Three Keys: Can Minnesota Slow Down Carolina’s Receivers?

During the week, I’ve been wondering if Minnesota will be capable of slowing down Carolina’s impressive pair of receivers. Christian McCaffrey’s injury certainly makes life easier for the Vikings, but things will still be tricky out there. Moreover, Klint Kubiak needs to show he can adjust to how defenses are stifling his offense. We’ll also need to avoid running too much at that strong front seven for Carolina.

Key #1: Minnesota Defense vs. Carolina’s Receivers

I’m very nervous about seeing Robby Anderson lined up across from Bashaud Breeland. If I’m Carolina’s play caller, I’m taking a deep shot to my speedster early; I’d ensure I was targeting Breeland’s side. There’s simply no way Breeland ought to continue being our starting corner. We’ll soon find out if he is.

D.J. Moore, moreover, is a real problem. He is PFF’s 6th-best receiver. I don’t imagine Patrick Peterson has the quickness to keep up with him, nor do I think Breeland can cover him. That leaves us with Mackensie Alexander or Cameron Dantzler (or perhaps Harrison Smith). Only 35 of Moore’s snaps have come from the slot; he has had 255 out wide. The task may fall to Dantzler. I think our sophomore corner can at least slow down Moore, though I’d be surprised if he finds a way to truly nullify him.

Of course, a crucial component of coverage is the pass rush. If Minnesota can get home with only four players, Carolina’s receivers will find less holes in the coverage. Danielle Hunter (8th overall), Everson Griffen (22nd overall), and Dalvin Tomlinson (12th overall) are all getting strong positional rankings over on PFF. All three players do better against the pass (at least so far).

Folks, it’s hard to complete passes when you’re getting hit by a 300+ pound DT. Let’s hope our pass rush can get home.

Key #2: Kirk Cousins vs. Klint Kubiak

Klint hasn’t done Kirk any favors recently. For some reason, we aren’t running very much play action. Play action is one of the things Cousins does exceptionally well, so it’s a little confusing to see us refusing to use this tool.

Here is a brief snippet from an article I wrote for Purple PTSD: “Any coach at any level needs to begin their job by understanding what their players do well. Kirk throws the ball well when he gets to use that play fake. What should our coaches do? The answer is obvious, folks.” Indeed, it is. Let’s lean on play action far more.

Minnesota’s OC can also do a better job of rotating his backs to keep everyone fresh. It may be worthwhile to see more Ameer Abdullah. Among the receivers, K.J. Osborn is certainly capable of contributing more. The offense continually feels like it ought to be among the league’s best. Instead, we’re left with a group that has been both brilliant and dismal. Perhaps our young OC is experiencing some growing pains, ones that will quickly pass. Perhaps the offense will continue with their inconsistency, contributing to an underwhelming season.

Time will tell. Carolina presents a good test.

Key #3: Dalvin Cook vs. Carolina’s Run D

It’s not just Carolina’s receivers that Minnesota needs to worry about.

Arif Hasan may be the best Vikings writer out there. His work is always thoughtful and well-written. Here is an excerpt from his recent piece about what kind of challenge the Carolina front seven presents:

“Though the Cowboys gashed the Panthers for 245 yards on the ground, their other four opponents couldn’t crack 100 rushing yards. In fact, three of them couldn’t crack 50. At the same time, they lead the league in opponent passing pressure rate at 41.3 percent. Not only that, they lead the league in quick-pressure rate (31.1 percent of opponent dropbacks) and in time to pressure (just 2.25 seconds).”

I’ve already suggested that Kirk Cousins needs his OC to do more to set him up for success. Well, we find ourselves at another interesting issue for the offense to consider.

We’ll likely be in for a long day if we think we can slam Dalvin Cook into the Panthers front seven. I know Dallas found success, but there are some factors to consider. True, Cook is far better than Ezekiel Elliott, but the Cowboys have a far, far better OL. Don’t plan on too much running room.

My prescription involves a little more Adam Thielen from the slot. A greater emphasis on getting to the edge and then to finding success in the screen game. If we can do those things, perhaps we’ll find some room for Cook to run the ball later in the game.

The Crystal Ball

During the offseason, I wasn’t scared of Sam Darnold. I’m still not, though he has been playing better than when he was in New York. What makes me nervous is Carolina’s run defense. I’m similarly nervous about our offense’s ability to adapt to what defenses are now doing to them. In spite of these legitimate concerns, I’m thinking Minnesota finds a way to win, largely due to a game plan that slows Carolina’s receivers.

Offseason Prediction: Vikings 31 – Panthers 21

Updated Prediction: Vikings 24 – Panthers 20

After five weeks, I’ve got a 3-2 prediction record. The Vikings are a step behind at 2-3. My hope is to head into the bye at 4-2 as our friends in purple climb to 3-3.