Daniel House prepares you for a matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals and explains how the Vikings can spoil the Bengals playoff hopes in week 16.
The Vikings were without six starters last week, including the MVP of the league, Adrian Peterson, but this didn't plague their performance against a surging Eagles team. Matt Cassel threw for the most passing yards (382) since Brett Favre was slinging balls back in 2009. Cassel was later named FedEx Air Player of the Week and he has accumulated the third-most passing yards in the league since week eight. With little to play for, the Vikings are looking to play spoiler as they continue to play teams chasing playoff spots. Today, the team squares off with the Cincinnati Bengals, who currently lead the AFC North with a 9-5 record. Cincinnati clinches the AFC North with a win and a Baltimore loss or tie, or a tie of their own plus a Baltimore loss. The Bengals can clinch a playoff spot with a win, a Miami loss or tie, or a tie plus a Miami loss. The Bengals have plenty to play for and the Vikings could really shake up the AFC playoff race with an upset win this week. The Vikings will be squaring off with Andy Dalton, a quarterback they passed over to select Christian Ponder back in 2011. Dalton has proven to be a great investment for the Bengals and his rapport with standout wide receiver A.J. Green, has become a lethal connection. The Vikings will witness the return of Adrian Peterson per several media sources and Minnesota will look to continue their success and pick up their first road win, late in the 2013 campaign. How do the Vikings send the Bengals into shock this week?
Television: FOX (Channel 9 in Minneapolis)
Play-by-Play: Dick Stockton Analyst: Ronde Barber
Sideline Reporter: Kris Budden
KFAN-FM 100.3/KTCN-AM 1130
Play-by-Play: Paul Allen Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline Reporter: Greg Coleman
Pre-Game Show: Mike Mussman -10:00 a.m. CT
The home team has won 10 of the 11 matchups between the two teams, including the last 4 games. The last meeting took place on 12/13/09, a Vikings 30-10 win. This teams met on Christmas Day in 1989, a Vikings 29-21 victory. The Vikings only road win in the series came on 9/27/92. A win would give the Vikings their 7th win in the month of December dating back to 2012. The Vikings currently are tied for 4th in the NFL with a 6-2 record in December in that span.
The Primary Focus:
Matt Cassel shredded the Eagles defense last week and he faces a Bengals group that has allowed a respectable 3,075 yards to opposing quarterbacks this season. Cassel has developed a great connection with Greg Jennings and the offense has incorporated more crossing routes and picks to open up lanes for Jennings in the passing game The Vikings will gain Adrian Peterson this week, which will help improve the Vikings pass game with play-action. The team proved last week that Matt Cassel can make the throws necessary to win, meaning the playbook can be opened wider. With more snaps for Cordarrelle Patterson and innovative ways to include him in the ballgame, the Vikings offense has slowly improved. Quarterback play has been the biggest change for this team and Cassel has completed more throws down the field, which has caused the Vikings offense to evolve. Matt Cassel has completed 71.4% of his passes 40 yards or more down the field and he will need to continue this trend today. The Bengals have very physical cornerbacks and after establishing the run and setting up play-action, Cassel will be able to find nice one-on-one matchups in the secondary. The Vikings offense needs to continue to move the ball as efficiently as they did against the Eagles and they can compete with any team in this league.
On the Defensive:
The Vikings will need to place the focus on stopping wide receiver A.J. Green, who is sixth in total receiving yardage this season. The key is pressuring Andy Dalton and forcing him to make poor decisions, which has led to Dalton's inability to find Green this season. Bengals running back Giovanni Bernard will be seeking attention, especially in the passing game, which is an area the Vikings have struggled with this season. Bernard is in the top-five of total receiving yards for running backs and this will require Audie Cole and Chad Greenway to be solid in coverage this week. Finally, the pride battle will be on the line between Jared Allen and Brian Robison today. One player will reach 10 sacks this season and the preseason bet will be settled between the two pass rushers. With one sack today, Jared Allen moves to eighth on the NFL all-time sacks list, which is a great honor for the ten-year veteran. The Vikings will gain Chris Cook in the secondary this week, which is great, as Minnesota matches up with Bengals wide receivers who have talented skill sets. The Vikings have committed the 4th fewest penalties in the league this season (61) and if they can play perfect football, along with forcing turnovers, they can upset Cincinnati today.
Special Teams Primer:
After Bengals punter Kevin Huber had his jaw absolutely exploded during a punt return in a loss versus the Steelers last week, Cincinnati has a new punter in town this week. Former Bills punter, Shawn Powell replaces Huber this week and he may have to shake off some rust. The Bengals punt team has struggled this season and allowed Antonio Brown to return a punt for a touchdown last week. This could be huge for Marcus Sherels, who has corralled a nice return average this season. Cordarrelle Patterson could get some chances in the game and you may see the Vikings put him back on punt team with Sherels again this week.
Injury Report (via NFL.com):
|Name||Position||Injury||Practice Status||Game Status|
|Larry Dean||LB||Knee||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Adrian Peterson||RB||Groin||Limited Participation in Practice||Questionable|
|John Carlson||TE||Concussion||Did Not Participate In Practice||Doubtful|
|Matt Asiata||RB||Ankle||Limited Participation in Practice||Questionable|
|Brandon Fusco||G||Knee||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Chris Cook||CB||Knee||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Marcus Sherels||CB||Shoulder||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Xavier Rhodes||CB||Ankle||Did Not Participate In Practice||Out|
|Chad Greenway||LB||Wrist||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Harrison Smith||S||Toe||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Cullen Loeffler||LS||Hand||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Toby Gerhart||RB||Hamstring||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Kevin Huber||P||Jaw||Out (Definitely Will Not Play)||Out|
|Terence Newman||CB||Knee||Did Not Participate In Practice||Doubtful|
|Devon Still||DT||Back||Did Not Participate In Practice||Questionable|
|James Harrison||LB||Concussion||Full Participation in Practice||Questionable|
|Jermaine Gresham||TE||Abdomen||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Carlos Dunlap||DE||Concussion||Full Participation in Practice||Questionable|
|Kevin Zeitler||G||Foot||Full Participation in Practice||Questionable|
|Andrew Whitworth||T||Concussion||Full Participation in Practice||Questionable|
The Vikings will be without Xavier Rhodes again this week and Harrison Smith will be limited after his toe flared up during his return last week. There has been no word on Toby Gerhart's return, but it appears Adrian Peterson will be back today. Brandon Fusco could return this week, but his knee will be evaluated during pre-game warmups.
As for the Bengals, they are relatively healthy and should see the return of James Harrison on defense this week. Also, starting cornerback Terrence Newman is very unlikely to play this week, along with tight end Jermaine Gresham, who has been battling an abdominal injury.
Final Keys to Victory:
The Vikings need to extend the field, open up play-action, pressure Andy Dalton, corral A.J. Green, and they must defend Giovanni Bernard in the passing game, if they want to upset the Bengals in week 16.