The Vikings will be without star tight end Kyle Rudolph on Sunday and may also be without left tackle Riley Reiff, head coach Mike Zimmer told reporters Friday. Rudolph and Reiff both suffered ankle injuries in the Vikings’ week 14 loss in Carolina.
After a slow start to the season, Rudolph has come alive in the last 10 games. He has four touchdowns in the last three weeks and has turned into Case Keenum’s primary redzone target. The Vikings will now be hurting at the tight end position, one that has been vital to their offensive success. On the bright side, second-string tight end David Morgan, who missed last week with a concussion, is cleared to return. Though he has never been a top tight end talent, he has proven to be a valuable target in play action.
The Vikings unfortunately also lost their third tight end Blake Bell for the season. Zimmer was unable to identify when the injury happened but did say it was his shoulder and would eventually require surgery. Bell has played in all 13 games since the Vikings acquired him from San Francisco in the preseason. To fill his and Rudolph’s spots this week, Minnesota elevated Kyle Carter from the practice squad.
Besides the issue of being without a playmaker like Rudolph, the Vikings’ injuries at tight end rules out most of the three tight end sets in the playbook. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur uses them quite a bit to set up play action. It usually results in a big gain as the muddied waters around the line of scrimmage allows one tight end to leak out to the back side, wide open. Occasionally, Shurmur makes it work by motioning a receiver into a wing spot, meaning they only need two tight ends in these sets. That strategy will have to do with only two tight ends active.
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Minnesota will also likely be missing one of their tackles for the sixth consecutive with Reiff nursing an ankle. Right tackle Mike Remmers is finally poised to return after missing five weeks with a concussion and a back issue. But Rashod Hill, who filled in for Remmers all five weeks, looks to get another start with Reiff doubtful. Zimmer said there is still a chance Reiff plays. However, he missed the first two practices this week and was only a limited participant today.
Cornerback Mackensie Alexander is also out with a rib injury. Presumably, the majority of his snaps will go to Tramaine Brock.
Cincinnati is not without its key injuries, as well. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, still recover from the concussion sustained from a hit by Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, is out Sunday. Fellow starting linebackers Nick Vigil, Kevin Minter and starting corner Dre Kirkpatrick have also been ruled out.
The Bengals will have all of their offensive starters, however, as rookie running back Joe Mixon will likely make his return. Mixon sat out last week with a concussion.
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