After failing to produce a touchdown against Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the Vikings are preparing for another defensive-minded coach in Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis. Get the game plan, matchups to watch and injury report from both beats.
VIKINGS GAME PLAN
The Vikings' offense looked atrocious in the opener going against top-notch coordinator Monte Kiffin's Tampa Bay defense.
The assignment won't get any easier for coach Mike Tice and first-year offensive coordinator Steve Loney in Week 2, as they prepare to match wits with Marvin Lewis
' Cincinnati defense. Lewis, the Bengals' head coach, was one of the top defensive coordinators in the game during his time with Baltimore and Washington.
The Vikings must get better production from their offensive line. The lack of protection inside led to a day in which the rushing game accounted for 26 yards and quarterback Daunte Culpepper
faced constant pressure. No matter how bad the pressure on Culpepper gets, however, he can't afford to have another outing where he throws three interceptions and loses two fumbles.
The Vikings are now considered Culpepper's team and if that is truly the case, he will have to play a major role in making sure there are no repeats of Week 1. Culpepper and No. 1 receiver Nate Burleson
must get on the same page.
They certainly looked to be during training camp, but Culpepper's first regular-season pass to Burleson ended up being picked off when the receiver appeared to halt his route early. In another instance, Culpepper fumbled the ball when he tried to abort a pass because Burleson had run down the field, when he was supposed to have caught a screen pass.
Look for Culpepper to take some deep shots, something he failed to do much of vs. the Bucs when his longest completion went for only 25 yards.
Tice attributed the problems last Sunday to physical one-on-one breakdowns and not flaws in the scheme. Obviously, he is hoping that was the case or the Vikings might have to go back to the drawing board as they adjust to life without receiver Randy Moss
While there were few, if any, positives in the offense, the Vikings' once-maligned defense enters this game with a confidence it hasn't carried in many years. With five new starters - six if you throw in E.J. Henderson
, who moved from middle to weakside linebacker - the unit actually outscored the once-vaunted Vikings offense (7-0).
A 3-4 and 3-3-5 defensive look that coordinator Ted Cottrell unveiled on occasion against Tampa Bay is sure to be used against the Bengals and second-year starting quarterback Carson Palmer
Better play will be needed in nickel situations, especially from former starter Brian Williams
, but the starting secondary appears to be sound for the first time in years. That should enable the defensive front of Kenechi Udeze
, Kevin Williams
, Pat Williams
and Darrion Scott
or nickel rusher Lance Johnstone
, to get pressure on Palmer.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings C Cory Withrow and rookie RG Marcus Johnson did little to distinguish themselves as starters against the Buccaneers. If Withrow and Johnson want to remain atop the depth chart, they will need to do a much better job in their assignments against the Bengals interior line of Bryan Robinson and John Thornton. The Bengals did not get to the quarterback in their opener against Cleveland. The Vikings have worked with Withrow on his approach to blocking and not trying to do too much himself. Johnson, who was benched in the fourth quarter of the opener, has the talent to be a starter but the fact he's the first Vikings rookie in history to start at guard in the season-opener shows just how big of challenge he is facing.
Vikings CB Fred Smoot isn't a player who needs any motivation but he got some from Bengals WR Chad Johnson this week. Johnson asked the Ohio media to relay a message to Smoot. "How good is he? He's a good talker," Johnson said told the Dayton Daily News. "He's a real good talker. He's a solid corner. As a matter of fact, can we send Fred a message?" At that point Johnson said: "Smoot, let's go. That's it. That's the message for this week." Smoot, who intercepted a pass in the season opener against Tampa Bay, is certain to have his motor mouth in overdrive on Sunday.
Vikings MLB Sam Cowart has a strained left calf, meaning second-year player Rod Davis could get the start. Whichever does play, will have to contend with helping stop Bengals Pro Bowl RB Rudi Johnson. This would be a very tall task for Davis, who was on the field for two touchdowns against in the opener against Tampa Bay. If Davis plays, and struggles, the Vikings could consider moving E.J. Henderson into the middle and putting Dontarrious Thomas on the weak side.
LT Bryant McKinnie didn't practice Wednesday because of a sprained left foot but promises he will be ready to play Sunday at Cincinnati. McKinnie, who was injured in the opener against Tampa Bay, had the foot in an immobilized boot on Monday and Tuesday but was practicing Thursday. He estimated he was at 70 percent Wednesday after receiving frequent treatments. If McKinnie is limited, he will be replaced by Adam Goldberg. This would affect the line because if rookie RG Marcus Johnson struggles, as he did Sunday, Goldberg would not be an option to take over.
MLB Sam Cowart sat out practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a strained left calf but did do a little bit of running during the walk-thru earlier in the day, according to coach Mike Tice. Cowart, injured late in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay, likely would be replaced by second-year man Rod Davis on Sunday if his calf continues to bother him. E.J. Henderson also could be moved back to the middle, giving Dontarrious Thomas a start on the weak side, but the coaches prefer to leave Henderson at his new position.
RB Mewelde Moore, who was leg-whipped in the area of his sprained left ankle during Sunday's opener, declared himself ready to go for the Cincinnati game. Moore did not carry the ball in Week 1 but should be in the mix this weekend.
BENGALS GAME PLAN
The Bengals will want to run the ball and go on long scoring drives in which they mix the pass and run. It worked for them in Cleveland.
The Bengals will need to keep the Minnesota offense off the field as much as possible. The Vikings are considerably more accomplished as an offense than the Browns, even if Minnesota didn't show it in its opener.
The Bengals had a 3-2 edge in turnover differential at Cleveland, making them 10-1 in games under Marvin Lewis in which they have that advantage. The Bengals and quarterback Carson Palmer, who committed the team's only two turnovers in the opener, will have to protect the ball.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
The middle of the Bengals offensive line vs. the middle of the Vikings defensive line. The Bengals like to run a balanced offense. They like to run to set up the pass. The Vikings present big problems for the Bengals in the middle of the front four, where tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams eat a lot of space and hold their ground. The middle of the Bengals line, center Rich Braham and guards Eric Steinbach and Bobbie Williams, will have to move the Williams duo to create some space for Rudi Johnson and other Bengals running backs.
Bengals QB Carson Palmer vs. the Minnesota secondary. Palmer is on a roll with four consecutive games with a passer rating greater than 100 and 11 touchdowns. He will face a secondary made-over with new additions Fred Smoot at cornerback and Darren Sharper at free safety. Both had interceptions in Week 1. The Vikings added cornerback Antoine Winfield as their major free agent acquisition in 2004.
Bengals LB-DE David Pollack vs. Minnesota QB Daunte Culpepper. Culpepper can run, and he has rushed for more than 400 yards in each of his five seasons as a starter. He is the type of quarterback that the Bengals need Pollack to contain. Pollack, a fast linebacker-end from Georgia, needs to keep Culpepper from getting outside and breaking off big gainers. Pollack also must rush in a disciplined manner and not let Culpepper get around him.
Bengals WR Chad Johnson vs. Vikings CB Fred Smoot. The two talkers are good players, though they've been yapping all week. NFL Films should mike this one.
The Bengals listed three players as probable for the Vikings game: wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh (shoulder), cornerback Tory James (toe) and safety Reggie Myles (groin). None of the three practiced Wednesday. They all are expected to play, and each player has a significant role in one phase of the team: Houshmandzadeh as the second receiver; James on defense; and Myles on special teams.