Saturday, December 21, 2013
W2W4: Vikings at Bengals
By Ben Goessling
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As we've done for the last couple weeks, we'll wrap up the week and get you ready for the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Cincinnati Bengals with a few notes and things to watch on Sunday:
Ford gets the call: The Vikings signed tight end Chase Ford to their practice squad the day after Christmas in 2012, and kept him there to start the season. When tight end Kyle Rudolph went down with a fractured foot in November, Ford got his first game action of the year, and he's seen more time as injuries have limited Rhett Ellison and John Carlson. Last Sunday, with Carlson out because of a concussion, Ford emerged as a threat over the middle, catching two passes for 55 yards. He hauled in a 37-yard reception from Matt Cassel over the middle last Sunday, and it could be in the middle of the field where Ford finds his opportunities against the Bengals. The Vikings originally kept him around as a pass-catching threat, coach Leslie Frazier said, but Ford has gotten more playing time as he's improved as a blocker. He got a season-high 36 snaps last Sunday against the Eagles, and could see even more time this week.
Peterson's workload: Running back Adrian Peterson said he expects to play on Sunday, two weeks after spraining his right foot against Baltimore, but it's worth asking if Peterson will get the same number of carries he's used to seeing when he's completely healthy. Toby Gerhart, who also missed last Sunday's game against Philadelphia, is probable to play against the Bengals, and in light of the fact that Peterson is also still dealing with a strained groin, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings use both running backs this week, rather than handing the ball to Peterson 25-30 times. The Bengals' run defense is one of the best in the NFL, so the Vikings might wind up leaning on Cassel, anyway.
Cassel's chance: Speaking of the passing game, the Vikings seem to be as confident as they've been all year in their ability to move the ball through the air, with Cassel having thrown for 382 yards last week against Philadelphia. Coach Leslie Frazier talked several times this week about how much the Vikings are able to add to their game plan based on Cassel's input throughout the week, and he pointed to Ford's long completion as an example of Cassel making a play after quickly diagnosing the Eagles' coverage. The Vikings built plenty of opportunities for their quarterback to check to a pass in their offense, especially as often as defenses put eight men in the box to slow down Peterson. Cassel didn't see a single eight-man box last week with Peterson out, and has struggled against that front this season (he has a Total QBR of just 36.3 against eight-man fronts, according to ESPN Stats & Information). But with the Vikings getting more comfortable leaning on Cassel, and the Bengals presenting a challenge for Minnesota's running game, the Vikings' success could once again hinge on Cassel's ability to move the offense.
One more chance to win on the road: The Vikings are 0-6-1 on the road this season (though they did beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in London in what was technically a home game), and their final chance to get a road victory this season comes on Sunday -- against a Bengals team that hasn't lost at Paul Brown Stadium this year. But the Vikings haven't just been bad this year on the road; their best road record since 2009 is 3-5, and they haven't posted a winning record away from the Metrodome since their 15-1 season in 1998. Without a win on Sunday, the Vikings would have their first winless road record since Dennis Green's final season as coach in 2001.