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The Jungle Comes to Minnesota



Date: 13 December 2009
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Time: 12:00 P.M. CST Stadium: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
DirecTV Ch. 707
Know Thy Enemy: Cincy Jungle
Gonzo's Prediction: Vikings 24, Bengals 20
Final Score: Vikings 30, Bengals 10

It's finally time to put the awfulness of last Sunday behind us and look forward to another opportunity to clinch a playoff berth for the Beloved Purple. Today they'll be playing host to the team that might be the NFL's biggest surprise this season, the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals, like the Vikings, are on the cusp of clinching their division, but need a victory in order to make it official. So what do the Vikings have to do in order to knock off one of the AFC's elite teams?

1) Get back to what works on offense - Yes, Brett Favre is having a great season, and yes the Vikings got away with pass-happy game plans against the likes of Seattle and Chicago. However, in order to defeat the Bengals today, the Vikings have to get back to the real strength of their offense, and that's running things through Adrian Peterson. All Day had the second-worst performance of his NFL career last week against the Cardinals (13 carries for 19 yards), and the Vikings abandoned the run entirely too early. The Minnesota offense is generally more successful when they get the run established early, and though the Bengals' run defense has been tough this season (currently #2 in the NFL), Minnesota can't just cast aside the run as quickly as they have over the past couple of weeks.

2) Shut down the run - You're probably saying to yourselves, "We're the Minnesota Vikings. . .of course we're going to shut down the run." Well, against the Bengals, it's incredibly important that this happens. In the last three weeks, the Bengals have had three different backs rush for 100 yards or more in rookie Bernard Scott (119 yards in a loss to Oakland), Kansas City refugee Larry Johnson (107 yards against Cleveland two weeks ago), and former Bear Cedric Benson (110 yards. . .on 36 carries. . .last week against Detroit). Despite having the talented Carson Palmer at quarterback, the Bengals' pass offense is only #21 in the league, and Palmer has only three touchdown passes (along with three interceptions) in the five games since his 5 TD performance against the Bears in Week 8. If the Bengals can shut down the run in the manner that we've become accustomed to and make the Bengals try to beat them through the air, it should actually play right into their hands.

3) Get off to a fast start - Another interesting stat about the Bengals offense. . .they haven't scored a second-half touchdown since the aforementioned Week 8 performance against the Bears. Since their bye week, the Bengals have scored zero touchdowns and nine field goals in five second halves of play. All eight of their touchdowns in that span have come in the first half. I'm not exactly sure why the Bengals are having so much trouble in the second half, but if the Vikings can keep them out of the end zone in the first half, it appears that the sledding for the Bengals will be much tougher after halftime. Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, and the returning Antoine Winfield should play a big part in making that happen.

It's going to be interesting to see how the Vikings deal with their injury situation as well. There's no word about whether or not tackle Phil Loadholt is going to play after injuring his shoulder against the Cardinals. Rookies Jasper Brinkley and Jamarca Sanford are in line for their first career NFL starts today as well, stepping in for E.J. Henderson (broken leg) and Tyrell Johnson (concussion), respectively. Ben Leber will replace Henderson in nickel packages, but we'll have to see how Brinkley handles coverage responsibilities when the Bengals throw on first and second downs. Personally, I think the kids will be alright.

Again, the Vikings can clinch a playoff berth with a victory this afternoon. If the Vikings win AND the Bears can manage to stop sucking long enough to knock off the Packers at Soldier Field, the Vikings will officially clinch the NFC North.

This will also be one of the rare occasions this season where all four NFC North teams will be in action at the same time. The Vikings will be hosting the Bengals, we have the Bears and Packers getting together in Chicago, and the Lions will be traveling to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. We'll be tracking that game, the Saints road trip to Atlanta, and most of the other NFL action as well.

It's an hour and a half until kickoff. . .be here for all the action!