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Third-year Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has proven to be an elusive target for opposing pass rushers this season.

File photo by Tom Uhlman • Associated Press,

The call: Vikings at Cincinnati

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS
  • Star Tribune
  • December 21, 2013 - 7:29 PM

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One man’s prediction: The Vikings are coming off their best game of the season and expect to have RBs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart available. QB Matt Cassel has provided some offensive balance with his passing. The Bengals are clinging to their lead in the AFC North and have not lost at home this season. They should play like a team with a sense of urgency.

Quick to throw

Jared Allen and Brian Robison seem to enjoy their friendly competition over which one will lead the team in sacks. They have nine sacks each with two games left. They will have to work hard to get Andy Dalton on the ground. The Bengals quarterback has been sacked only 27 times and has the fastest snap-to-release time of any NFL quarterback, according to ProFootballFocus. Vikings linemen will focus on getting their hands up to bat down passes at the line to combat Dalton’s quick release.

Patterson plan is win-win

Cordarrelle Patterson has become such a dynamic kickoff returner that teams are afraid to kick to him. The Eagles eliminated the rookie’s return capabilities by kicking short every time last week, but that consistently gave the Vikings favorable field position. The Vikings view that as a win-win because teams must either risk Patterson bringing back a big return or they concede field position.

Run-pass balance is key

Will Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave stick with a balanced approach with Peterson back in the lineup? Musgrave called 35 runs and 35 passes a week ago. Adrian Peterson obviously remains the focal point, but Matt Cassel has given the offense a vertical passing game and an ability to take advantage of teams that commit extra defenders to stop the reigning NFL MVP.

MANO-A-MANO: MATCHUP TO WATCH

Vikings S Harrison Smith vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green

About Smith

Returned last week after an eight-game absence because of a turf toe injury. He played more snaps than anyone expected and finished with nine tackles.

About Green

The third-year receiver ranks sixth in the league in receptions (87) and receiving yards (1,268). He’s on pace to record the second-most receiving yards by an NFL receiver in his first three seasons.

Who has the edge?

Technically, Smith won’t be assigned to cover Green 1-on-1, but he will need to provide help to his cornerbacks over the top. Green is one of the most explosive receivers in the league so Smith must serve as the last line of defense. Green is tied for second in the league with eight catches of 40-plus yards.

Advantage: Green

THE BIG NUMBER

100 Vikings receiver Greg Jennings will make his 100th career start. He had his most productive game in a Vikings uniform last week with a career-high 11 catches for 163 yards.

BREAKOUT DAY

Jerome Simpson, Vikings: No doubt this game carries extra meaning for Simpson, who played four seasons in Cincinnati. Simpson has had a productive second season with the Vikings. He’s second on the team in catches (44) and receiving yards (689) and is averaging a career-best 15.7 yards per catch.

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