Bengals 42, Vikings 14
Strategy: In offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's take on the West Coast offense, the Bengals often ask quarterback Andy Dalton to make short drops and get the ball out of his hands in a hurry in a rhythm-based passing game, though Dalton will take shots downfield. The Bengals use a lot of single-back formations with either three wide receivers or two tight ends and try to remain balanced by running the ball with their two backs. Defensively, they continue to thrive with the scheme designed by head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. The Bengals run a 4-3 base defense and mix in man coverage with zone looks. Last weekend, they often used two deep safeties despite the threat of the run with star Vikings back Adrian Peterson.
Personnel: The Bengals have a lot of talent at the offensive skill positions, led by Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, who had two touchdown catches against the Vikings, and running back Giovani Bernard, who made a bunch of defenders whiff on a 41-yard screen play. Their offensive line is big and physical and hasn't missed a beat with Anthony Collins playing left tackle andAndrew Whitworth sliding inside to left guard. The Bengals also dabble with the Wildcat formation with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu as the triggerman. Despite a bunch of key injuries on defense, the Bengals still have a stingy unit thanks to players like linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap elevating their play in recent weeks. The secondary is vulnerable, though, especially second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
What went right: The Bengals defense set the tone on the first drive of the game, sacking Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel and returning his fumble inside the 10-yard line to set up an early touchdown. It was one of three takeaways for the Bengals in the first 21 minutes of the game. Cassel turned the ball over four times, including a pick-six, and threw for just 114 yards. The Bengals kept Peterson in check, holding him to 45 rushing yards, without committing an extra defender to the box. Dalton picked apart the Vikings secondary, throwing for 366 yards and four touchdowns, including a beautiful deep ball to Green, who beat his man out of the slot.
What went wrong: Tight end Jermaine Gresham lost a fumble in the first quarter and the Vikings capitalized when wide receiver Jarius Wright smoked Kirkpatrick with a double move. The Bengals struggled to run the ball against the Vikings, gaining just 81 yards on 37 carries. And they had trouble containing wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who had a few big kickoff returns and scored a 35-yard rushing touchdown after lining up in the I formation. But after a dominant performance like this, there was probably not much to nitpick in the film room.
Turning point: The Bengals were leading, 14-7, with a little over 10 minutes left in the second quarter when they took control of the game. On a third-and-2 play, the Vikings emptied the backfield with Cassel in the shotgun. The Bengals showed blitz but they appeared to check out of a play before the snap, instead dropping eight defenders into zone coverage. Cassel locked onto wide receiver Greg Jennings, who was running a spacing play out of a bunch, and got picked off by linebacker Vincent Rey, who returned the interception 25 yards for the touchdown.
X-factor: Dalton, who threw three interceptions in the Ravens' overtime win last month, has picked up his play recently, throwing nine touchdown passes with no interceptions the past three games. The Bengals protected him against the Vikings and he quickly made smart decisions, distributing the ball to his talented group of pass-catchers while picking apart zone coverages. The Ravens will be in trouble if they can't put pressure on Dalton before he gets the ball out of his hands Sunday. — Matt Vensel