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Looking Forward to the Bengals

There have been a couple of interesting developments over the course of the past couple of days leading up to the matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings.  The first was the revelation from a Cardinals' "insider" the day after the Vikings' 30-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.  The rumor has been circulating that the Cardinals knew whether the Vikings would be passing or running the football based on the stance of left tackle Bryant McKinnie.  If McKinnie put his left foot farther back, the Cardinals anticipated pass. . .if it was farther up, they looked for the run.

While this might have something to do with some of the success the Cardinals had against Minnesota, I still think it's quite a bit of hand-wringing over nothing.  Honestly, are we to believe that if there was such an obvious tell from the Vikings' offense, it took professional football coaches until Week 13 of the season to exploit it?  I doubt it. . .the Vikings' offense would have been getting overrun since September if that were the case.  I think what we saw on Sunday night doesn't have anything to do with stances or anything else.  It had to do with the Cardinals putting together their best game of the season, the Vikings playing their worst game of the year, and those two events coinciding on the same Sunday night.  Do I think the Vikings would get whipped that badly if they had to face the Cardinals again?  Not at all.  Arizona still might win the game, mind you, but I don't think they'd dominate the Vikings the way they did on Sunday night.  Obviously, I'm a bit biased, and your mileage may vary on such matters, but that's my view of things.

Second, as Anthony pointed out in a FanShot yesterday, Chad Ochocinco is already at it, telling Adam Schefter via Twitter that when he scores against the Vikings. . .and you'll note his usage of the word "when" as opposed to "if". . .he was going to take the horn away from the Vikings' mascot and use it himself.

(Do we tell him that the horn sound that plays after first downs is pre-recorded, or do we just let him look for the horn for about half an hour or so?  If. . .not when. . .it happens, mind you.)

The problem with Ochenta y Cinco telling us what's going to happen "when" he scores is a bit of a laugh, given the recent inconsistencies of the Cincinnati offense.  Back in Week 7 of the season, the Bengals hosted the Chicago Bears. . .and scored on their first seven offensive possessions (6 touchdowns and a field goal) on their way to a 45-10 victory.  Then they went on their bye, which was apparently badly timed.  Why?  Because in their five games since coming back from their bye week, the Bengals offense has put up the following results:

vs. Baltimore - 17 points
@ Pittsburgh - 18 points (4 FG and a touchdown on a 96-yard kickoff return)
@ Oakland - 17 points (and a loss)
vs. Cleveland - 16 points
vs. Detroit - 23 points

Those last three games were against teams that are in the bottom quarter of the NFL in scoring offense.  The Vikings had a few easy games prior to their trip to Arizona, don't get me wrong. . .but they won those games rather convincingly, while Cincy has struggled a little bit.

That's not to say that the Bengals offense doesn't have talent, because it does.  In their past three games, they've had three different running backs rush for over 100 yards. . .former Bear Cedric Benson, Chiefs refugee Larry Johnson, and rookie Bernard Scott (he of the 96-yard kickoff return mentioned above).  But Carson Palmer has had a bit of trouble finding his rhythm since throwing for five touchdowns in the rout of the Bears, and the Cincinnati offense is only 21st in the NFL in passing in terms of yardage.  The Bengals predicate everything they do offensively on their ability to run the football. . .which is good for the Vikings, who have moved up to #3 in the NFL in rush defense after getting off to a slow start earlier in the year.

The Bengals are one of the two teams that has been better against the run than the Vikings have, as they currently sit at #2 in the league in that category, allowing 81.8 yards/game on the ground (Minnesota allows 84.2 ypg).  The Vikings really, really got away from the run in their last game against Arizona, and definitely need to get back to it.  Domata Peko, the Bengals big run-stopping force, will miss this Sunday's game after having arthroscopic knee surgery, so the Vikings might find the sledding a bit easier, but the Bengals' defense has been fierce all season long, and have currently allowed the fewest points in the National Football League.  Getting Adrian Peterson established early, with a nice dose of Chester Taylor thrown in, would certainly make the Vikings' efforts easier.  I'd look for a lot of Visanthe Shiancoe in this game as well.

The Bengals game could serve as a tipping point in either direction for the Vikings' season.  If they can come out and get a victory over the team that has all but sewn up the AFC North, it can serve to put the Arizona game out of mind and put it down as an isolated bad performance by the Vikings.  If they lose, however, it could be the start of a spiral that the Vikings don't want to be on heading into the post-season.  It should be an outstanding game in any case, and we'll have more on it as the game approaches.