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Vikings mailbag: Waynes, Evans and a key matchup against the Bucs

Every week send any Vikings-related questions to @Andrew_Krammer and I’ll answer them here on Fridays.

A: Trae Waynes has had a rough start to his third season, getting beat on a double move in Week 1 for a 52-yard gain to Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis. Last week, Waynes gave up another big play in Pittsburgh when receiver Martavis Bryant beat him deep. Waynes didn’t get his head turned around and jumped on Bryant early, drawing a 49-yard pass interference penalty. The inconsistency is troubling, especially after Waynes showed some progression last year as a part-time starter. Now as a full-time starter, Waynes is going through some similar growing pains we saw from Xavier Rhodes in his third season, when the position coach needed to break out boxing gloves in practice to get him to stop grabbing. Despite the issues, I’d be surprised to see the coaching staff bail on playing time for Waynes this early.

A: Yes, Sam Bradford is still alive and practicing for the Vikings, albeit on a limited basis. That’s five limited practices in about 10 days since Bradford injured his knee on Sept. 11 against the Saints. The good news is he looked to have more of a bounce in his step Thursday during the few throws reporters are allowed to watch. However, the Vikings are wise to be cautious with Bradford and their hopes for the 2017 season.

A: Rhodes was strong in Pittsburgh while shadowing Steelers star Antonio Brown, helping to put a cap on an offense otherwise known for big plays. But the Vikings face a different challenge in Tampa Bay, which features two proven downfield threats in the 6-foot-5 Mike Evans and speedster DeSean Jackson. The Vikings could consider keeping Rhodes on his side to guard whichever threat is across from him. If they deem Evans the more potent Buccaneers weapon, it would make sense for the Vikings to place one of the NFL’s most physical corners on him throughout the day. The educated guess is yes, you’ll see Rhodes follow Evans for at least some of the game.

A: Tampa Bay made life difficult for the Bears last week, but Chicago and quarterback Mike Glennon didn’t help themselves much. The three opening Bears possessions ended in turnovers and the game was out of hand by halftime at 26-0, Bucs. That doesn’t put an offense in a good spot to succeed in the second half. Regardless if Bradford or Case Keenum is at quarterback, the Vikings need to control the ball and put themselves in manageable third down situations. Dalvin Cook will play a big role. Glennon had success targeting Bears running back Tarik Cohen as a receiver, finding him for 8 catches and 55 yards. If Cook can find an edge against Tampa’s talented linebackers, a big difference can be made.

A: Speaking of rough starts, left guard hasn’t been too kind to Nick Easton quite yet. Easton was flagged twice for holding in Pittsburgh and surrendered a couple pressures against a tough Steelers front. Things won’t get easier against Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who returned to practice Thursday while nursing an ankle injury. McCoy’s 42.5 sacks rank fifth among all defensive tackles since he entered the league in 2010. He was responsible for four of Tampa Bay’s eight hits on Glennon against Chicago last week. McCoy against any of the Vikings’ interior linemen — Pat Elflein and Joe Berger included — will be matchups to watch on Sunday.

Bucs' McCoy can wreck an offense like Kevin Williams used to for Vikings

A person should temper the urge to over-celebrate the Buccaneers’ 29-7 rout of the Bears with the understanding that Chicago is a sloppy team that turned the ball over four times in the first half and is likely to have a new head coach next season, if not sooner.

But, that being said, one thing jumped off the screen at me as I studied the replay.

Gerald McCoy.

Thursday, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer compared the 6-4, 300-pound McCoy to former Viking Kevin Williams. And he’s right. McCoy, a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro, plays like Williams did in his prime when he was going to six Pro Bowls and earning five first-team All-Pro selections.

Like Williams, McCoy plays the three-technique tackle position in a 4-3 defense. Like Williams, McCoy’s quickness and speed is a nightmare matchup when combined with his sheer size and strength. He forces guards to play like tackles, and most guards aren’t as good as tackles.

“He’s a stud,” Zimmer said. “He’s fast, he’s quick, he’s powerful. He’s got wiggle. When you talk about three-techniques around the league, he’s one of the top guys because of his pass rush ability and his quickness in the running game. He’s very disruptive.”

The Bucs played very well defensively. They weren’t afraid to send six and even seven defenders after Mike Glennon, the former Buc, who played like a rattled QB who wasn’t sure when the blitz was coming.

One of Glennon’s two interceptions was a pick-six right before halftime. The Bucs rushed only four defenders. The pocket was clean enough and there was time to throw, but Glennon rushed things, probably sensing pressure that wasn’t there.

The Bucs’ linebackers are fast and active. The secondary looked good. But this defense feeds off of No. 93, McCoy. He’s often the first defender to destroy a play. Or at least occupy two blockers while the linebackers run free.

“I used to say the guys in front of me played good, I played real good,” said former NFL All-Pro linebacker Chris Spielman, who will work Sunday’s game as the Fox analyst. “If they played bad, I played real bad. My job was how well they played. And McCoy makes their jobs a lot easier.”

McCoy didn’t play as many snaps as I remember Williams playing in his prime. Of course, the game was played in Tampa in September, so that could explain why an active 300-pounder played only 63 percent (40 of 64) of the defensive snaps on Sunday.

But in those 40 snaps, McCoy had four of the Bucs’ eight quarterback pressures while splitting time over both guards and even lining up on the nose some.

Two plays that illustrate the destruction that McCoy can bring occurred on Chicago’s first two offensive snaps.

First play: McCoy looked like one of those circus guys who get shot out of a cannon. But instead of landing in a net, McCoy stood the left guard up like the guy was a 200-pound safety. He then drove him  into the backfield and basically tackled him and the ballcarrier, Jordan Howard, for a 3-yard loss. That’s a tone-setter.

Second play: Now lined up over the right guard, McCoy explodes forward, pushing the guard back a couple of yards before splitting the gap to the center’s side. Glennon dumps the ball quick for a short gain, but takes the first of multiple hits from McCoy and the Bucs defense.

If those two snaps don’t get the attention of Vikings left guard Nick Easton and right guard Joe Berger, nothing will. Easton and Berger are fortunate to face McCoy at home, but they’re going to need backup from Pat Elflein on this one.

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