Key matchup: Allen vs. Penn

Donald Penn (Getty)

Donald Penn still holds a grudge against the Vikings, the team that started his NFL career. On Sunday, Penn will have a tough challenge facing him in Jared Allen. Can he hold up, and what's his history been against similar pass rushers?

Revenge can be a big motivator for some players. Such is the case with Tampa Bay left tackle Donald Penn. He is a former Viking who was plucked off the practice squad by the Buccaneers and became their starting left tackle. He's still upset that he never got his chance to show himself with the Vikings and still holds a grudge – making his battle against his former team and Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen this week's key matchup.

Penn was an undrafted free agent of the Vikings in 2006 and was placed on the team's practice squad. He felt he should have been on the 53-man roster and so did the Buccaneers – who claimed him off the Vikings practice squad in October 2006.

Interviewed by Buccaneers beat writers earlier this week, Penn admitted "I still have a chip on my shoulder" about the Vikings leaving him unprotected and available to be scooped up off the practice squad. While his chances of earning a starting job with the Vikings at left tackle were remote at best given that Bryant McKinnie was playing at a high level at the time, he still has revenge on his mind.

In his first chance to get back at his former team in 2008, Penn held Allen without a sack in a 19-13 Tampa Bay win. However, it should be noted that Allen was playing through a significant shoulder injury and was far from 100 percent. This time around, things will be different.

Allen is slimmed down and was one of the few bright spots on the Vikings roster in their Week 1 loss to San Diego. He scored a half-sack and dropped into coverage to make an interception that killed a Chargers drive deep in Vikings territory. If the Vikings are to beat the Buccaneers on Sunday, Allen will have to be a big part of it as the only member of the defensive line that remains from the last meeting in 2008 – Pat Williams is retired, Kevin Williams is serving the second game of his two-game suspension and Ray Edwards signed away via free agency.

Penn isn't viewed as one of the game's top offensive tackles, but has done enough to lock down his starting job and be a cornerstone of the Bucs offense – both in protecting the blind side of Josh Freeman and maneuvering pass rushers to open holes for running back LeGarrette Blount. His job is safe, but, on Sunday, it will be precarious.

Allen's is a relentless pass rusher who will provide Penn with a stiff test. Penn has struggled against top pass rushers, being schooled by Julius Peppers when he was with Carolina and struggling against Will Smith of the Saints. Allen brings many of those same attributes to the table that have caused Penn problems over the years and Allen is going to come out with guns blazing from start to finish.

In a game that promises to be a tightly played affair in which one critical play can turn the tide, Allen brings that big-play potential that could swing momentum. It will be Penn's job to prevent that. It will be a tall order for a player that the Vikings allowed to get away to take Allen out of the equation. Allen has had a history of exploiting such matchups and being one of the bigger difference-makers in the lineup. If he can do that, he gives the Vikings a much better chance of notching their first win of the season.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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