Kirk Cousins' foe on Sunday in Tampa is not the same Buccaneers defense he famously threw three second-half touchdowns against in a 2015 comeback that ended with his trademarked phrase, "You like that?!"
Cousins has not faced the Buccaneers since that improbable 31-30 win for Washington, and both he and Tampa Bay's defense have grown considerably since then. The Vikings offense is rolling and ranks fourth in the NFL, averaging 390 yards. But a star-studded Buccaneers defense, which allows a league-low 3.3 yards per run and blitzes frequently, will put added pressure on Cousins amid the NFC playoff chase.
"They are statistically ranked very highly, and for good reason," Cousins said. "They put a lot of good things on tape and have a lot of good players I've played against before — some I haven't. But I have a lot of respect for that group."
The potential matchup problems are right in front of Cousins. Four Pro Bowlers line the Buccaneers' front seven — nose tackle Ndamukong Suh, edge rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett, and linebacker Lavonte David. They also have a likely future Pro Bowler in second-year linebacker Devin White, their leading tackler.
And Todd Bowles likes to blitz as much as any defensive coordinator, at 39.3%, according to Pro Football Reference. Coach Mike Zimmer commended Cousins for how he handled a blitz-happy Jaguars defense last Sunday — completing six of 14 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown vs. extra rush — and it's not going to let up.
Cousins, who since a 1-5 start has thrown 15 touchdowns to two interceptions, is "going to have to be on" against Tampa Bay, Zimmer said.
"He's going to get blitzed this week, for sure," Zimmer said. "They like to bring a lot of pressure, a lot of different types of pressure. They've got two really good edge rushers, three inside guys that line up over the guards quite a bit, bring the safeties. [Cousins] is going to have to be on. Not only him, but all of our guys: the backs, the tight ends, the offensive line.
"We're all going to have to be on point and make sure that we are able to get it picked up," he added. "And when we have a free runner, we've got to make sure we get the ball out."
The Vikings' extra blocking could be limited with tight ends Kyle Rudolph (foot) and Irv Smith Jr. (back) nursing injuries and unable to practice Wednesday. But the Vikings offense has been rolling through running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson.
Issues have arisen when defenses can stall Cook or take away the ball; the Buccaneers have the NFL's No. 1 run defense and rank second with 14 interceptions. Only four teams have more giveaways than the Vikings' this season.
"We see so many glimpses of some high efficiency," Thielen said. "Some success that we know that we could carry through 60 minutes, and if we did that, then we could be a heck of an offense — one of the best in the league."
Coordinator Gary Kubiak and his coaching staff have effectively pulled the strings to get more out of the Vikings' average offensive line. Last week, Kubiak had second-half answers against the Jaguars' extra pressure, sending Cousins on a shortened play-action dropback and quick toss to fullback C.J. Ham for a 12-yard touchdown. Those plays can loosen up a defense and help Cook carry the Vikings past the finish line.
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said defenses can try to do too much, as one mistake may be catastrophic if few defenders are left deep.
"Once [Cook] breaks it," Arians said, "it's usually going to the house."
But the Vikings are bracing for the Buccaneers to bring the house as both NFC teams fight for their playoff hopes.
"We can't start looking at playoff picture," Thielen said. "We can't start looking at anything but what our opponent is, because we have a heck of an opponent. That's a heck of a football team. Coach [Zimmer] said it [Wednesday] morning, they have all-stars everywhere."