Tale Of The Tape: Minnesota Vikings At Cincinnati Bengals
- QuarterbackThe Vikings are feeling better about their passing game than they have at any point in the year following their 48-30 victory over the Eagles in Week 15. Matt Cassel was confident and aggressive as he completed 26-of-35 passes for 382 yards with three touchdowns. Cassel does not have the most powerful arm, but he is an accurate short- and medium-range passer.The Bengals lost a big opportunity to win the AFC North when they lost their Week 15 Sunday night game to the Steelers. If the Ravens win out, the Bengals may not even make the playoffs, let alone win the division. The heat will be on quarterback Andy Dalton to find the soft spots in the Minnesota defense and avoid mistakes here.
- OffenseIt’s shocking that the Vikings had their best offensive game with running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart on the bench with injuries. If Peterson returns from his foot injury, he will be a load for the Cincinnati defense to handle. Cassel is developing excellent chemistry with wide receiver Greg Jennings. The former Packer caught 11 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Eagles.The Bengals have gotten excellent production from their two-headed running game led by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and complemented by speedy rookie Giovanni Bernard. It’s likely that Bernard will become a star for the Bengals. Wide receiver A.J. Green should have a decisive edge over the vulnerable Minnesota secondary, while Marvin Jones is also a game-changing receiver.
- DefenseThe Vikings have had major problems on defense throughout the season, and they have been most vulnerable against teams with versatile attacks like Cincinnati. Linebacker Chad Greenway is probably the Vikings’ best defensive player, while veteran Jared Allen is still a dangerous pass rusher. He had 2.0 sacks vs. the Eagles and has 9.0 for the season.The Bengals make some mistakes on defense, but they have been consistently aggressive under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and they rank eighth overall and fifth against the run. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is their signature player and is one of the best tacklers in the league. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap is a relentless pass rusher.
- Special TeamsThe Vikings have gotten some excellent productivity from their special teams. Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson has two kickoff returns for touchdowns, while Marcus Sherels has a punt return for a score. Blair Walsh has a strong leg and is a very dependable placekicker.The Bengals have not gotten a lot of big plays from their punt and kickoff return teams, but they have done an excellent job in coverage. Placekicker Mike Nugent has the leg strength to make long FG attempts consistently. P Kevin Huber (cracked vertebrae, fractured jaw) is on injured reserve.
The Vikings have not had a good year, but they are coming off their best all-around game of the year and should be prepared for the Bengals. Still, the Vikings often struggle outdoors in cold-weather situations. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor