The Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings both enter Week 15 with a 7-6 record and are in the playoff hunt within their respective conferences, making this a big game for both sides. Cincinnati could jump into the top seven with a win on Saturday. At least, until Sunday’s games end, that is.
When the Bengals lost Joe Burrow and fell to 5-6, the season felt like a lost cause. Since then, Jake Browning has played stout football, the run game has picked up exponentially, the defense has made plays when needed, and the Bengals have pulled off two straight wins against playoff-level teams.
The Vikings, on the other hand, managed to win the lowest-scoring game of the season Sunday against the Raiders when they won the game 3-0 and scored in the final three minutes of the game.
The Bengals will have their hands full with the weapons that the Vikings have at their disposal, with Jefferson expected to play, and the defense playing at a much higher level than in the past for Minnesota, the stakes are high for Saturday’s matchup. With all that being said, here are three reasons why the Bengals will still come out on top over the Vikings.
All player and team personnel courtesy of Pro Football Reference*
Productive run game
The Bengals have had their best stretch with the run game all season throughout the last two games. The Bengals have added rookie Chase Brown to the mix and Joe Mixon has been playing at a very high level himself.
Mixon has managed to score three times over the last two weeks. Mixon and Brown have combined for four touchdowns, 233 rushing yards, and 175 receiving yards on 69 total touches against the Jaguars on Monday night and this past Sunday against the Colts. Zac Taylor has decided to buy into the run game for the first time all season and commit to it as the anchor of the offense, and it has resulted in back-to-back 30+ point performances for the offense.
Now, Cincinnati will look to carry that into Saturday's game against the Vikings. The Bengals must get the run game going early and commit to it. This opens up everything for Jake Browning and makes it much easier for him to dissect the defense, knowing that the defense needs to stay honest because of the productivity coming out of the backfield.
A non-existent run game is a recipe for disaster when you have a QB with inexperience playing. A solid run game will bode well for the Bengals offense in a big-time matchup vs. Minnesota.
Consistent pass rush
When the Bengals can provide a pass rush led by Trey Hendrickson, their defense can be as good as any other in the league, However, they are not consistent enough to sustain a pass rush, and with a very young and inexperienced secondary when the Bengals can’t get home, it allows the QB to scan and dissect the defense in the pocket. We saw that issue a lot in the Texans' game against C.J. Stroud this year.
Trey Hendrickson is once again having a Pro Bowl-level season and leads the team in sacks with 13.5, which ranks third in the league ahead of elite pass rushers like Josh Allen and Myles Garrett. The Bengals are also much improved from a team standpoint when it comes to sack total.
Last year, they sat in the bottom five, so far this year they are tied for 13th. However, that pass rush for the Bengals could be more consistent, and against Minnesota who has been playing QB roulette all season, this is a big game for the Bengals to apply that pressure. Nick Mullens replaced Josh Dobbs in Sunday’s game and is on pace to be the starter moving forward for the Minnesota Vikings offense, so the Bengals will get a new face as the opposition
Jake Browning has been balling out
This is the biggest step and ties the other two reasons in. A productive run game, sustainable pass rush, and anything else around those factors are crucial to Jake Browning's success. In the last two weeks, Browning has played very well, but the Bengals have also had their best rushing attack all season, and have been applying pressure defensively at a much higher clip.
Over Browning's last two starts, he is 50-of-61 with 629 passing yards, five total touchdowns, and 29 rushing yards. However, all the little things amount to a lot when it comes to helping an inexperienced starting QB gain good field position, minimizing turnovers or negative plays, winning time of possession, and having a balanced attack offensively.
If the Bengals can continue the trend they've been on, there's no question that Cincinnati can get the job done on Saturday, move to 8-6, and be in an even better position for a playoff spot.