In every NFL matchup, there are a seemingly endless amount of angles to analyze. It’s hard to get to them all during the week of practice, and I’m sure there were some that slipped through the cracks despite all of the Vikings vs. Panthers preview content we provided on vikings.com this week.
As we sit here just hours before today’s game, I thought I’d try to cover a few more bases and provide a few final thoughts on the Vikings game against the Panthers today.
-- As much as everyone wants to focus on football, you just can’t go forward with anything today without first acknowledging the tragic situation involving the 2-year-old son of Adrian Peterson. It’s easy to get caught up in the exciting moments of NFL football on Sundays, but what transpired in Sioux Falls this week is yet another sad perspective-yielding moment for all of us. It’s seemingly impossible to understand a lot of things about what led to the death of a 2-year-old, but keep in mind it’s also difficult to understand what those who are personally dealing with this loss are going through.
-- I cautioned early in the week not to sleep on this Carolina defense. They are the NFL’s top scoring defense with just 56 points allowed in four games, and even more remarkable is the fact that they’ve allowed zero points in the 1st quarter this season and zero touchdowns in the 1st half this season. The Vikings must break this trend and get on the board early against the Panthers. Scoring early will allow the Vikings to remain a run-first outfit, which will keep the Panthers defense off-balance the entire game and will keep Peterson and the running game lethal for all four quarters. If the Vikings fall into the trend Carolina’s opponents have this season, there’s a chance the Panthers will build a comfortable lead and thus take the Vikings best offensive weapon – Peterson and the running game – out of the mix.
-- Many of you have been clamoring for it for quite some time now, and I do believe you’ll get it. I expect Desmond Bishop to see the field a significant amount in today’s game and, perhaps, going forward. Whenever we’ve seen Bishop on the field it seems he’s been making plays, and hopefully that will continue today against Carolina.
-- Today is a big opportunity for Marcus Sherels and his punt return teammates to turn things around. Through the first four games, Sherels has just eight punt return yards. Of course it doesn’t help that he has been forced to take nearly twice as many fair catches (seven) as returns (four), but the point remains the Vikings haven’t had a great opportunity to flip field position via the punt return game. Perhaps that will change today, though, because the Panthers are the opponent and they come to town having forced just two fair catches from opponents and having allowed 10.9 yards per punt return. This would be a nice aspect of the game to win today because I don’t anticipate many opportunities for Cordarrelle Patterson in the kickoff return game – the Panthers have registered touchbacks on 88% of their kickoffs this season.
-- I’m curious to watch Blair Walsh in pregame warm-ups. He is listed on the injury report a questionable for the game today with a left hamstring. He was limited in practice on Thursday and did not practice on Friday. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Friday there were some things the team would need to see from Walsh on Sunday morning before they could be sure he’d play. If Walsh cannot go, punter Jeff Locke would step in to replace him and, consequently, the team would also go to their backup holder (Matt Cassel).
-- Xavier Rhodes played 88% of the snaps in Week 1 against Detroit, as the Vikings defense was primarily in nickel or dime formations against the Lions pass-heavy attack. In Week 2, though, Rhodes snaps went down to 55%. In Week 3 he was up to 60% and in Week 4 up to 65%. A big determining factor in Rhodes’s snap count is what the opposing offense does in terms of personnel. But independent from that, watch for Rhodes’ snap count to continue increasing as the season goes on and as he continues to play well and earn the trust of the Vikings coaching staff.