Sunday Spotlight: Vikings-Bengals -- who will run to win?

The Minnesota Vikings are known as one of the NFL's best running teams, but they face off today with a Cincinnati Bengals defense that has allowed only 3.8 yards per carry. This just one week after Adrian Peterson gained only 19 yards on 13 carries against the Arizona Cardinals, another surprisingly excellent run defense. Not only have Mike Zimmer's charges stopped opposing backs from consistent games, they're also one of the best in the game at stopping Peterson's stock-in-trade -- the big play. They're tied with the Colts for the league lead in preventing rushing of 20 yards or more with only three all year. Peterson has 11 such runs this season, second in the NFL behind only Chris Johnson. He'll be champing at the bit to erase last week's performance from his memory, but this might not be the defense to do it against.

On the other side of the ball, the Bengals have provided another surprise -- a solid and consistent rushing attack behind a resurgent offensive line. Cincinnati loves to power block for the back du jour, and three different backs (Cedric Benson(notes), Larry Johnson(notes), and Bernard Scott(notes)) have rushed for over 100 yards in a game behind that line. They have adopted the Baltimore Ravens' use of unbalanced and stacked lines, frequently using tackle Dennis Roland(notes) as an extra edge-blocker/sub tight end. But even without linebacker E.J. Henderson(notes), the Vikings' run defense is as stout as it's been over the last few years. It's consistently among the best in the game.

That's what to watch when the Bengals take the field at Minnesota. Who will be able to break through defensive bottlenecks? The Vikings also have excellent power-blocking with guard Steve Hutchinson(notes) and mammoth tackles Bryant McKinnie(notes) and Phil Loadholt(notes). Tight end Jim Kleinsasser(notes) operates as an extra blocker with great effectiveness, so it could be said that each defense will see an offense they're not unfamiliar with -- something like what they see in scrimmage. The Bengals don't have anybody with Peterson's downfield skill, and the Vikings lack Cincinnati's per-play consistency, but the attack at the line of scrimmage will be very similar; let's see who can stop who with pure brute force.

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