It is that time of the week where we talk to our friends that run the SB Nation site that is dedicated to the Minnesota Vikings’ opponents for that week. This week, the purple will take on the Carolina Panthers, which means we get an opportunity to get some intel from the folks at Cat Scratch Reader, SB Nation’s Panthers site.
I’ve exchanged questions with Walker Clement from CSR for this week. Once he gets our questions posted up over there, I’ll link to it here and put it on our front page. For now, here are the questions that I sent to him along with his answers.
1) The main attraction in this one for a lot of folks is an opportunity to see #1 overall pick Bryce Young, who looks like he’ll be back at quarterback this week after missing last week’s game at Seattle. What are your impressions of Young thus far in the limited time he’s been the Panthers’ quarterback?
I think Young is going to settle somewhere between fine and truly great once he gets his feet under him. He has been decisive and thrown with great anticipation in his highlights so far. Unfortunately, he hasn’t always been able to trust his receivers as their generally poor separation against admittedly great pass defenses in Atlanta and New Orleans has given him minimal room to work.
He has also struggled with deep ball accuracy. It’s hard to tell yet if that is from some physical limitation of his own or from some degree of mistrust or miscommunication with his receivers.
Adam Thielen has been his favorite target so far as the veteran’s precise route running has been his only hope for an uncontested catch. Look for Young to lean on Thielen, but also to get D.J. Chark involved early to try to soften up the defense. Chark spent most of the first two weeks coming back from a hamstring injury that limited the rest of the Panthers' offense.
2) The Vikings’ defense has gotten beaten in completely different ways over their last two games. They allowed over 250 yards rushing to Philadelphia in Week 2 and then got dissected by Justin Herbert and the Chargers last week. What’s the strength of the Carolina offense and how do you think they’ll attack the Minnesota defense?
The strength of the Panthers' offense so far has been in having penalties or negative yardage plays on first down to then put the team behind the sticks on second and third downs. They are 19-47 on third downs on the season. That is too many third downs through three games, tied for the third most third down attempts in the league, and a terrible conversion percentage to boot.
Seriously, the Panthers haven’t been able to get their running or passing game going and have struggled with penalties in each game. Each of these elements are related to each other and improvement anywhere should lead to improvement everywhere. But we haven’t yet seen a defense that didn’t know the Panthers had to pass almost every down by the second half, so we really don’t know what this offense is supposed to look like yet.
3) Minnesota’s passing offense has been pretty prolific this season so far, with Kirk Cousins leading the league in passing yardage through three weeks and Justin Jefferson averaging over 150 yards receiving/game. Do you think the Carolina pass defense has the ability to step up and slow the Vikings’ air attack down?
I wouldn’t color myself optimistic. The Panthers are already down two starters in cornerback Jaycee Horn and safety Xavier Woods. C.J. Henderson, Horn’s backup, is coming off of his own ankle injury and is a former high draft pick by the Jaguars that has still yet to live up to his athletic potential. Sam Franklin Jr, Woods’ backup, is a solid special teams contributor with a lot of confidence. Carolina’s hopes rest in the ability of Brian Burns and co. getting home when rushing the passer and doing so quickly.
Start counting to three on every dropback. If you make it then it is probably going to be a successful passing play.
4) Give us one “under the radar” player on each side of the ball for the Panthers that you think will play a significant role in Carolina’s success on Sunday.
Chuba Hubbard has been the more efficient running back so far, despite Miles Sanders big name and big contract energy coming into the season. He should see more action if the team, as they ought, leans harder on the running game on early downs.
Jeremy Chinn has been an up-and-coming star for several years now that has never really found his position in the NFL. He’ll get more work at safety with Xavier Woods (hamstring) out. He has yet to take over a game this season and is well due. Y’all might remember him from 2020 as the defensive player who scored back-to-back touchdowns against the Vikings. It may have been the best 10 seconds of football the Matt Rhule era produced for the Panthers.
5) Our friends at the DraftKings Sportsbook currently have the over/under for this one set at 46.5 points. Which way would you be leaning on that one if you were a betting man, and how do you think things will play out on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium?
That’s a really hard question. I keep saying that I’ll believe this offense can put it all together after I have seen them do so, but I’m also ready to blindly follow the next fan off a cliff hoping there will be a soft landing. I’ve been going back and forth on the total, but am currently leaning towards the over with the Vikings just barely covering the spread. Vikings 33 Panthers 27.
Thanks again to Walker for taking a moment to answer our questions!