As intriguing as Sunday's opener (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) against Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer's defense is for the Bengals, the most interesting coaching matchup of the day may lie in the debut of Zimmer's offensive coordinator.
Klint Kubiak is not only the son of long-time Bengals nemesis Gary Kubiak, but back in the day he shared a closet with Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and his assistant offensive line coach Ben Martin as young coaches at Texas A&M just starting out. If any three guys know what the next guy is going to do, it's these three.
Klint Kubiak has been the Vikings quarterbacks coach for the past couple of years before Zimmer tapped him to replace his father. His dad has already had a huge impact in Bengals Opening Day lore. He came off the bench to rescue John Elway and the Broncos in Bengals head coach Sam Wyche's 1984 debut when he hit tight end Clarence Kay on an eight-yard touchdown pass with 5:15 left to bring Denver back from a 17-13 deficit for a 20-17 win.
Then when Gary Kubiak became a head coach with Houston and Denver, he never lost to the Bengals in seven games and beat them with four different quarterbacks (Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates, Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian) with the Texans beating them in back-to-back Wild Card Games with Schaub and Yates.
The interesting thing here is that Kubiak's wide zone running attack gave Zimmer's Bengals defense fits in the playoffs. In one game the Texans had more yards rushing (188) than Yates had passing (159) and in the other running back Arian Foster ran for 140 yards while Houston kept the ball for 39 minutes against a Bengals offense that never got going.
A young assistant offensive line coach under Kubiak in one of those Wild Card Games? Current Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who runs a pretty mean wide zone himself. A Kubiak tight end with some huge blocks in some of those games? Bengals tight ends coach James Casey.
The Bengals aren't expecting the apple to fall very far from the tree. Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo says stopping Vikings 1,500-yard rusher Dalvin Cook is "A number one A."
Fittingly it's the debut for one of the Bengals' biggest challenges they set to meet in the offseason as they attacked shoring up the edge, where many of the rushing yards against them have come the last three years. With injuries to Joseph Ossai and Khalid Kareem out there, it's also one of the question marks.
"This team is a wide running team. If you don't (set the edge), you're going to be in trouble," Anarumo said before Thursday's practice. "It's paramount. I'm looking forward what we've got on the edge to do that. Looking forward to seeing those guys do it this week. Every defense in the league wants guys that can be great edge setting players and rush on the edge. That would be job one and two."
Look for one of the newest Bengals to be called on out there at some point. The man acquired in the Billy Price trade, four-year guy B.J. Hill, is seen as more than a backup three technique.
"B.J. Hill can do a little bit of everything," said Anarumo, who was on the Giants defense when Hill was a rookie. "He's played nose, he's played three, he's played end, he's done it all. That's what we like so much about him. He can do a bunch of different things.
"I think he's kind of fit in like he's been here for a while. Which has been great. Another guy that can disrupt. He's a good athlete. He doesn't look like he's 315 pounds, whatever he, but he is. But he can produce some rush for us on the inside. When I was with him the year I was with the Giants I think he had five-and-a-half (sacks) as a rookie, so he's got that in him, he's got that ability. We're looking for him to do that on first and second down and third down as well."
Zimmer has taken note of the other guys in that closet all those years ago in College Station with Klint Kubiak.
"I didn't really know much about the coach there. But I have been really impressed with the concepts and things they are doing offensively," Zimmer said in Thursday's conference call with the Cincinnati media. "The way they are attacking people with the different concepts in the running game and passing game. I got a lot of respect for Zac Taylor and the things he's doing there."
ZIM CALL: Zimmer's success against great passers at PBS during his days as the Bengals defensive coordinator is well known in Bengaldom long before he returns Sunday. Those last dozen home games of his six-year reign from late 2012 through the undefeated home season of 2013 saw opposing passers (such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger) complete just 59 percent of their passes with a miserly quarterback rating of 68.8.
On Thursday, Zimmer put Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in elite company when he compared his arm to one of his Bengals quarterbacks, Carson Palmer, and predicted he'll be better than that No. 9.
"I have been extremely impressed with watching Burrow. This kid is competitive," said Zimmer with the ultimate Zim compliment. "He's a heck of a scrambler. He's got a big-time arm, he's not afraid to throw the ball into tight windows. He seems to see things and get the ball off really quick. It looks like, I remember, Carson the way he could spin the ball. This guy probably will be better than him.
"He's a better scrambler, but I've been so impressed with the toughness. He will take a shot, scramble and dive or the first down. Run a quarterback draw. All the things he does. I think y'all hit big on that one."
Always good when Zim likes your toughness.
LIFE OF RILEY: Another current Bengal Zimmer loves is right tackle Riley Reiff even though Reiff left him this year to sign a one-year deal in Cincinnati.
But Zimmer has given him an open invitation to ZimFork, his sprawling hunter's paradise in the shadow of PBS in Walton, Ky. ZimFork is approaching 300 acres now that he recently added 100 acres to the most famous NFL ranch. He's tinkering with a few Par 3 holes, but he says it's basically "a habitat for wildlife."
"Riley is one of my favorite guys of all time. Tough, tough competitive guy," Zimmer said. "Doesn't say very much but when he does he means it. I made him a captain when he was here just because of his attitude. He's going to bring that nasty attitude to the rest of the offensive line and to the offense, really. Great guy. Just loves football. Extremely competitive. When he went to Cincinnati I told him he can have all of my gate codes and house codes to my place there if he ever wants to go hunting or do anything."
Reiff has yet to indulge, but Zimmer says that's OK: "I told him he could even have all the beer in the fridge if he wanted."
By the way, as Taylor was putting the finishing touches on his game plan during last weekend's off time, Zimmer was doing the same thing a post pattern away on the ranch.
"During the season, just on the bye weeks really," Zimmer said of when he can get there. "And then, in the offseason, I'll try to get out there on Thursdays, every other weekend or something like that. Most of my time off in the summer. I'll be there."
HOT STUFF: If everybody's weather app is right, the Bengals are going to play the hottest NFL game ever in Cincinnati on Sunday.
The only question is if the mercury breaks 90 degrees, the record set in another opener back on Sept. 8, 2002.
But head coach Zac Taylor's Bengals are used to the heat. Just two weeks ago in the preseason finale they hosted the Dolphins in 89 degrees. And according to Pro Football Reference, the Bengals have played four of their 10 hottest games since 2017.
Burrow's debut last season in the opener against the Chargers is tied for the seventh-hottest at 83 degrees.
Running back Joe Mixon, then a rookie, came off the bench in the third game of the 2017 season and nearly led the Bengals to an overtime victory at Green Bay on an 89-degree game that was the hottest in the history of storied Lambeau Field on Sept. 24, 2017.
Anarumo knows he'll be rotating linemen.
"I just had my phone out and I was looking on the way in. It's been nice this week, but I just saw 90 on Sunday," Anarumo said. "Go figure right? We've had a lot of hots days in camp. We'll have a plan to keep guys fresh. Emotions will be high early. Their standing out in the sun, too. I coached in Miami for a long time and it was really, really hot. But we made it through the games. We'll be all right."