As the Vikings began studying an opponent for the 63rd time in a regular-season or playoff game under coach Mike Zimmer, there was bound to be something different about this week’s preparation than any other game Zimmer had coached.
The Cincinnati Bengals, the Vikings’s Sunday opponent, still run virtually the same scheme they used when Zimmer was the defensive coordinator from 2008-13. Current Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was Zimmer’s defensive line coach and helped him adapt the vaunted double-A gap blitz package first introduced by late Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.
As many as eight of the Bengals’ defensive starters Sunday could be players Zimmer coached, and Marvin Lewis — the man who brought Zimmer to Cincinnati — is in his 15th season as Bengals head coach.
The challenge for Zimmer this week, is to parse what he knows about the Bengals from how he feels about the people they have.
“I love Marvin Lewis. He’s an unbelievable person, great guy. Heck of a football coach. He’s done tremendous things there in Cincinnati,” Zimmer said. “It happens. You get a chance to play your friends and people who you used to work with. This is a game of I see numbers, not faces.”
As the Vikings prepare for the Bengals, quarterback Case Keenum said “you can’t just assume things” about how the defense will operate, based on its similarities to the one they see in practice every day. And Zimmer said the Bengals’ familiarity with him from having retained so many of the same players and coaches from his time there is “probably a disadvantage” to the Vikings.
“They’ve heard everything I’ve ever said in a defensive meeting to the coaches and the players,” he said. “They probably know me a lot better than I know them.”
The Bengals are coming off a 33-7 loss at home to the Bears, prompting renewed debate about whether Lewis should keep his job at the end of the season. Zimmer made it clear he doesn’t think the coach’s job security should be in any jeopardy.
“When he first started, they weren’t very good,” Zimmer said. “He got them to a place where they got to six playoffs games [in seven years]. I think he’s a heck of a coach. He does unbelievable things in the community. I learned a lot for him. I’m happy for him. In my opinion he should be able to stay there as long as he wants.”
Vikings eager for home game
The Vikings have played only one game at U.S. Bank Stadium since Oct. 22, beating the Los Angeles Rams 24-7 at home on Nov. 19. The team has spent its past three games on the road, and when Zimmer was asked Wednesday about the long stretch between home games, he wasn’t far off when he said, “It feels like it’s been two months.”
The Vikings dropped only their second road game of the year on Sunday when they fell 31-24 to the Carolina Panthers in their bid to win three consecutive road games against teams with winning records — something Zimmer said hadn’t been done since 1967 (when the Oakland Raiders did it on their way to the AFL championship).
“In this league, you can never get comfortable,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “You have to enjoy being uncomfortable and enjoy, when you’re winning ballgames, that the next game is going to be a bigger game. When we’re in that situation again, we’ve got to study more, we’ve got to pay attention to details. We can’t get lax. I don’t feel like we got lax, but you’ve got to have that sense of urgency no matter what.”
Their pass rush, which has only two sacks the past two weeks, will get a chance for a reboot in a noisy home environment.
“[Andy] Dalton does a lot of things at the line of scrimmage trying to change things,” Zimmer said. “It helps with our pass rush, it helps on third down with us getting off the ball and them maybe being a little slow. Fans can really help us in this game.”
Rhodes, Rudolph among six who miss practice
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and tight end Kyle Rudolph were among six Vikings players who didn’t practice Wednesday. Rhodes (hip) and Rudolph (foot) rested the injuries they sustained Sunday against Carolina.
Also sitting out were tackle Riley Reiff (ankle), linebacker Emmanuel Lamur (foot), tight end Blake Bell (shoulder) and cornerback Mackensie Alexander (ribs).
Eight players — offensive linemen Jeremiah Sirles, Pat Elflein and Mike Remmers, defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen, tight end David Morgan, wide receiver Adam Thielen and running back Jerick McKinnon — were limited because of injuries.