Insider's Min-Cin Preview
[size=18px]Vikings in need of better O-line play[/size]
By Scouts, Inc.
Why To Watch
Minnesota was a popular pick to contend for a Super Bowl berth, but an inept running game and a poor performance from QB Daunte Culpepper has some experts and fans scratching their heads. However, they need look no further than the offensive line to answer most of the questions surrounding this team. That unit will have to play substantially better if the Vikings are to get a win against a tough Cincinnati team.
Bengals QB Carson Palmer continues to build on the success he had late last year and his progress gives Cincinnati a balanced attack that keeps opposing defenses off balance. However, questions remain on the defensive side of the ball where the Bengals need to do a better job of stopping the run. Will they be able to keep a struggling Minnesota offense down or will Culpepper & Co. explode for a big game resulting in the Vikings getting the win?
[size=15px]When the Vikings have the ball[/size]
Rushing: Minnesota failed to establish the run last week finishing with just 26 rushing yards on 16 carries. That lack of balance on offense took pressure off the Tampa Bay defense and it put it squarely on Culpepper's shoulders. With Culpepper struggling last week and this game on the road, the Vikings need to get back to running the ball effectively. The problem is that will be easier said than done because of their personnel at running back and, more importantly, questions along the offensive line.
Strong offensive line play is essential to running the ball effectively and that's especially true when it comes to backs like Michael Bennett. Bennett is explosive and he has the breakaway speed to go the distance once he gets into the open field but he lacks the lower body strength to consistently pick up yards after contact. While backups Mewelde Moore and Moe Williams run with more power than Bennett, Moore, who sustained an ankle injury last week, may not be available and Williams isn't an every-down back. That means Minnesota's line must do a considerably better job of creating seams for the backs and there's reason to believe they won't be able to do it.
LOT Bryant McKinnie injured his leg last week so he may not be available and the Vikings replaced rookie ROG Marcus Johnson with Adam Goldberg during last week's game. It's also important to note that OC Matt Birk is out for the year and his replacement Cory Withrow is a marginal starter. Even if McKinnie plays, his injury could hinder him and the inconsistent play will likely continue at right guard as well as center. As a result, Minnesota could have a hard time running the ball despite the fact Cincinnati surrendered an average of over five yards per carry to the Browns in Week 1.
Passing: Culpepper, who lost two fumbles and threw three interceptions last week, must do a better job of protecting the football regardless of how much support he gets from the running game. The Bengals recorded 20 interceptions last year, tying them with New England for seventh in that category, and they picked off two passes last week. They are capable of turning any mistakes Culpepper makes throwing the ball into interceptions that produce either points or quality starting field position for the offense. With the offensive line struggling right now, Culpepper must be willing to throw the ball away or take the sack away when he doesn't get enough time to read the defense and find the open man. He must also cover the ball when he feels the pocket starting to collapse around him and when he takes off to run because Cincinnati defenders will look to knock the ball loose whenever they get to him.
Last week the Vikings were penalized nine times for 70 yards and TE Jermaine Wiggins had two touchdown passes called back last week. With the running game sputtering and the offensive line still gelling, Minnesota must avoid costly penalties that create longer down and distances and disrupt the rhythm of the offense. The challenge for the Vikings will be playing with discipline on the road. With this being the Bengals' first home game of the season, the crowd at Paul Brown Stadium will be loud and disruptive.
[size=15px] When the Bengals have the ball[/size]
Rushing: NT Pat Williams is an eight-year veteran that has 14 career sacks so he doesn't make many big plays. However, he's a difference maker in the sense that he makes the rest of the interior run defense better. Williams has the quickness to beat blockers to the point of attack and he's almost impossible to move once he establishes position. His ability to occupy multiple blockers at the line of scrimmage frees up UT Kevin Williams and MLB Sam Cowart. Kevin Williams is developing into one of the best DTs in the league and he has the burst to disrupt running plays in the backfield. Although Cowart has lost a step with age, he is instinctive and he fills hard when he reads run. As a result, Cincinnati may not have much success running inside where RB Rudi Johnson does most of his damage.
One of the ways Bengals' offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski will try to neutralize the strength of Minnesota's run defense and help his backs turn the corner is pulling the play side guard. Pulling the guard creates quality blocking angles, as it allows the tackle to block down on Williams who generally lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard. With OGs Eric Steinbach and Bobbie Williams big enough to engulf the Vikings' outside linebackers, this approach should work. It's also important to note that backup RB Chris Perry is a better perimeter runner than Johnson so he could play a bigger role this week.
Passing: Palmer is playing with a great deal of poise rand it's unlikely he makes many mistakes unless Minnesota finds a way to shake his confidence. Look for defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell to mix in some 3-4 fronts with the Vikings' base 4-3 fronts as a result. The 3-4 allows Cottrell to mask where he's going to bring the fourth and sometimes fifth rusher from, effectively keeping the offense off balance. That could result in a breakdown in the pass protection, receivers adjusting their routes incorrectly and Palmer throwing into coverage. It's also worth noting that backup OLB Keith Newman, who enters the game when Cottrell goes to the 3-4 front, has the explosive first step and closing speed to be an effective rushing the passer.
One of the biggest reasons getting to Palmer is important is he should have some favorable matchups to exploit when the Bengals spread the field. Minnesota doesn't have the depth at corner to match up when the Bengals go to their multiple-receiver sets, especially with nickel back Brian Williams struggling last week. The Vikings replaced Williams with dime back Ralph Brown during the game last week and it's unclear which one of them will line up there this week. However, Palmer must be careful to look the safeties off when throwing downfield and he must make an effort to spread the ball around. FS Darren Sharper is a playmaker that reads opposing quarterback's eyes and isn't afraid to jump routes if Palmer starts going to one receiver too much.
Re: Insider's Min-Cin Preview
Great read Josdin ... thanks man. Can't really argue with any of it, except the dumbsh!ts calling both of Wiggins plays penalties.... Great Sig by the way.