Young defenses collide in Panthers-Vikings tilt
The Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings have something in common: Defense is a hot topic for both teams, but for vastly different reasons.
The teams collide Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis.
In a matchup that could focus on Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater — depending on his health status for the game, though by midweek it appeared he would be set to play — the defenses have grabbed the attention.
For the Panthers, it’s good news after a shutout in last week’s game. For the Vikings, it’s not so comforting after defensive breakdowns halted the team’s midseason momentum.
“Our focus is going to be re-adjusted,” Vikings safety Anthony Harris said.
The Panthers (4-7) are coming off a 20-0 home victory against the Detroit Lions. That outcome halted a five-game losing streak and produced Carolina’s first shutout in five years.
“I think it gives us confidence,” Panthers safety Juston Burris said. “Not that we lost confidence … but we know that we can be a dominant defense. Everything that we need is in this room, or on this defense. I think we have the confidence to go out and shut teams down, shut teams out.”
The Vikings (4-6) must try to recover from a 31-28 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys. That result snapped a three-game winning streak and came at the beginning of a three-game homestand.
“I definitely think they have the mentality,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of his players’ ability to respond.
There were several disturbing developments for the Minnesota defense in last week’s game.
“We’ve got to get back to work,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes with young guys when they’re thinking they’re pretty good … instead of sticking to the things on the defense that you’re supposed to do.”
The Vikings don’t want to dwell on the youthful components of the defense.
“It’s not really about young guys, it’s about going out there and continuing to execute the game plan and what we need to do each individual play,” Harris said.
Bridgewater, a former first-round draft choice of the Vikings, started 28 career games for Minnesota.
Bridgewater, who ranks second in the NFL this season with a 72.1 completion percentage, didn’t play last week because of a Nov. 15 knee injury. P.J. Walker filled in and threw his first NFL touchdown pass, though he was intercepted twice in the end zone.
The Vikings will be preparing for the potential that Bridgewater returns to action. He practiced Wednesday, though all-pro running back Christian McCaffrey isn’t expected to play this week, coach Matt Rhule said.
“Teddy is a good player, has a lot of ability,” Harris said. “Knows a lot of football. Obviously familiar with this organization and this defense.”
The Panthers are the only team in the league with two players with 800-plus receiving yards. DJ Moore ranks fifth with 863 and Robby Anderson is 10th with 818.
Carolina’s defense, which produced a season-high five sacks in containing the Lions, should be challenged. Minnesota has scored at least 28 points in six games.
“For us, it starts with being tough. We have to be tough,” Panthers safety Tre Boston said. “We have to work hard and we have to be the most competitive team in the league.”
The Panthers started five rookies on defense for the Detroit game.
The Vikings have a strong rushing attack, rating sixth in the NFL with 150.7 yards per game. Dalvin Cook heads that group, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the second season in a row.
Minnesota could be hindered with the potential absence of receiver Adam Thielen, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Thielen has 11 of the team’s 20 touchdown receptions, though his status might not be known until the weekend, Zimmer said.
Both teams are in third place in their respective divisions.
The teams haven’t met since the Panthers won a 2017 home game. Minnesota leads the series 8-6, including a 6-3 mark at home.
–Field Level Media