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Dave Campbell / Associated Press, Published October 24 2012

Vikings success is bring dome-field advantage back

MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota’s rebuilding project might eventually prove it needs more work. The Vikings, though, have clearly restored a critical piece of their foundation: the dome-field advantage.

They’re 4-0 this year under the roof, where their fierce pass rush has been bothering opposing quarterbacks and Adrian Peterson has been powering his way through the other team’s defense.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are up next tonight.

“At times, it gets really loud there. They’ve got a lot of passionate fans crammed in that dome, and you’ve got the little horn thing they do,” Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman said, referring to the sound effect at the Metrodome, now known as Mall of America Field, that’s used for first downs and other big plays for the Vikings (5-2).

Freeman and the Buccaneers (2-4) weren’t fazed by the environment last year, when the Vikings led 17-0 at halftime and still by 10 points with less than seven minutes left before falling 24-20.

“You can’t really go back schematically and watch what fell apart, because it’s totally different,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said, noting Tampa Bay has a new staff under coach Greg Schiano. “But the memory’s still there. Don’t get me wrong: I think everyone on this team remembers.”

This is a different Vikings team, though, even if quarterback Christian Ponder has been struggling with seven turnovers in the last three games.

“I’ve already moved on,” Ponder said this week.

The rush up front, led by Allen’s team-high six sacks, is strong again, but the pass coverage in back has been the biggest key to the turnaround from that franchise-worst 3-13 finish in 2011.

Boosted by the arrival of rookie safety Harrison Smith and the healthy return of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, the secondary has helped limit other teams to an average of 6.4 yards per pass attempt, eighth best in the league. The longest completion Minnesota has allowed is 41 yards, and only Chicago’s long of 34 yards is below that.

They held Detroit’s Calvin Johnson to five catches for 54 yards and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald to four receptions for 29 yards. Now they’ll face Vincent Jackson, who’s coming off a 216-yard game.

“You can see his experience when he’s running routes and it seems like he and Freeman have really found a rhythm of late,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “They’ve got a good situation going.”

So do the Vikings.

The hardest part of their schedule looms like a storm on the horizon, and they'll need more than just an umbrella to survive with a playoff-eligible record. The true test of the NFL's most surprisingly successful team to this point won't come until after Thanksgiving. The key for them in the meantime is to maintain this regained edge at the dome, where they were 1-7 last season.

The surroundings fit perfectly into the team's philosophy of controlling the clock with the running game and playing smart and tough yet conservative defense on the other side.


Preview capsule

OPENING LINE: Vikings by 6

RECORD VS. SPREAD: Tampa Bay 3-2-1; Minnesota 4-3

SERIES RECORD: Vikings lead 31-21

LAST MEETING: Buccaneers beat Vikings 24-20, Sept. 18, 2011

LAST WEEK: Buccaneers lost to Saints 35-28; Vikings beat Cardinals 21-14

BUCCANEERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (20), RUSH (17T), PASS (15)

BUCCANEERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (25), RUSH (3), PASS (31)

VIKINGS OFFENSE: OVERALL (23), RUSH (7), PASS (27)

VIKINGS DEFENSE: OVERALL (9), RUSH (12), PASS (11)

INJURY REPORT: QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon McDonald (ankle). PROBABLE: LB Adam Hayward (ankle), WR Vincent Jackson (calf), G Carl Nicks (foot), C Jeremy Zuttah (quadriceps). VIKINGS: OUT: TE John Carlson (concussion), S Mistral Raymond (ankle). PROBABLE: DE Jared Allen (groin), RB Matt Asiata (knee), S Robert Blanton (hamstring), DT Fred Evans (knee), T Matt Kalil (back), LB Marvin Mitchell (calf), RB Adrian Peterson (ankle), QB Christian Ponder (knee), WR Jerome Simpson (back, foot), S Harrison Smith (calf), CB Antoine Winfield (knee).