Vikings expecting heavy dose of screen game vs. Bengals and a homecoming for LB Ivan Pace Jr.
Saturday’s matchup between the Vikings and Bengals is big when looking at the NFC and AFC playoff pictures. Both teams are 7-6 and on the playoff bubble. The winner will stay in the playoff race in their conference. The loser will have a much more difficult road and need more help from other teams to get to the postseason.
It’ll be a homecoming for Vikings rookie linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. He played his final year in college at the University of Cincinnati. He expects to have 40-50 family and friends in attendance on Saturday, which also happens to be his 23rd birthday.
KSTP Sports spoke with Pace Jr., along with CBs Mekhi Blackmon and Akayleb Evans, and OL Ed Ingram and David Quessenberry. With Brian O’Neill (ankle) out, Quessenberry will start at right tackle.
One common theme with the defensive players: How much the Bengals use the screen game and have success with it. The Vikings will have to tackle well to win.
***Click the video box above to watch those conversations***
Below is a game preview, courtesy of the Associated Press:
MINNESOTA (7-6) at CINCINNATI (7-6)
Saturday, 12 p.m.
OPENING LINE: Bengals by 3 1/2
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Vikings 7-4-2; Bengals 6-6-1.
SERIES RECORD: Tied 7-7.
LAST MEETING: Bengals beat Vikings 27-24 in overtime on Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati.
LAST WEEK: Vikings beat Raiders 3-0; Bengals beat Colts 34-14.
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Vikings minus-5; Bengals plus-10.
VIKINGS PLAYER TO WATCH: LB Ivan Pace Jr. The undrafted rookie, who played in college at Cincinnati, has taken over command of the defensive huddle with veteran Jordan Hicks sidelined by a shin injury. Pace had a sack in each of the past two games and had a career-high 13 tackles with a game-sealing interception last week at Las Vegas and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
BENGALS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Jake Browning’s past two games have been outstanding. Stepping in for injured franchise QB Joe Burrow, Browning threw for 354 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score in a win over the Jaguars. Then last week he threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another to beat the Colts to keep Cincinnati in the AFC playoff mix.
KEY MATCHUP: Browning against the Vikings defense. The Bengals scored 34 points in each of the past two games, tying a season high. The Minnesota D has allowed 12 touchdowns in its past 10 games, the fewest in the NFL over that span.
KEY INJURIES: RB Alexander Mattison (ankle) and RT Brian O’Neill (ankle) have been ruled out after leaving the game against the Raiders. RG Ed Ingram (hip) will return. WR Justin Jefferson (chest) practiced on a limited basis and said Wednesday he plans to play. He’s listed as questionable. Bengals: WRs Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd, and CB DJ Turner II were limited in practice, all with ankle issues.
SERIES NOTES: The longest win streak in the series was just two, then the Vikings prevailed in 1989 and ’92. … The teams have alternated wins in the past seven games from 1995 to 2021. … The Vikings are 1-7 all time in Cincinnati, with four straight losses since their lone road win in 1992. … They’ve never lost to the Bengals in six games in Minnesota.
STATS AND STUFF: The 3-0 win by the Vikings last week was the first 3-0 game in the NFL since since Pittsburgh beat Miami on Nov. 26, 2007. … The Vikings are 7-1 in their past eight Saturday regular-season games, going back 29 years. Their lone loss in that stretch was at Green Bay on Dec. 24, 2016. … The Vikings will start Nick Mullens at QB, their fourth different starter this season after Cousins, Jaren Hall and Joshua Dobbs. Mullens replaced Dobbs in the fourth quarter against the Raiders and led the drive for the decisive field goal. … Since the Super Bowl era began in 1966, six teams in a non-strike regular season have won games with four different starting quarterbacks, including the Browns this season. The Vikings with a win behind Mullens would join the Texans (2015), the Panthers (2007), the Saints (1998) and the Patriots (1989, 1988). … Despite missing seven games with a hamstring injury and more than half of the game last week with the chest injury, Jefferson is 90 receiving yards away from setting the all-time record for most receiving yards in a player’s first four seasons. … The Vikings’ T.J. Hockenson leads all TEs with 85 receptions, the most in Vikings history by a TE. Hockenson is second among TEs in the NFL this season with 839 receiving yards. … Josh Metellus, who has played all over the defense for the Vikings in largely a safety-linebacker hybrid role while playing more than 93% of the snaps, is tied for third in the NFL with four forced fumbles. … Browning spent his first two NFL seasons on the Vikings’ practice squad (2019-20) … Browning has passed for 629 yards and three touchdowns in the past two games. … Browning beat out the more experienced Trevor Siemian for the backup role in the preseason. Siemian is currently on the practice squad for the Jets. … Browning has completed 69 of 84 passes (79.3 percent) in his first three starts — the highest completion rate by any NFL QB in his first three career starts since 1950. … Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase has 1,092 receiving yards. He has over 1,000 yards in each of his three NFL seasons. … Defensively, the Bengals held Jacksonville to 71 rushing yards and the Colts to just 46 last week. … DE Trey Hendrickson had two sacks last week, giving him 13 1/2 for the season. That’s a half sack behind the Steelers T.J Watt and 1 1/2 behind the Chargers’ Khalil Mack for the league lead. … Rookie Chase Brown has given the Bengals another solid option at running back to complement veteran Joe Mixon. … They have combined for over 100 rushing yards in the past two games. They also combined for 126 receiving yards in last week’s rout of the Colts. … The Bengals have scored 62 points in the first quarter since Week 5, the third most in the NFL in that span. Their eight first-quarter TDs during that span are tied for second. … The Bengals plus-10 turnover differential is second best in the league.
FANTASY TIP: Brown, the Bengals rookie RB, is getting more carries and is producing after being slowed by a hamstring injury earlier in the season. His teammates are still talking about his 54-yard catch-and-run TD against the Colts.