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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Bengals?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings (10-3) may have slipped behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the race for the NFC, but they are still in prime position for the No. 2 seed or better if they take care of business the rest of the way. That starts with the Cincinnati Bengals (5-8) on Sunday at US Bank Stadium. The Vikings are dinged up, while the Bengals have been crushed by injuries. How do they match up? Let’s have a look…

Quarterback

Cincinnati: Andy Dalton

As has been the case throughout his career, Andy Dalton goes as his team goes. When he’s been surrounded by a great offensive line and playmakers, the Bengals’ quarterback has taken his team to the postseason and occasionally posted good numbers. When the supporting cast hasn’t been strong, he’s struggled. The 30-year-old quarterback had an impressive 106.5 rating in 2015, but over the last two years he’s lost receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marin Jones and seen his offensive line deteriorate.

This year, Dalton averages just 211 yards per game and averages a middle-of-the-pack 7.1 yards per attempt. One area where the Vikings will have to be strong is against the screen pass. Dalton averages a very solid 7.3 yards per attempt on throws behind the line of scrimmage, but is only 7-for-37 on throws beyond 20 yards.

With a brutal O-line and AJ Green as the only effective receiver in Cincinnati, the Vikings should feel very confident going against Dalton.

Minnesota: Case Keenum

For the first time in awhile, Keenum saw some adversity against the Carolina Panthers and sputtered at times, throwing two interceptions and failing to move the ball with the game on the line. The Vikings played with a makeshift offensive line against the Panthers, which limited their ability to run up the middle and use their bread-and-butter screen passes and play-action throws. This week, Keenum will mostly have his offensive line back in tact as Mike Remmers and Pat Elflein return, though Riley Reiff will be out for the game. Playing against a defense that’s missing a starting corner and both starting linebackers, Keenum could have a field day so long as the Vikings run the ball well. The only glaring weakness for the Vikings’ QB is in third-and-long situations, where he averages just 6.0 yards per attempt and has a 61.3 rating.

Advantage: Vikings

Running back

Cincinnati: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard

At 3.3 yards per carry, Mixon hasn’t been worth the bad PR that came along with drafting him. Mixon was considered a first-round talent, but dropped because of a video showing him punching a woman in the face. He has been somewhat effective in the passing game with 9.9 yards per catch, but he only has 27 receptions this season. Mixon is expected to return from a concussion suffered two weeks ago. He is listed as questionable. Bernard is the more dangerous option in the Bengals’ backfield, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 11.3 per reception.

Minnesota: Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon

For the first time in a long time, Latavius Murray was slowed against the Panthers, gaining just 14 yards on nine carries. Prior to the Vikings’ loss in Carolina, Murray had been a major part of the team’s eight-game win streak. Between Week 7 and Week 13, he gained 79 yards per game at 4.5 yards per carry. The door is open for a bounce back as the Bengals have allowed the second most rushing yards in the NFL. Jerick McKinnon had several successful runs last week, but was held to just two catches for nine yards. Getting him involved early in the passing game will also be important for the Vikings’ offense.

Advantage: Vikings

Wide receiver/tight end

Cincinnati: AJ Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Kroft

Someday AJ Green is going to get rejected on his first try for the Hall of Fame and we’re going to wonder what he cold have done with a better quarterback. He’s consistently been one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, coming short of 1,000 yards for the first time in his career last year. He’s on pace to clear 1,000 again with 65 receptions for 950 yards and eight touchdowns. If Xavier Rhodes can slow down Green, the Bengals won’t have many options Brandon LaFell and Tyler Kroft are the only other two receivers with more than 30 catches this season and neither are dynamic threats.

Minnesota: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, David Morgan

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was still upset Monday about a touchdown catch that was ruled incomplete to Adam Thielen, who still came away with 105 yards and a TD against Carolina. Both Thielen and Diggs are averaging 14.5 yards per catch and grabbing around 65 percent of throws in their direction, making them one of the league’s best receiver tandems. The Vikings’ group of No. 3 receivers – Laquon Treadwell, Jarius Wright and Michael Floyd – will all have a chance to step up with tight end Kyle Rudolph out with an ankle injury. David Morgan steps into his spot, but does not offer the same type of receiving threat.

Advantage: Vikings

Offensive line

Cincinnati: Cedric Ogbuehi, Clint Boling, Russell Bodine, Trey Hopkins, Andre Smith

Yikes. Football Outsiders ranks the Bengals’ offensive line 29th in run blocking and 22nd in pass blocking – and that’s with a high percentage of short throws. It’s become clear that losing Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler to free agency was a devastating blow to Cincinnati’s offense.

Minnesota: Rashod Hill, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger, Mike Remmers

The Vikings would be wise to give Riley Reiff as much time as possible to heal his injured ankle. Reiff has been a huge part of the team’s success on offense, handling top edge rushers on the outside and bringing toughness and mobility to the run game. Without him, it would be difficult for the Vikings to go deep in the playoffs. Case Keenum will be elated to get Pat Elflein and Mike Remmers back. They are also key contributors to the Vikings’ run and screen pass attack. If anyone was questioning Elflein’s value, it was made quite clear against Carolina.

Advantage: Vikings

Defensive line

Cincinnati: Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins, Pat Sims, Carlos Dunlap

The one area where the Bengals have been good this year is on the defensive line. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is building a Hall of Fame resume. He’s picked up 7.0 sacks this season and ranks fourth by Pro Football Focus ratings. Edge rusher Carlos Dunlap is also consistently dangerous, though his sack production is down from 13.5 two seasons ago to 5.5 this year. Rotational pass rusher Carl Lawson has added 7.0 sacks. The Bengals do have a glaring weakness at nose tackle, where both Pat Sims and Andrew Billings are rated among the worst by PFF rankings.

Minnesota: Everson Griffen, Tom Johnson, Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter

Fans might have expected more sacks from Danielle Hunter than his current 6.0, but he still ranks ninth in Football Outsiders’ pressures statistic. If Everson Griffen ends the season strong, he’ll put his name in the conversation for defensive MVP – and he’s certainly got a shot at a huge day against the Bengals. Linval Joseph ranks 12th among DTs by PFF metrics – an exceptional rating for a nose tackle. And Tom Johnson has the highest rating of his career. He’s been a much better run stuffer than previously thought, which has made up for the loss of Sharrif Floyd.

Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings

Linebackers

Cincinnati: Hardy Nickerson, Jordan Evans, ??????

For all of his flaws, Vontaze Burfict is a very good linebacker. Obviously he’s dangerously physical, but Burfict is also good in coverage. He can match up with tight ends or chase down running backs out of hte backfield. Missing Burfict is a huge blow to Cincinnati’s chances at slowing down the Vikings run and short passing game. Hardy Nickerson Jr. was undrafted this year and spent time on the practice squad this season. He’s nowhere near ready to start against a 10-3 NFL team. Jordan Evans was a sixth-round pick in 2017 and has started one game. The two kids are likely in for a long day. It appears Brandon Bell will play in the base package. He’s never seen an NFL snap before.

Minnesota: Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Ben Gedeon

The Vikings’ linebackers have not been a part of many “splash” plays this year, combining for only 2.0 sacks, zero forced fumbles, zero interceptions and 11 passes defended, but on a game-to-game basis they have been solid, especially in coverage. Anthony Barr has only had 8.9 percent of his tackles broken, a big improvement from 22.2 percent last season. Kendricks’ PFF scores have not been impressive, in part because of a high number of broken tackles early in the year, but his speed and coverage skills have played a big role in the Vikings shutting down running backs in the passing game a la Le’Veon Bell, Tarik Cohen, Christian McCaffrey etc. Gedeon has done a nice job when called upon, picking up 10 tackles in 123 run snaps.

Advantage: Vikings

Defensive backs

Cincinnati: William Jackson, Keivarae Russell, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw, George Iloka

Yet another position where the Bengals will be playing without their full deck as corner Dre Kirkpatrick is out with a concussion. Corner William Jackson is worth watching. The 2016 first-round pick leads the team in passes defended and ranks 15th by Pro Football Focus ratings. Jackson is tall and fast (4.37 40-yard dash), which could make for a good matchup against either Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen.

Minnesota: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Terence Newman, Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo

Xavier Rhodes has been dinged up lately, but that made no difference against the Panthers last week. He allowed one catch on a brilliant throw by Cam Newton and that was it. Trae Waynes is the seventh most targeted corner in the NFL and allows 8.4 yards per attempt into his coverage, but he’s shown great improvement over this season and has become one of the best tackling corners in the NFL. Terence Newman may be asked to play more snaps this week with Mackensie Alexander out. And Harrison Smith continues to dominate. He’s still ranked as the No. 1 safety by PFF ratings.

Advantage: Vikings

The post Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Bengals? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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