We’re still a little more than 48 hours away from kickoff at Paul Brown Stadium between the your Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals to start the 2021 regular season. We wanted to get some perspective from the other side, so yours truly sat down and exchanged some questions with Patrick Judis from Cincy Jungle, SB Nation’s home for all things Bengals.
Here’s our Q&A about Sunday’s matchup from a Bengals writer’s perspective. If you want to see what I had to say about the Vikings, you can check it out over at Cincy Jungle.
1. Ja’Marr Chase didn’t exactly have the greatest preseason. Are his early issues with drops (and football size/coloration) being overblown, or is there some genuine cause for concern for the 5th overall pick?
That whole story has really been blown out of proportion. It combined two separate answers he gave including one where a reporter specifically asked the difference between the college and pro balls.
As far as genuine cause for concern, it seems like most of his issues come with just needing more in-game reps. It seems like most people don’t take into account the last time he played in an actual game was when he and Joe Burrow won the National Championship at LSU in 2019. I do not think it will be that long before we see those two start to replicate that in Cincinnati.
2. Is Joe Burrow back at or near 100%? What kind of growth expect from him in his second season after his rookie season was cut short after ten games?
From all accounts it seems that Burrow feels even better than before the injuries. He talked about how the slow rehab process allowed him to rework his game from the ground up. This has shown up in his passes having plenty more zip, and he was routinely tossing the deep ball like he was a completely different guy.
This is is first game back where he might actually take a hit, so it is reasonable to expect some rust. However, I have pretty high hopes for him with the weapons surrounding him and an average offensive line in front of him.
3. Like the Vikings, the Bengals have some excellent skill position players but their offensive line remains a concern. Which parts of the O-line are you most excited about? Who is your biggest concern? (Related: how is our old pal Reilly Reiff looking at RT?)
The biggest improvement came with the replacement at offensive line coach. The difference between the way the players talk about Frank Pollack compared to the way Jim Turner ran the show speaks volumes. Pollack was also the offensive line coach when Joe Mixon led the league in rushing.
I’m excited to see Reiff the most, actually. If you ask any Bengals fan what they thought of Bobby Hart at right tackle, you better be in a place where NSFW language is acceptable. I would take a drink whenever the Bengals quarterback was sacked and Bobby Hart was standing there blocking no one. It was a very long couple of seasons. Reiff has looked reliable there, and if you factor in the comparison between the two, he is basically a god in Cincinnati.
One of the concerns for the entire season is when these promising rookies get their chance. Quinton Spain and Xavier Su’a-filo are solid veteran guards who can hold their own, but Jackson Carmon showed flashes of potential. He is still picking up playing right guard after playing left tackle at Clemson. When he comes in there will be a mountain of pressure to make sure he isn’t the weakest link.
4. Give us one player on offense and one player on defense that most Vikings fans may not be familiar with, but could have a big impact on the game.
Offensively I’ll give you a sleeper on the outside of the usual suspects. C.J. Uzomah is returning at tight end after missing most of 2020. He should provide some surprising plays since most of the attention will likely be on the receivers and Mixon.
Defensively I will continue to signal boost Jessie Bates until he gets the respect he deserves as one of the best safeties in the NFL. The guy just does it all, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he didn’t have a direct hand in determining the outcome of this game trying to stop the talented duo the Vikings have at receiver.
5. Score prediction time! Who wins on Sunday?
Call me optimistic, but I watched Burrow’s press conference right before this, and I am ready to run through a brick wall.
I think Burrow and this offense get going after a rough start, and Cincinnati’s defense comes up with some timely stops and turnovers to give them the edge in a close one.
Bengals 34 Vikings 31
Thanks again to Patrick for taking the time to answer these questions for us.
Stay tuned for much more on the Week 1 matchup as we get closer to kickoff.