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Why Danielle Hunter could spoil the Bengals’ season opener

Cincinnati’s revamped o-line gets an early test against an intimidating Minnesota pass rush.

Cincinnati Bengals v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

The Bengals have some favorable matchups in their game tomorrow. For instance, the trio of Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and Ja’Marr Chase should be able to attack the Minnesota Vikings’ aging secondary.

However, if there’s one area where Bengals fans should be concerned, it’s Minnesota’s pass rush, says The Athletic’s Arif Hasan, who has covered the team for close to a decade. You can watch his analysis of the matchup below:

“I think that if the Vikings are going to win the game or at least shut down the Bengals’ offense, it’ll be through that defensive line,” Hasan said. “I’m really confident that [Minnesota’s] defensive line will look really good.”

Hasan explained why the Vikings’ d-line is going to look a lot better than it did last season: “They didn’t have Danielle Hunter last year. In fact, as [head coach Mike] Zimmer said on Monday, all four of [the Vikings’] primary starters last year are now backups on other teams. Which is kinda true. Some of them aren’t even on rosters.”

The biggest threat to Joe Burrow and the passing game is, of course, Danielle Hunter, who missed all of 2020 with a neck injury. Hasan is confident that Hunter will have a “really huge season,” which, he acknowledges seems like a cliche for a young pass rusher with impressive stats. But Hasan has put considerable thought into his evaluation:

Based on what I’ve seen in camp against Brian O’Neill, who just got a pretty big deal [five years, $92.5 million], and just generally what I’ve seen from Danielle Hunter, it’s one of the best edge rusher offseasons I’ve seen. I don’t know how well that’s gonna translate, but I’ve seen Jared Allen go up against Matt Kalil. I’ve seen Everson Griffen go up against TJ Clemmings. I’ve seen really good edge rushers go up against really bad tackles. And I think that Danielle Hunter going up against a really good tackle, who I think is the second highest paid right tackle in the NFL right now, from that I think that Danielle Hunter’s had more success getting past his assignment than I’ve ever seen from an edge rusher. It’s really remarkable what he’s been able to do. He’s setting himself up to be a really good pass rusher.

Hunter, still only 26 years old, has 54.5 sacks in his career, including 29 sacks in the last two seasons he was healthy, 2018 and 2019.

Meanwhile, Hasan said, the Bengals will also have to worry about the return of defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who signed with Minnesota for three years and $27 million in March of 2020 but then opted out of the season due to COVID-19. “[During camp], I’ve seen Michael Pierce do a really good job rushing the passer,” he said. “That’s a huge surprise to me; I’ve only ever seen him as a run stuffing nose tackle with Baltimore.”

The Vikings also added Dalvin Tomlinson, a defensive tackle taken in the second round of the 2017 Draft by the New York Giants. Lastly, their 2020 fourth round pick, defensive end D.J. Wonnumm, has had “a really good offseason” after notching three sacks in only two starts last year.

For these reasons, Hasan says he thinks the Vikings’ pass rush “is going to be really excellent.” While the Bengals’ o-line held up pretty well against the opposition in the preseason, tomorrow they will get an early test against what appears to be an intimidating front.

You can also listen to the preview on iTunes or using the player below: