Bengals who must step up vs. Vikings – Eli Apple
Perhaps Cincinnati’s biggest concern heading into their matchup with the Vikings is the cornerback position. The Bengals signed Trae Waynes in the 2019 offseason, yet he has not played one game. Cincinnati signed Waynes to be their number one corner, but he just cannot stay healthy.
Also, the Bengals lost their best corner, William Jackson III, to the Washington Football Team during the offseason. Cincinnati replaced the hole left by Jackson with the signing of the former Dallas Cowboy Chidobe Awuzie. With Awuzie’s great offseason, the tandem of Waynes and Awuzie had the chance to be formidable.
But Waynes is now hurt and Eli Apple is the one who is expected to step in to replace the injured corner. Apple has gone through a much-maligned career so far. He was initially drafted 10th overall by the New York Giants in the 2016 NFL Draft. After struggling with the Giants, Apple went to the New Orleans Saints. Apple was then with the Carolina Panthers last season. Clearly, Apple has been well-traveled in his short NFL career.
Apple just hasn’t been very good with his career-high PFF grade being 64.5. He’s had some decent stretches during his career, but also some very bad moments as he consistently gave up plays. Apple starting will be a big concern against the Vikings.
Minnesota boasts one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL with Thielen and Jefferson. Thielen is a two-time Pro Bowler and is coming off a season with 925 receiving yards with 14 receiving touchdowns.
Jefferson had one of the best rookie receiver seasons ever last season for the Vikings. He had 1,400 receiving yards and 88 receptions, averaging over 15 yards per catch. Jefferson broke and tied all kinds of rookie receiving records. His 1,400 receiving yards was the most ever for a rookie wide receiver. In addition, Jefferson tied Odell Beckham’s rookie record of seven 100-yard receiving games.
Cincinnati has little chance of winning if Thielen and Jefferson are consistently open this Sunday. If either Minnesota receiver was lined up in the slot, the Bengals may have been alright with Awuzie guarding either Jefferson or Thielen on the perimeter and the newly-added Mike Hilton guarding one of the two in the slot.
This will rarely happen though since Thielen lined up in the slot on only 17.2% of his snaps last season and Jefferson did so only 18.3% of his snaps. The Vikings used 11 personnel, which includes three receivers, the least in the NFL last year.
Most of the time, Apple is going to be on either Jefferson or Thielen on the perimeter. With Apple’s shaky coverage at times throughout his career, this will be a very tall task. Apple must be at least decent if Cincinnati is going to slow down the lethal receiving duo, and ultimately win the game.