1. Goal-to-go? No problem
Unlike last year, the Vikings play with power and deception near the goal line. Case in point: the opening drive of Sunday’s 34-7 win over the Bengals at U.S. Bank Stadium. On second-and-goal from the 1, the Vikings used Jeremiah Sirles as an extra lineman for the second time in four plays. He was on the left side when the Vikings shifted into a two-tight end look to the right. The Bengals couldn’t cheat one way or the other. “Our biggest thing on offense is trying not to be predictable,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “[Tight ends coach] Clancy [Barone] does our goal line [install]. He does a great job of mixing it up every week.” Latavius Murray scored behind excellent blocks from tight ends Rudolph and David Morgan. “If we can get Latavius back to the line of scrimmage, he can get that 1 yard every time,” Rudolph said.
2. Eye on offensive penalties
The Vikings played a team that already had quit on its season, so, ultimately, it didn’t matter that they tied a season high for penalties with 11. However, some of the sloppiness hidden in Sunday’s 27-point laugher won’t fly come playoff time. There were five offensive penalties in the first 40 minutes of the game that were drive killers. Left guard Nick Easton had two of them. He false-started one play after the defense stopped Cincinnati on downs at its 38-yard line. The Vikings couldn’t muster a first down and settled for a 53-yard field goal. One possession later, Easton’s illegal use of hands negated a third-down conversion. The Vikings went three-and-out. Morgan (false start) and left tackle Rashod Hill (holding) also had penalties that led to three-and-outs, while right tackle Mike Remmers ruined a drive with a false start on third-and-3 at midfield.
3. Value in screen game
If you enjoy watching the Vikings’ success in the screen game, you were happy to see center Pat Elflein back on the field after missing a game. On Sunday’s second snap, Elflein showed again why he’s starting at center as a rookie. Case Keenum dumped a simple screen to Murray 9 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Easton probably got away with a block in the back to spring him free. Murray turned upfield and had Elflein and receiver Laquon Treadwell leading the way. Elflein disposed of safety Shawn Williams 10 yards downfield as Murray gained 28 yards. “We like to say we have athletic linemen who can get upfield and get those blocks,” Elflein said. “We pride ourselves on that.” So what’s the key to not whiffing on those shifty little DBs? “Make him make a decision on which way he’s going,” Elflein said. “Then get on him.”
4. Third time’s the sack for Hunter
Left defensive end Danielle Hunter wasn’t going to fall for the same play a third time. The result was the big fella’s seventh sack of the season. On third-and-1 from the Bengals 34-yard line late in the first half, Cincinnati blocked down, figuring Hunter would squeeze the edge, staying near the line of scrimmage and allowing quarterback Andy Dalton to roll to his right and throw again without worry. “The third time, I was like, ‘Nah, not this time,’ ” Hunter said. The first two times, Hunter said he was playing the run by squeezing down on the tight end. “The third time, I noticed the formation,” he said. “We spend a lot of time watching film.” And? “I’m supposed to play the run first,” Hunter said. “But that third time, I read the play. I went out there and there he was. The quarterback. Sack.”
5. Ya might want to cover ‘Jet’
The Bengals looked spent physically. Mentally, they seemed to lack focus. But Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon wasn’t complaining. Not after catching seven balls for a career-high 116 yards. “For some reason, they didn’t want to cover me,” McKinnon said. He tied his career high for long reception (41 yards) when all he had to do was run to his right to a spot beyond the line of scrimmage. The space was vacated when the cornerback to that side went inside when Adam Thielen and Treadwell ran inside routes. The Bengals had three defenders covering those two while McKinnon was wide open. “I try to take a picture, a visual, before I catch the ball, just to know what’s in front of me,” McKinnon said. “Case did a nice job of finding me.” The same can’t be said for Cincinnati.