In every NFL matchup, there are a seemingly endless amount of angles to analyze. It’s hard to get to them all during the week of practice, and I’m sure there were some that slipped through the cracks despite all of the Vikings vs. Bengals preview content we provided on vikings.com this week.
As we sit here just hours before kickoff, I thought I’d try to cover a few more bases and provide a few final thoughts on the Vikings game against the Eagles.
Will the trends continue?
Over the last month of the season we’ve seen some trends emerge. For today’s final thoughts, let’s take a look at a few of them...
-- The Vikings offense is averaging 444.25 yards and 30.25 points per game over the last four games. Can that continue against a Bengals defense that ranks sixth in passer rating allowed, fifth against the run and fourth in points allowed?
-- The Matt Cassel-to-Greg Jennings connection has been a good one for the Vikings this season, dating all the way back to the team’s game in London. Last game, Jennings had a career-high 11 receptions with Cassel targeting him 13 times in the contest. Cincinnati’s secondary is banged up and it appears the Vikings will have Adrian Peterson back to take an extra defender from the back end.
-- Cordarrelle Patterson has been outstanding as a kickoff returner all season and in fact leads the NFL in return average (33.3) and has two return touchdowns. But he’s come on strong as an offensive weapon the last two games, too. In the last two games, Patterson has 10 receptions for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Can Patterson stay hot as a receiver and can Bill Musgrave and Cassel find a way to get him involved?
-- Brian Robison has a sack in six straight games and has 8.0 sacks in the last six contests. Jared Allen has a sack in three straight games and his next sack will give him seven straight seasons of at least 10. With Allen and Robison both at 9.0 sacks, it’s a race to 10. Who gets there first?
-- Audie Cole has been a tackling machine since entering the lineup Week 12 at Green Bay. But this is a big base defense game for the Vikings, meaning they won’t be in nickel (two linebackers) as frequently and will instead be in their base 4-3 alignment (three linebackers on the field). This means Erin Henderson will be on the field quite a bit, and he was the team’s leading tackler before exiting the lineup. Who will tally more tackles today, the team’s leading tackler on the season (Chad Greenway), the team’s leading tackler over the last four games (Cole) or the team’s leading tackler through 11 games (Henderson)?
-- Jeff Locke has had his share of inconsistent play over this season, but he's leveled off the last month and has played well. He'll be challenged today by a stiff wind that is circling the stadium and could be a key part of the equation if this game comes down to a field goal because he’s the holder for Blair Walsh. This feels like a game that will be close and will come down to the wire, meaning field position and field goals could be key. Locke has a huge hand in both of those elements.