We are getting into the meat of the Cincinnati Bengals’ schedule in analyzing the anticipated hardest games of the year. The Minnesota Vikings are a team that started flaming hot last year going 5-0 to start the season. However, eventually it all ended up falling apart. This can be blamed on several defensive players not playing up to their talent and the offensive line being abysmal. The Vikings also had a career year from Sam Bradford. When you break it down in advanced stats though, you can see he was too cautious when playing. He often threw short of the sticks on third down, which can also be blamed on the line not giving him enough time of course.
Now, let’s take a look at the Vikings’ strengths, weaknesses and why this game may be difficult.
Weakness: Despite signing two offensive tackles and drafting Pat Elflein, the Vikings have real offensive line concerns after the unit handicapped their offense in 2016.
The team’s center is alright, but their guard play could be classified as poor. Their tackles last season were not good and they swapped them out with two questionable players. Bringing in former Lions right tackle Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers from the Buccaneers. It is questionable whether the line will sink the Vikings’ season or not and their team construction is very similar to the Bengals in that their season will largely rely on the offensive line play.
Weakness: After a strong start to his career, Anthony Barr played very poorly in 2016, leaving the Vikings' linebacker group without a true impact player.
The Vikings looked to be set at linebacker with Barr, who was a young ascending superstar as recently as 2015, and the talented Eric Kendricks who is a fairly athletic himself. However something happened to Barr in 2016 and it's as big a mystery as there is in football. For some reason, in 2016 Barr's play fell off a cliff. It was a large reason for their defense falling apart down the stretch when they couldn't cover the middle of the field nearly as well. The Vikings will be hoping for a bounceback year from Barr, which should help the defense rebound into an elite unit.
Strength: Terence Newman is still great, despite being the second oldest non-special teamer in the NFL. Additionally, the Vikings signed talented young cornerback Xavier Rhodes to a big extension this offseason, making their secondary a strength.
The Vikings have a plethora of young talented corners, a lot like the Bengals. And, they also have a veteran presence (like the Bengals have Adam Jones), Newman, who somehow was one of the better corners in the league last year as he approaches 40. Playing opposite of Newman was Rhodes who had a bit of a breakout year last year and ended up getting the big contract extension this offseason. The Vikings also have Harrison Smith, who is one of the best safeties in the NFL and someone the Vikings gave a big contract to last year. They also have two younger corners in Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander.
Strength: A talented and deep defensive line is comprised of a core including Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen and the young and exciting Danielle Hunter.
Hunter is one of the most exciting young defensive ends in the NFL. He uses his athleticism perfectly to get after the quarterback and get pressure. Griffen is also a steady pass rusher who is always getting the Vikings the pressure needed and has also recently received a big contract. Finally there is Joseph, the Vikings nose tackle and hone of the better ones in the NFL. He isn't as dominant a run stopper as Damon Harrison, but he generates more pressure.
Player to watch: Dalvin Cook
The Vikings swapped second round picks with the Bengals to get former Florida State running back Dalvin Cook. All reports are that Cook is the real deal and the Vikings made a great pick. As terrible as the Vikings offensive line may be, it may not even matter for Cook as he played for one of the worst offensive lines in the nation at Florida State. Behind that offensive line, Cook was a grinder who would destroy teams with his big plays. When he goes to take the edge, it looks nearly impossible for a player to catch up to him, although that was in college and it may be different in the pros. If there is one player who can dominate this game and win it for the Vikings it's Cook. It will also be a battle between the guy the Vikings traded up for and the guy the Bengals took with the Vikings’ pick in Joe Mixon. So this game will also be interesting to see who got the better side of this coin.