BB: OK, this has really been an impressive team to watch. I think that Coach [Mike] Zimmer’s done, as usual, a tremendous job with his team. 13-3 last year, we saw a little bit of them at the end of the year, and then obviously this year, getting the schedule, a team we weren’t familiar with. We spent some time on them over the offseason and it looks like, to me, they’re even better than they were last year. They’re a very, very good football team. They have good talent. They’re really well-coached. Defensively, this is, I’d say, as good of coaching as we’ll face. I think Mike does a tremendous job with fundamentals, with their schemes. They are very, very challenging, particularly in the critical situations – third down, red area, two-minute, things like that. They’re very good. He’s a great coach and has been for a long time and has that unit playing extremely well. Offensively, they just have a tremendous, explosive group of skill players – the receivers, the tight end, the quarterback, the backs. Everybody can and does make big plays, they move the ball, score points, and very explosive in the kicking game. Coach [Mike] Priefer’s done, as usual, a great job with that unit. Nobody’s scored more than they have over the last seven years in the kicking game – returns, blocked kicks. They’re a very aggressive unit and they do everything well. They have a lot of good players – veteran players, young players, have a good mix – and just really good in all three areas, so playing well. An impressive game against Green Bay Sunday night. So, we know it’s going to be a big challenge for us here, and we’re going to have to play our best football. Hopefully, that’s what we’ll be ready to do Sunday afternoon.
Q: With the Zimmer connection defensively, how similar are they to what the Bengals do?
BB: Yeah, some similarities. I think he’s evolved some things. Look, Mike’s a game plan coach. He does a great job of scheming and planning for the team he’s playing against, so based on what you do, then he’s going to do something to attack you. If you do something else, then he’s going to do something else. So, it depends on what you do. That’s what you’re going to see.
Q: For the offense, is a big part of pre-snap figuring out where Harrison Smith is and what he’s up to?
BB: Harrison Smith does a great job with pre-snap disguise. He’s one of the best – you know, Smith, Ed Reed, [Troy] Polamalu. Those guys are, I’d say, among the best. He’s certainly right there. He’s a hard guy to read. He does an excellent job of timing his movement based on either the quarterback’s cadence, the offensive formation, motion, the play clock, all those combination of things. He does an excellent job of using some or all of them to put the offense in a difficult position to account for them or to not account for them when he’s blitzing and so forth. He’s really good.
Q: Does what they do at safety remind you of the Bills?
BB: Most teams, all teams try to disguise what they do. I would just say Smith is really good at it. He’s a good player and he’s a strong tackler, he’s good against the pass, he’s good against the run, he makes a lot of plays. But, in addition to that, he causes a lot of problems for the offense in terms of running game, whether to crack them, when not to crack them, who’s got them, blitzes, protect them, don’t protect them. He’s a disruptive guy before the ball is snapped, let’s put it that way, and then he’s a good player after the ball is snapped, too.
*Q: Is it kind of like pick your poison in the passing game between Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and the rest of the guys? *
BB: They’re all good, yeah. They’re all good. So, yeah, every one of them. [Aldrick] Robinson, [Laquon] Treadwell, Thielen, Diggs, [Kyle] Rudolph, the backs, quarterback – take your pick. They’re all good.
Q: Has there been significant change on offense from last year with Kirk Cousins and John DeFilippo?
BB: Yeah, well, we didn’t overanalyze last year because we never had to face that coordinator or that quarterback. So, this year, it’s really about DeFilippo and Cousins. That’s who we’ve studied and that’s who we’ve worked on. So, you’d have to ask them about that.
Q: Can you speak to the level of commitment that Rex Burkhead has shown since he went down with an injury earlier this year to be able to get to a position where he is able to get back to the 53-man roster?
BB: Yeah, Rex has worked really hard, as he always does. So, we talked about it when I made the move and I talked to him about it. We had a lengthy discussion. I think we both had an understanding of what the situation was, what needed to be done and how to do it. He’s been very diligent and consistent with his approach to it, and I’d say as we got closer to the opportunity to bring him back to being eligible to practice and then ultimately being eligible to play, he consistently met or exceeded kind of targets or things that he needed to show or do or be able to do to move forward. So, yeah, he’s done a great job and look forward to having him back.
Q: How different is it preparing for a bigger slot receiver like Thielen versus a more traditional, smaller one?
BB: Yeah, well, he’s a problem wherever he is, but he’s a problem inside. He has really good length, great hands, big catch radius. He’s always open, and Cousins is very accurate, can get him the ball. Cousins is throwing the ball very well. His completion percentage is right at the top of the league. So, yeah, Theilen’s not always in there, but he’s in there a lot and he’s a tough matchup. He’s a tough matchup wherever he is, but he’s a tough matchup inside.
Q: Do you sometimes have to put a different player in that position to match the size of the receiver?
BB: I mean, 6-3 corners don’t grow on trees, now. They’re hard to find. But, yeah, I mean, look – again, like I said, there’s a lot of problems they present on offense. You could maybe solve one of them and then you’ve got just even less to deal with all the other guys. So, you can take everything as it is and see how you match up, or you can try to take something away. But, if you try to take something away, you’re just putting more pressure on everybody else. And there’s a lot of other good players out there, too, whichever one you pick, so you can make a case for putting your attention on any number of guys and then there’s the rest of them. So, they do a good job of making it hard for you and they do an excellent job of getting the ball down the field. They complete a lot of passes, they’re very good with the ball in their hands, catch-and-run plays, yards after catch, like most West Coast offenses are, but these guys are hard to tackle, they’re good runners with the ball. So, yeah, it’s hard. They do a really good job.
Q: Have you been impressed with the mental toughness of the Vikings this year? They’ve had a very tough schedule and seem to keep battling, both in games and week-to-week.
BB: Of course. They’re a mentally tough team. They have a mentally tough coach. This is a good football team, and they’ve been a good football team and they keep getting better. So, I think you can see the progress in this team over the last several years. It’s been consistent and they made some changes, but it looks like the changes are for the better and they’ve improved their team. But, yeah, they’re mentally tough, play-in and play-out, game-in and game-out. They’ve dealt with some injuries and they’ve just kept right on rolling. I have a lot of respect for their coaching staff, the job that Rick Spielman’s done building the team, the job that Mike does and their entire staff – Priefer, DeFilippo. They’re good every week. I mean, we’ve seen them on film plenty of times this year in crossover games with our division teams who play the NFC North and the other NFC North teams we’ve seen – Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago. So, we’ve seen plenty of crossover of film on these guys. Yeah, they’re great to watch. We’ve learned a lot from watching them – offensively, defensively, in the kicking game – to help us game plan for our opponents and seeing them do it. And now we see them and they’re tough.
Q: Has having Dalvin Cook back healthy for them helped diversify their offense more?
BB: Yeah, it’s another guy that’s hard to stop. I mean, two really good backs, plus [Ameer] Abdullah. I mean, he’s shown up in the kickoff return, so I’m sure if they used him in there offensively, I mean, he’s another weapon, he’s another dangerous guy. So, [Chad] Beebe’s given them plays, [Aldrick] Robinson’s given them plays offensively, along with the guys you know about – Rudolph, Treadwell, Thielen and Diggs. So, they just keep bringing more guys out there and luckily there’s only one ball. They’ve got a lot of people to get it to, though.
Q: What kind of impact do you expect Rex Burkhead to have as he comes back?
BB: Yeah, we’ll see. I don’t know.
Q: Have you been surprised at all this year by Cordarrelle Patterson? Or has his performance matched up with what you knew coming in?
BB: Well, again, anytime you get a new player, I don’t know if you exactly what you’re getting. But, he’s been a good player with two different organizations, in the kicking game and offensively, and he’s done a lot of things for the Vikings and the Raiders. You know, he ran the ball, he caught it, he ran with it, he returned it, he covered kicks, he blocked – he has a lot of skill and he’s a big guy that can run, he’s tough and he shows up every day. So, we thought we were getting that, that’s what we got and we’ve used him in different ways. He’s embraced it, he’s worked hard to learn and accept different roles and he’s done them well. So, he’s been a pleasure to coach, he’s been a great addition to our team and he’s given us a lot of versatility, and times where we’ve really needed him to step in and help us, and he has.
Q: How tough of a matchup is Kyle Rudolph?
BB: Tough. Yeah, he’s tough. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s good after the catch, he’s strong, is a good red area player, he’s a good vertical route runner – down the seams, over routes, posts, things like that. He’s good on the catch-and-run plays. He’s not a guy you want to have the ball in his hands and let that 255-whatever pounds it is get rolling. He’s a hard guy to tackle, but he can run by you. He has good speed and he’s obviously a big target. He has good hands, good concentration, he makes some tough catches. So, he’s a big problem.
Q: How big of a challenge is it for your offensive line to go against the Viking’s front four?
BB: Yeah, this is a very talented front. You know, their inside players, [Sheldon] Richardson and [Linval] Joseph, are really stout, strong guys that are athletic playing on their feet. You know, [Jaleel] Johnson rolls in there with him. I mean, he’s obviously a very experienced guy, as well. [Eric] Kendricks is a very good middle linebacker and he’s active and quick, reads plays very quickly, diagnoses things. And the ends are good – [Everson] Griffen, [Stephen] Weatherly’s given them a good level of play, [Danielle] Hunter obviously is very athletic out there, so they’re hard to block and they can rush the passer, create a lot of negative plays. You know, [Ben] Gedeon’s a good player for them. Obviously, [Anthony] Barr, [Eric] Wilson – they’ve played four linebackers, really, in their base defense and sometimes different combinations with Kendricks in or nickel when there’s only two linebackers on the field. They play some 3-2 or 4-4 nickel, some 3-3 nickel. But, in any case, that’s a very good group. They run well, they compete well, they tackle, they do a good job, and they play in the kicking game. So, they get plays out of Wilson and Gedeon in the kicking game. Those guys also help them on defense, and you know, Barr is an extremely talented guy.
Q: How significant of a role is play-action pass play in their offense? Do they tend to marry their runs with run fakes?
BB: Yeah, they run a lot of play-action passes. They’re very good at that. They run a lot of stretch runs with the boots off it. Kirk’s really good at that. He’s good at throwing on the run. He’s quick and he’s athletic to get out of the pocket and he gets outside, throws the ball well, makes good decisions, so that’s a problem. And then they have their regular play-action passes, too, where they’re not moving out of the pocket. So, a lot of that’s RPO’s, so it’s depending on what the defense is as to whether it’s a run or a pass, so there’s that element, too. There’s the play-action passes, there’s the RPO’s and then there’s the bootleg-type plays – nakeds and things like that. So, they have a good mix of play-actions, a good mix of drop-backs, running game, under center, shotgun, some 11 personnel, a lot of 11 personnel but mix in some 12 and 13, 21 with the fullback in there. So, they give you a lot of different looks, quite a bit of motion, shifting, forcing the defense to recall and communicate and so forth. So, they do a lot of different things, they have good players, they’re well-coached and they can handle it all. They don’t make many mistakes.