There are very few secrets at this point of the season. We know what teams are made of and what they can do. The keys to the game now lie in the facts; the time for hypothesizing on gut-feelings is over.
The Bengals are a running team with a good defense. There's really no disputing that. Much has been written about what they can't do, mostly in regards to the deficiencies in the passing game.
The subject just will not die.
Here is my final take on it once and for all:
The Bengals were dissatisfied with the results of centering the team around Carson Palmer and the passing game. They wisely shifted the paradigm away from relying on Palmer and have given no indications of returning to that style any time soon. Many are beginning to worry that the shift is too pronounced, too obvious in its approach to sustain its productive output. I too have recently raised mild concerns that the philosophy may have evolved into an extreme one, but the facts say that Cincinnati is enjoying a rare season of tremendous success and I no longer want to stand in the way of such an occasion with my petty squabbling about needing more receivers.
We're a grind-house, smash-mouth football team, dammit, and if we have to out-muscle Roger Goodell himself in order to wind up on top, then that's the way it's going to be.
The more Marvin Lewis abandons conventional thinking and current trends by resorting to more of an archaic approach to the game, the more his team wins. His thinking may be so backwards that it's progressive; the facts certainly suggest such a claim.
So, why would we expect anything to change this week? Because Minnesota has a banged-up secondary and the Arizona Cardinals just finished filleting them through the air? Because the Bengals passing game must prove that it can assist in beating the "good teams"? Because it's more fun to watch?
I think not.
Even though the Vikings are second in the league against the run, I expect Cedric Benson to touch the ball over 30 times and run up the middle until the entire Metrodome falls asleep. I expect Jared Allen to get pressure on Palmer and frustrate the offense, especially on third down. I expect more field goals.
The Lions bottled up Benson on nearly every attempt to the outside last week. Minnesota lost their best linebacker, EJ Henderson, to a broken femur last Sunday night, but with Benson running slower than earlier this year, coupled with Bernard Scott's absence, any linebacker may be able to contain all short stuff to the middle of the field.
The rub about going up the middle against the Vikings is that damn "Williams Wall" of theirs. Pat and Kevin Williams are perennial Pro-Bowl defensive tackles who either reroute runners or swallow them whole. Not much gets past these human detours. Chances of big rushing totals against them are grim. The Bengals are likely to go right at them anyway, under the old it's-so-crazy-it-might-just-work adage. Good luck, Mr. Benson.
The assignment for the defense, however, may not be as dire.
For the first time in purple, Brett Favre looked frazzled, as he was hounded all night by those blitz-crazy Cardinals. The air of invincibility that normally surrounds the gray and revered wizard of quarterbacks quietly dissipated that night with the dry desert breeze. Under all that padding was just a man after all, running scared from the bigger men chasing him, just like anybody else would.
The Bengals have not collected many sacks lately. A consistent pass rush is one of the few things lacking on such an impressive defense, but Minnesota's well-paid line is currently ailing and Mike Zimmer has recently had success on linebacker blitzes up the middle and cornerback blitzes from the nickel position. Favre is as wily as they come, and it's clear that he's a tough guy, but if the Bengals can knock him off of his Hall-of-Fame pedestal the way Arizona did, they could keep the score in their comfort zone: low.
Typically teams also have to account for the superhero-like Adrian Peterson when preparing for Minnesota. Peterson has all the pedigree of a great one and often makes us spectators look at each other in disbelief. But the facts say that he hasn't been himself lately, averaging only three yards a carry in the last three games. They also say that the Bengals are the very best at stuffing the run, and the result, surprisingly enough, is that Cincinnati shouldn't have to worry about Peterson all that much this week.
The player I'd be most concerned with if I were Zimmer is the dazzling rookie receiver, Percy Harvin. This man was an excellent draft pick for Minnesota. Harvin is a rocket in the open field, and can blaze past corners on the deep ball. He's extremely dangerous in the return game and is a nightmare match-up when he lines up as the slot receiver. There is a chance that Harvin may not be able to play this week though, as he has been held out of practice with headaches.
A reputable sports news source published a story this week that somewhat erroneously claimed that the Bengals have a weak spot at their nickel position. Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace had a big day in Week 3, and tight end Owen Daniels supplied some big plays for the Texans in their win, but outside of those performances, I'd give rookie cornerback Morgan Trent outstanding marks for his play this season. Trent plays with excellent technique and fundamentals and looks to add quality depth to an already solid position for the team. I'm often perplexed at the reasoning "experts" supply when dismissing the Bengals as contenders, but this one stands out to me as simply false.
That being said, if Trent is left one-on-one with Harvin on Sunday, Trent may be the one with a headache. It will be tough for the Bengals to give Trent too much help in coverage because of Minnesota's other quality receivers, Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice. Zimmer will have to spend some extra time in the lab this week cooking up new formulas in hopes of solving this one. Or just hope that those headaches persist. Either way: good luck, Mr. Zimmer.
So there you have it. No wild schemes or over-thinking; just logical conclusions based around statistical evidence. There's no point inventing scenarios where the Bengals unveil a new, high-powered passing attack that produces tons of scoring and yardage. It's also no use thinking that the defense will wilt under the cannon-fire from Favre, Harvin or the rest of the Viking Ship.
We know this team; we've seen them all year.
Vikings 20, Bengals 16
Mojokong---Worry not; there is still much joy to be had in Mudville.