CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WSPA) – Teddy Bridgewater is expected to return to the lineup as the Panthers go for their second win in a row when they travel to Minneapolis to take on the 4-6 Vikings.
P.J. Walker filled in admirably for Teddy Bridgewater in his first NFL start, leading the Panthers to a 20-0 win over Detroit. But after participating fully in practice sessions this week, Carolina gets Bridgewater back after he suffered a knee sprain. He’ll be going up against the team who drafted him in the first round back in 2014. He started most of his rookie year before starting every game in 2015. But a torn ACL in 2016 had him miss the entire season, and he was dealt to the Saints the following year. Bridgewater is still beloved by fans in Minnesota, and he discussed that history below:
In their win over the Lions, the Panthers amassed 350 total yards for just the second time since October 11 (a 23-16 win over Atlanta). They’ll hope to reach that mark once again this weekend as they take on a Vikings team that is allowing over 380 total yards per game this season.
With the bye week looming and Christian McCaffrey dealing with a shoulder injury, the star player has been ruled out this Sunday. That means it’s another week for Mike Davis. He’s had plenty of opportunities in relief this year and has been a valuable asset on the ground and through the air, but the rushing attack has been severely limited in recent weeks. Game flow has certainly contributed to that, but Davis has failed to reach 70 yards rushing since that Falcons game back in early October. He’s still seeing targets out of the backfield, though, and that should return to normal with Bridgewater back at the helm.
The team also welcomes left tackle Russel Okung back, which gives a huge boost to both the run and passing game.
The defense put together its best all-around performance last week in their shutout of Detroit. They held Matt Stafford and the Lions to just 218 total yards, sacking the quarterback five times, and holding them to just 3-14 on third down. Corner Donte Jackson will miss this week, so the Panthers will once again turn to reserves including Troy Pride Jr., who is expected to start in place of Jackson.
Minnesota had a disappointing start to the season, but has improved greatly over the past month. After losing their first three games, and five of their first six, Minnesota rattled off three consecutive victories prior to last week’s loss to Dallas. A big reason for that success has been running back Dalvin Cook.
Considered among the best at his position in the league, Cook is about as versatile of a runner as they come. He’s already reached one thousand yards rushing this season, leads the league with 13 touchdowns, and has added 234 yards receiving on 25 receptions plus a score.
They’ve been one of the more balanced teams in the league this year, and during their recent three-game winning streak they had over three hundred yards passing along with over 150 yards rushing in each game.
While Kirk Cousins has been inefficient at times, he’s only thrown one interception in the last four games. He has ten in the other six games. And they’ve been connecting further down field as well with Adam Thielen being the primary target in the offense. He already has a whopping eleven touchdowns on 49 receptions. But the team added another big play threat in the NFL Draft by snagging Justin Jefferson from LSU. The rookie leads the team in receiving yards with 848, recording 18.8 yards per catch. He fills the void left by Stefon Diggs well, and is a threat stretch the field on any play. His combination of route running and speed is dangerous in man coverage.
Defensively, the team is near the middle of the pack in most categories, but their third down defense stands out as they rank fourth in the league allowing conversions on just 36% of attempts. This will be a key area to watch for on Sunday. They’ve lost some impact along the defensive line after trading away Yannick Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens, but their second and third levels are stacked with veteran talent.
Eric Kendricks is an all-purpose linebacker that is proficient in coverage and against the run. He has five pass deflections this season as well as two interceptions to go along with his team-leading 93 total tackles. He’s a sideline to sideline player that reads the lanes very well. Carolina’s offensive line is going to need to get into the second level quickly on run plays and remove him from the equation early or else he’s liable to make a play.
On the back end they have a great safety duo in FS Anthony Harris and SS Harrison Smith. Smith is a playmaker and roams throughout the secondary waiting for opportunities. He leads the team with three interceptions this season and six pass breakups. Harris is a tackling machine and is always around the play. He’s especially good against the run, something many the Vikings defensive backs have in common. All that being said, they’ve remained towards the middle or bottom of the league in both sacks and turnovers.
Carolina ideally gets back to a run-heavy approach against a vulnerable Vikings front four this Sunday. It’s an opportunity for Mike Davis to return to true form in Christian McCaffrey’s absence once again. Situational football is always key, but may be more of a factor this week as the Panthers aim to keep Cook and the Minnesota offense off the field.
The Panthers run defense hasn’t been great this year, and with one of the best in the league approaching, they’ll be tested heavily. That being said if they can force Cousins to beat them through the air, they’ll likely be able to control the tempo of the game and thus prevent a huge rushing performance from Cook.
Minnesota enters the home game as three point favorites, so the Panthers have an opportunity to pull off an upset and get their fifth win of the season as they enter a much needed BYE week.