The Vikings last week were preparing to face a team – the Arizona Cardinals – that was known for its passing proficiency but had recently placed an emphasis on the rushing attack. This week, as the Vikings prepare to face the Cincinnati Bengals, the Vikings are seeing a team with the same kind of approach.
In Arizona’s 4 games before playing the Vikings, they had increased their rushing attempts per game by 8 compared to their average number of attempts over the first 7 games of the season. The Bengals, meanwhile, have also shown a commitment to the run. Over their last 3 games, Cincinnati has averaged 44 rushing attempts per game, and only the NY Jets have more rushing attempts on the season than the Bengals.
This offensive approach is quite different from the last division-winning Cincinnati team. In 2005, the Bengals attacked primarily through the air, with QB Carson Palmer pacing the aerial assault and averaging 31.8 passing attempts per game.
“They are winning differently now than I remember them three or four years ago when it was a throw up the field,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said on Wednesday. “Not that they can’t throw it up the field, because they have more than enough with Chad (Ochocinco) and Laveranues (Coles). Those guys are weapons as well.
“They are really keeping you off balance. They are being very patient with the run and they are trying to whip on you.”
Teams that typically find success by just turning around and handing it to a productive RB don’t scare the Vikings – they have the league’s 3rd-ranked run defense and have boasted the top-ranked run defense for the past 3 seasons. But that’s not what Cincinnati does. Yes, they are 2nd in the NFL in rushing attempts, but as Childress also noted on Wednesday, they have an elite QB under center in Palmer and a dangerous pass-catcher in Ochocinco (formerly known as Chad Johnson).
So what’s one thing a defense has to worry about when the opposing team features a grinding rushing attack but also the ability to throw the ball?
“Obviously that sets up the play-action,” Childress said. “I do have a lot of respect for that kind of football and additionally a lot of respect for the fact that you are not putting a round peg in a square hole. They have kind of evolved from the pass all the time to being able to knock you around with the football and I think that behooves you in elements in Cincinnati and playoff time being able to run the football. I think it’s a huge deal to do that as you come through December.”
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