Bengals matchup with Vikings in week 1 good measuring stick

Oct 4, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs the ball against Houston Texans outside linebacker Brennan Scarlett (57) during the second quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 4, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs the ball against Houston Texans outside linebacker Brennan Scarlett (57) during the second quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /
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Zac Taylor has never won a game in September as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. Mike Zimmer’s Vikings squad will give him the first chance to buck that trend in 2021 when they visit Paul Brown Stadium to open the regular season.

While it is very easy to overstate the importance of a single game, this matchup will tell us a lot about a big part of Cincinnati’s offseason.

Firstly, it is winnable.

The Vikings have plenty of question marks coming off a losing season.

Beyond that, considering the Bengals brought in guys like former Saints sack artist Trey Hendrickson and Cleveland’s space-clogging defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, the message is clear — Cincinnati wanted to get tougher on defense.

The Bengals drove home that point by spending four draft picks on that side of the ball as well. We won’t have to wait long to see if the team is on the right track.

The biggest problem when dealing with Minnesota is that it means running back Dalvin Cook is going to take a lot of game-planning against. There aren’t many safe bets when it comes to the upcoming NFL season when it is still four months away, but Cook being the center of Minnesota’s offense is one of them.

There are not many legitimate bell-cow running backs in the modern NFL. Coming off a 2020 season of over 300 carries and 1500 yards, Cook certainly qualifies. Cook is also a modern rarity in that he is more likely to run over defenders than away from them. He ranked second in broken tackles last year.

The Cincinnati Bengals have a winnable game in Week 1 against the Vikings.

The key to this game for Cincinnati is tackling, as a big part of toughness on defense is tackling. The Bengals were middle of the pack last year as far as missed tackles with an average of just over six per game. They struggled with the one workhorse back they saw, as Derrick Henry went for over 100 yards and six yards per carry when the Bengals faced the Titans.

Even signings on the back end of the defense like former Steeler Mike Hilton and former Cowboy Chidobe Awuzie are designed to help the defense play a tougher, more physical brand of football. Despite being in the secondary, those guys will also have to tackle Cook on Sept. 12.

As the Bengals/Vikings matchup gets closer, the talk will be about the wide receiver talent dripping from both rosters. However, it will come down to Cincinnati’s ability to get Cook on the ground in a hurry. If the Bengals struggle to do that, fans could be in for another long season.

Next. Ranking Bengals Schedule by Opponent Difficulty. dark

If the Bengals defense can get after Cook, it is a good sign that Cincinnati’s defense has improved from last year’s unit that ranked 26th in total defense. If Cook runs over the Bengals, Joe Burrow will likely have to be Superman for this year’s team to be competitive over the long haul.

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