30 and was given an initial prognosis of a four-week recovery. Although the return to action took longer than expected, his presence was an encouraging sight as the regular season looms. He was a limited participant on Thursday and took a step forward on Friday as a full participant. Kancey, the Bucs' 19th-overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, is expected to bolster the defensive front alongside Vita Vea, adding an explosive interior force. 
  •  Minnesota added outside linebacker Marcus Davenport to the injury report on Friday. He was listed as questionable for Sunday's Week One game. Vikings' Head Coach Kevin O'Connell described the injury suffered during Thursday's practice as a "little bit of a tweak." Davenport, along with Danielle Hunter, are expected to set the tone on defense for the Vikings, moving around to cause havoc and to generate advantageous matchups. If Davenport is not able to suit up, Patrick Jones II will likely receive most of his snaps.  

2 Challenges Presented by the Vikings 

Job No. 1 for the Buccaneers will be limiting the Vikings' prized possession, Justin Jefferson. Entering only his fourth season in the NFL, the generational talent is already regarded as one of the best players – not just positionally - in the NFL. Jefferson has shattered records, posting more yards in his first three seasons than any receiver in NFL history (4,825). Jefferson is a nightmare for defensive coordinators with his route-running precision and knack for creating in the open field. He moves in-out-out of breaks with ease and possesses a devastating release toolkit that often leaves defensive backs reeling. The Griddy-master has a rare understanding of spacing and cushion in coverage to exploit. When Jefferson works out of the slot, it enables him to have additional space to attack the defense vertically, stretching the field. Whether an option route out of the backfield, a tunnel screen, a post, or a dig, Jefferson consistently imposes his will and sells his route to carve out separation.  Physicality at the line by Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean to disrupt Jefferson's tempo on the release will likely be a steppingstone to success for the Buccaneers come Sunday. 

On the opposite side of the ball, Minnesota's defense has been retooled under new coordinator Brian Flores. Based on Flores' track record, it is safe to assume that the Vikings' defense will be more aggressive in nature, featuring an uptick in blitzes. The superstar on defense for the Vikings is Danielle Hunter. In the Twin Cities, Hunter adjusted as Minnesota switched to a 3-4 base in 2022, flipping from a 4-3 end to an outside linebacker. He finished the season with a team-high 10.5 sacks, eclipsing double-digit sacks for the fourth time in his career. Hunter is the Vikings' top-of-the-line centerpiece with a tantalizing blend of size, athleticism and explosiveness. He utilizes his length to disrupt passing lanes and a long-arm move to lock guys out at the point of attack. Hunter became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 sacks and on Sunday, Baker Mayfield and co. will have to know where No. 99 is on every play, and adjust protections accordingly. 

1 Key Thought from Baker Mayfield 

On Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales

"His mindset – he's so positive – it's just the next step mentality. The next play, make it the best one. Even if it's just a simple handoff where we're not doing anything besides carrying out a fake, make it your best one. That mindset to give it absolute 100% each time, it's refreshing, even though it might be an off play for us, we still carry our weight and we're still a factor in it, so do your business. He's so fresh and that mindset is awesome."

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