Vikings @ Bengals
Final Score: Bengals 27, Vikings 24 (OT)
This was a rollercoaster of a game, from a slow first quarter that saw the Vikings struggle to protect their QB or find any holes for their star RB to their 14 point comeback in the second half marching down the field to set up a game-tying field goal as time expired. The Bengals ebbed and flowed from excessively conservative on offense (handing off to their running backs 34 times) to July 4th level fireworks, hitting Ja’Marr Chase on a 50-yard touchdown bomb and seeing Joe Burrow audible to play action on the 4th and 1 play that ultimately led the Bengals to the win. Overall, these were two evenly matched teams that needed a full period of OT and a few controversial calls to settle the score.
Joe Burrow: 20/27, 261 yards, 2 TD | 1 rush, 2 yards
In his first game back since a devastating multi-ligament left knee tear in his rookie year, Joe Burrow put together a promising and efficient performance. Burrow showed off his accuracy, decision making and ability to adapt plays at the line which made him the much-ballyhooed #1 overall pick in 2020. Most notably, Burrow checked to play-action on a key 4th and 1 which ultimately led the Bengals to an OT victory.
— NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2021
Burrow performed admirably despite a conservative gameplan that saw him handoff to Joe Mixon 29 times trying to protect a second-half two score lead. The highlight play of the game was a 50-yard fly route that Burrow connected to rookie Ja’Marr Chase which is now the longest TD of Burrow’s career. Chase may be the perfectly curated remedy to help Burrow find space to drop more dimes downfield.
SIX FOR CINCY.
— NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2021
There are plenty of reasons to believe Burrow will remain on the low-end QB1, high-end QB2 steamer line of QB’s with upside to improve as he gets more comfortable moving around on his post-surgery knee. With an improved O-Line, deeper WR core, and a healthy Joe Mixon there is room for Burrow and this offense to grow together through the season.
Joe Mixon: 29 rushes, 127 yards, TD | 4 targets, 4 receptions, 23 yards
Samaje Perine: 5 rushes, 22 yards | 1 target, 1 reception, 7 yards
With the number of true bellcows dwindling by the day, Joe Mixon getting 33 touches was a welcome sight for fantasy owners who invested early in Mixon. With Giovani Bernard now serving as Tom Brady‘s 3rd down back in Tampa, Mixon got a large majority of the passing game work for Bengals RB’s. He also didn’t have any runs over 20 yards on the day which really speaks to the consistency Mixon had throughout this game to finish with over 4.3/YPC on 29 rushes.
Mixon is a talented back with an ideal role with an improved O-Line. There is certainly enough helium from this game to suggest Mixon is on his way to a career year. Fantasy owners should be greatly encouraged by their week 1 returns from Mixon and can confidently start him as an RB1 going forward.
Samaje Perine was the only other Bengals back to get work which should slot him as Mixon’s handcuff although I wouldn’t guarantee this given what we saw from 3rd string rookie Chris Evans in the preseason. Perine spelled Mixon on a few inside runs and was assertive running downhill. Regardless, his role isn’t big enough to recommend as a pickup outside of being Mixon’s potential handcuff.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Ja’Maar Chase: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 101 yards, TD
Tee Higgins: 5 targets, 4 receptions, 58 yards, TD
Tyler Boyd: 4 targets, 3 receptions, 23 yards
Michael Thomas: 3 targets, 1 reception, 5 yards
CJ Uzomah: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 35 yards
— Brandon Saho (@BrandonSaho) September 12, 2021
Oh how quickly narratives can change for rookies. Ja’Marr Chase had a nightmare preseason with drops and had been fading down draft boards since. Yet here we are after one week where Chase put up a casual 101 yards, 1 TD line including a 50 yard TD on a simple fly route over Bashaud Breeland. Chase led the Bengals in targets and will be a hot topic in fantasy circles all week as a result of this starling debut. Chase was given ample opportunity to perform, getting an early jet sweep handoff and got multiple key looks on 3rd down and may immediately be the Bengals’ best field stretcher. Though many stressed patience with Chase through his rookie year there is potential that Chase may be ready to climb the WR pecking order for the Bengals. Given the above returns, I would comfortably be starting Chase over Boyd going forward.
Tee Higgins had a solid day at the office but had to sit out for a portion of the game due to needing an IV due to dehydration. Regardless, Higgins used his 6’4 frame to give Burrow a big target in the end zone which salvaged a relatively quiet day for the 2nd year breakout candidate. He also picked on Bashaud Breeland shaking him on a post corner route for a 28 yard gain which showed his route running ability and strength after the catch rag-dolling arm tackles. Though some may chill on Higgins due to Chase’s breakout, Higgins’ profile remains unchanged for me he is a solid WR2 with upside and will certainly have more explosive performances in time.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 12, 2021
TEE HIGGINS WR1 pic.twitter.com/m1EPLMydDZ
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) September 12, 2021
Tyler Boyd however may be fading into the 3rd WR role in this offense quicker than was anticipated. That isn’t to say he loses all of his value. In a different game script that relies more on Burrow’s arm than Mixon’s legs – Boyd will certainly find some volume as a slot receiver in PPR leagues. But, it was clear in this game that he was a 3rd option to both Chase and Higgins. Boyd is likely more of a depth option than an every-week starter in fantasy if today’s trend were to continue. We will wait a few more weeks to draw ultimate conclusions but this was not a good day for Boyd’s long-term outlook.
CJ Uzomah caught arguably the most important pass of the night on 4th and 1 to set up the game-winning field goal. Regardless, given the tight ends got a total of 2 targets today for the Bengals – you don’t want to be relying on Uzomah or backup Drew Sample
Kirk Cousins: 39/46, 351 yards, 2 TD
We know what Kirk Cousins is by now right? An average at best, scapegoat at worst slow-footed quarterback whose days as the unquestioned starter are likely limited. Cousins’ overall stat line looks a lot better than he did watching the game mostly due to his inability to avoid the Bengals pass rush. A lot of the blame can fall on the Vikings O-Line which struggled to protect Cousins throughout the game but Cousins’ lack of mobility makes this problem exponentially worse.
Pressure affects every QB, but over the last 3 years if you just MOVE Kirk Cousins off his spot in the pocket, his PFF grade goes from #7 to #34#MINvsCIN
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 12, 2021
Given the above, this could be a continued problem for the Vikings offense all season. Anyone banking on value from Cousins this year should rest their hopes on first-round rookie OT Cristian Darrisaw returning to supplant their current bottleneck Rashod Hill. Although his final stat line was impressive, this game did nothing to silence Cousins’ increasing list of haters.
Dalvin Cook: 20 rushes, 61 yards, TD | 7 targets, 6 receptions, 43 yards
Alexandre Mattison: 1 rush, 2 yards | 1 target, 1 reception, 4 yards
Ameer Abdullah: 1 rush, 4 yards | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 15 yards
CJ Ham: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 9 yards
Dalvin Cook is a supreme talent, there is nothing that we saw today that changes that. His disappointing total of just over 3.0/YPC is primarily due to the leaky O-Line that gave Dalvin no room to move. Cook is one of the most complete backs in the NFL with elite vision, cutting ability and the versatility to work well in space as a pass-catcher. This was best on display for his TD run which looked to be well defended by the Bengals until Dalvin patiently created the cutback lane:
— NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2021
Despite the uninspiring stat line Dalvin Cook is still an elite RB1 although his week-to-week ceiling may be more capped this year if the O-Line doesn’t start creating some holes.
Mattison remains an elite handcuff to Cook who would step into a big role if Cook were to go down.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Adam Thielen: 10 targets, 9 receptions, 92 yards, 2 TD
Justin Jefferson: 9 targets, 5 receptions, 71 yards | 1/1, 11 yards
K.J. Osborn: 9 targets, 7 receptions, 76 yards
Dede Westbrook: 1 target, 1 reception, 11 yards
Tyler Conklin: 4 targets, 4 receptions, 41 yards
Chris Herndon: 2 targets
Nobody should be surprised Adam Thielen continues to perform at an elite level. Though he was relatively slept on this draft season due to the WR1 Justin Jefferson had coming off his record-breaking rookie season, Thielen showed the consistency, strong hands, and surprising physicality which makes him an every-week must-start. Thielen absolutely bodied Eli Apple creating about 5 yards of separation on his first TD.
Adam Thielen's first TD of the season comes in the red zone, of course pic.twitter.com/hogJZDaRh6
— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) September 12, 2021
Thielen then shook slot corner Mike Hilton on a quick slant and took it to the house for a 24-yard score.
— Iowa Nostalgia (@RetroHawkeyes) September 12, 2021
Justin Jefferson had a quiet day relative to the astronomical expectations he had after his rookie season. But, it must be noted that Cousins threw behind Jefferson a couple of times which could have added at least 2 receptions and 30 or so yards to his total and he was also called down at the goal line on a questionable call which could have added a TD to his stat line. Jefferson was shadowed all game by Bengals top CB Chidobe Awuzie who performed admirably. Given all of the qualifying factors above, I see no reason to change my outlook on Jefferson. You could reason that with a worse O-Line Jefferson may not be able to stretch the field like he did last year but Jefferson was able to create separation underneath in this game as well. Better days ahead.
One surprise on the day was the performance of 2020 5th round pick out of Miami KJ Osborn who actually tied Jefferson in receptions for the game. Osborn was a favorite target for Cousins on underneath routes and showed some burst breaking the tackle of Eli Apple on a 25 yard gain in the 2nd quarter.
— Canes Chief 🙌🏻 (Jason) (@Canes_Chief) September 12, 2021
Osborn is clearly 3rd in the pecking order as of today but I would exercise caution on buying into Osborn just yet. Given the way the Bengals shadowed Jefferson it left Osborn with some weaker matchups at CB. I do not believe Osborn will have many more weeks where he will match Jefferson’s reception totals. Regardless, add Osborn to your watch lists as the Vikings are clearly comfortable giving him a significant role when the game calls for it.
Tyler Conklin showed well catching all 4 of his targets for 41 yards. Conklin is likely a TD-dependent TE that you won’t be able to start with any confidence.