Last Sunday, we returned to our losing ways when we fell to the Dallas Cowboys. This Sunday, we’ll hope to overcome a similar fate against the Carolina Panthers. Much of the focus leading up to this game has rested on Teddy Bridgewater. On Sunday, the Vikings will need to put their Teddy adoration aside as they try to avoid a 4-7 start. Indeed, the game goes beyond single players, so it’s the Vikings vs the Panthers as we desperately cling to a small hope of seeing the postseason.
Key #1: Minnesota’s DEs vs Carolina’s WRs
Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore, and Curtis Samuel are a tough group to corral, especially when a team is deploying a young, injury-plagued secondary. The best way to slow them, then, may rest in ensuring their QB has very little time to throw the ball.
Against Dallas, the defensive line largely failed to generate pressure on Andy Dalton. The result was some big-time plays to CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper. If we are going to avoid a similar fate in Week 12, then the defensive ends need to be better. Expect Andre Patterson to get a good rotation going as he tries to keep his linemen fresh. Also, keep an eye on some unique alignments. The Vikings had some success against Dallas by overloading the line on an obvious passing down, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them use a similar strategy this week.
Key #2: Justin Jefferson vs. Carolina’s Corners
It’s looking like Adam Thielen will miss the game, so Justin Jefferson is sure to generate a lot of attention, especially since Irv Smith Jr. is doubtful. Apart from a bad drop last week, Jefferson has been sensational all season. He’ll need to continue his excellent play on Sunday. PFF gives Carolina’s corners mostly underwhelming grades, though Corn Elder does rank 20th overall.
Regardless of who is covering him, Jefferson will need to ensure that he continues doing the things that have made him successful. His release off the line of scrimmage makes it really difficult for corners to jam him, his routes are crisp, and he has repeatedly demonstrated strong hands. Perhaps most importantly, Jefferson has great competitiveness, allowing him to have a lot of success accumulating yards after the catch. If Jefferson is successful, then Minnesota’s depth receivers — Chad Beebe foremost among them — will be able to contribute.
Key #3: Mike Zimmer vs. Teddy Bridgewater
As the Key #1 suggests, Minnesota’s secondary is going to have its hands full against Carolina’s receivers. How much confidence do you have in Cameron Dantzler slowing Robby Anderson while sprinting down the field (I’m still having nightmares of that D.K. Metcalf play at the end of the Seattle game)? What about Jeff Gladney trying to shadow D.J. Moore on a shallow crossing route? Personally, I don’t have very much confidence. Long term, Dantzler and Gladney are going to be just fine, but they’ve certainly experienced their fair share of rough snaps.
The focus ought to shift to how Zimmer can help his young corners. As we’ve mentioned before, Zimmer needs to develop defensive strategies that are simple for his own players and somehow still complex for the opposition. That’s what the great coaches do. On Sunday, we’ll see if Zimmer is capable of concocting a game plan that can confuse his former franchise QB.
The Crystal Ball
Yet another Vikings loss; yet another TVG prediction gone awry. The Vikings vs. the Panthers presents us with another opportunity to have our heart broken. We’re rolling with the guys in purple in a close one.
Offseason Prediction: Vikings 35 – Panthers 17
Updated Prediction: Vikings 24 – Panthers 21