The Bengals travel to the recently built US Bank Stadium to face the Minnesota Vikings in what will be their second of three consecutive games against NFC North opponents. To get in inside look at their next opponent, we spoke with Chris Gates of The Daily Norseman about Mike Zimmer, Adam Thielen, and if there is anything the Bengals can do to finally beat an NFC North opponent.
Scott Schulze: Can we have Mike Zimmer back? What has he been able to do, which eluded Leslie Frazier, in turning the Vikings into a regular winner, especially going thru the quarterback turnover they have cycled thru of late.
Chris Gates: Unfortunately, we are not able to offer "take backsies" on Coach Zimmer. We kind of like the guy and hope that he stays around for a long time. I think the biggest reason that Zimmer has had success here after Leslie Frazier did not is because he and Rick Spielman really got to build a team around Zimmer's vision of what he wanted. This team has focused on defense a lot since Zimmer has been the head coach, and they've drafted and developed players that fit the sort of scheme he wants to run. The defense now has legitimate stars at all three levels, and they've been in the Mike Zimmer scheme long enough to know exactly how things are supposed to be done. Leslie Frazier didn't really have that luxury, but the coaching staff and front office that are in place now have built something that could potentially be special for a long time.
SS: Speaking of quarterbacks, who is the Vikings starting quarterback next season? It seems like a good problem to have with Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater watching Case Keenum air it out like he’s Brett Favre from his 2009 season with the Vikings.
CG: It might depend on the fate of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Keenum has had the best season of his career under the watchful eye of Shurmur, and there's no doubt that Shurmur is going to start getting some head coaching buzz as we get closer to the end of the season. If Shurmur departs for somewhere else, Keenum might be inclined to follow and hope that he can have the same sort of success somewhere else. If Shurmur stays in Minnesota, then I think there's going to be a legitimate quarterback competition next season between Keenum and Bridgewater. I think the team can get both of them signed to reasonable deals given the current situation of both players, and then it will be "let the best man win" in Training Camp next season. Zimmer has made no secret of the fact that he loves Bridgewater, and I don't think that the Vikings put all the time and energy into getting him back on the field so that he could move on to somewhere else. If I absolutely have to pick one or the other. . .man, I'd probably have to say Bridgewater. But that might change if you ask me again tomorrow.
SS: Undrafted free agent Adam Thielen seemed to pop up out of nowhere last year, and has been even more productive this year. Could you comment on him, and the status of the Vikings wide receivers? Laquon Treadwell was a player that some Bengals fans were interested in during the 2016 NFL Draft, but he seems to be struggling for playing time behind Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
CG: Thielen has been a great story (and it's a story you'll probably hear a ton of times during the broadcast on Sunday), but he's gone from being a great story to being a great receiver. He is an example of a player that's just kept grinding and working on his craft, as he started out on the practice squad, eventually found a role on special teams in 2014, and actually started becoming a part of the offense in 2015. He's probably one of the best route runners in the game right now, and is a great weapon for the Vikings to have. As far as Treadwell, he's had his moments this season, but he's genuinely about the fourth or fifth-highest priority target on the team, behind Thielen, Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph (and possible a running back, depending on the scheme). The team isn't trying to force him into the offense or anything, but he's generally done a decent job this season when he's been called upon.
SS: The Panthers ended the Vikings eight game winning streak last week. Were any ‘chinks in the armor’ on either offense or defense exposed by the Panthers, which the Bengals can attempt to exploit?
CG: I'm not sure if there are any systemic problems that the Bengals would be able to exploit. The Vikings played one of their worst games of the season against a 9-4 Panthers team in their house and still had a chance to win late. Keenum was sacked six times (which is nearly as many times as he had been sacked all season going in), the Vikings turned it over three times, and they uncharacteristically allowed a pair of 60+ yard runs in that game. The Bengals do have some talent on offense, I won't deny that, but I don't think they have quite the personnel needed to do the same thing that the Panthers did to the Vikings last week, unless Cam Newton somehow ends up in a Bengals' uniform between now and Sunday.
SS: I would ask for a score/result prediction, but since it’s advent, I’ll focus on happy things and avoid hearing about how the Bengals should get beat by double digits. Instead I’ll ask something a bit off the wall – How does the Vikings new US Bank Stadium compare with the former Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome? I assume the roof hasn’t collapsed on the new one?
CG: The roof has not, in fact, collapsed on the new stadium yet. So we've got that going for us. . .which is nice. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to make the pilgrimage to the new place, but having experienced the Metrodome numerous times, I think it would be almost impossible for any stadium to be worse. However, everyone I know that's been to the new stadium has absolutely raved about the experience, and everyone will get an opportunity to get a good look at it when the facility hosts the Super Bowl in February. With any luck, the Vikings will be playing in that game, but I don't want to jinx that quite yet.