Last week’s loss to Carolina provided viewers with a good look at what makes the Vikings successful. The fact that they failed to follow through with those strengths is the reason they lost. They failed to run effectively, allowed big plays in the run game and did not get consistent pressure. Now they have a perfect opportunity for a bounce-back against a cratering Bengals team.

Here are five keys for the Vikings to get back on track in their quest for the NFC’s top seed.

Run between the tackles early and often

Cincinnati is missing all three of its starting linebackers. Geno Atkins may be one of the three best defensive tackles in football but even he cannot produce at an elite level without his linebackers. There should be a lot of openings up the middle in the run game for the Vikings and they have to take advantage. Last week, after some early success, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur all but abandoned the running game after halftime. As a result, Minnesota’s play action became ineffective and the Panther line pinned their ears back and came after Case Keenum hard. That should not happen tomorrow.

Exploit the middle of the field

Again, the dearth of starting linebackers for the Bengals means the middle of the field should open in the passing game, as well. Adam Thielen should have a field day out of the slot, as should Stefon Diggs running crossing routes. Kyle Rudolph, who Mike Zimmer ruled out yesterday, has been upgraded to questionable. If he plays, the Bengals are going to have a nigh-impossible task of containing him. Without any starting linebackers, it should be a mismatch every dropback. But even if David Morgan ends up starting, Keenum has to look to exploit the openings in the middle of the field.

Hit Andy Dalton

In 2017, there has been an inverse correlation between how much Andy Dalton is hit and his passer rating. The more sacks he takes, the lower his productivity dives. Minnesota typically has a lethal pass rush, but a week ago, they struggled to make Cam Newton uncomfortable. As a result, Newton was either able to find open receivers on his third and fourth reads or run for big gains. Dalton does not have Newton’s maneuverability so if they make him antsy, they will force bad throws. But Dalton also has the poise and weapons to make plays downfield if kept clean.

Keep Joe Mixon in the first two levels

Edit: Mixon failed concussion protocol and has been downgraded to out. Apply everything below, albeit to a lesser extent, to Gio Bernard.

The Bengals’ offensive struggles against the Bears a week ago were likely in part due to being without their talented rookie running back. Joe Mixon has the slipperiness to get into the second and third level consistently and to make men miss in the open field. As we saw last week, when the Vikings allow backs to get into their third level, it opens up potential for b game-breaking plays. Minnesota’s defense is a stout run-stopping unit in the first two levels but if Mixon gets isolated with a defensive back in the open field, it could be trouble.

Take advantage of good field position

Twice late in last week’s game, the Vikings turned field position: Once on a long return by Marcus Sherels and the other on an Andrew Sendejo interception run-back. Both times, the Vikings went three-and-out and came away with a total of three points. The Bengals are a team that makes mistakes; they are flawed on both sides of the ball. But if the Vikings fail to take advantage of mistakes, this game will end up a lot closer than it should.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Full Press Coverage NFC North. Like and

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