Though Mike Zimmer’s opportunity to be an NFL head coach was long overdue, he does have to credit Marvin Lewis for his current post as the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach. Zimmer had the opportunity to prove himself as one of the premiere defensive coordiators in the NFL.
As the two former colleagues face-off against one another this week, some of the most intriguing matchups involve some familiar former Bengals faces against those on this current Cincinnati roster. Here are five head-to-head matchups to watch this week.
Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green versus Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes:
Green is coming off of two of the most interesting weeks of his career. On the Monday night debacle against the Steelers, the future Hall of Fame wide receiver had as many big touchdowns (two) as critical drops. Last week, he was clamped down on by the Bears defense, and while he made a couple of nice catches, he also had a back-breaking fumble.
He faces a big test this week against Rhodes, who is rounding into form as one of the league’s op corners. It’s probably going to seem a lot like his training camp battles against the likes of Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard, given the physicality and defensive scheme.
Bengals offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi versus Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen:
Somehow, the productive Griffen continues to fly under the national radar as one of the better edge rushers in the league. Even though he missed a game this year, he’s on pace to have his best season as a pro, as he’s racked up 13 sacks to this point.
We all knew that No. 70 on the left side of the Bengals would be crucial to this team’s success in 2017, and here we sit at 5-8. Now, of course this team’s struggles isn’t only on Ogbuehi by any stretch, but he has struggled. He now faces Griffen, whose motor is continuous and could provide major issues for the third-year tackle.
Bengals wide receiver Josh Malone versus Vikings cornerback Terence Newman:
We thought that it would be Malone who would be a continual inactive this season, while John Ross would be getting sporadic playing time, but it has been the opposite scenario. Like most rookies who have high ceilings and need grooming, we’ve seen some “wow” moments from Malone, as well as extreme dry spells.
Newman is a Zimmer favorite and still gets on the field frequently for his defense at 39 years old. He’s down the depth chart pecking order and might be tasked with guarding the athletic rookie, so it might be veteran savvy versus explosiveness.
Bengals tight end Tyler Kroft versus Vikings linebacker Emmanuel Lamur:
Lamur is technically a reserve player for the Vikings defense, but, as he was used in his time in Cincinnati, he’s out there in passing situations. He still has that trademark athleticism, but doesn’t have the skills to be an every-down NFL linebacker.
Kroft has had a nice season with the Bengals, as he has come on in relief for the injured Tyler Eifert. He has five touchdowns this season and Lamur might be tasked with shadowing him this week.
Bengals wide receiver/Kick returner Alex Erickson against Vikings’ special teams and defensive backs:
If the Bengals are to sneak a win away from the Vikings, they might need a spark from their special teams return units. With Ross and Adam Jones both on Injured Reserve, all of the return duties are now Erickson’s.
The second-year receiver hasn’t been nearly as explosive on special teams as he was last year, for a variety of reasons. Zimmer values solid special teams performances, so it’s going to be interesting to see if the Vikings can clamp down on Darrin Simmons’ unit.