EAGAN, Minn. – The Panthers have experienced ups and downs similar to the Vikings so far this season.
Carolina enters Sunday's game 4-7, but the less-than-impressive record doesn't necessarily tell the whole story. Of the Panthers seven losses, four have been by one score or less – including three losses by four or fewer points.
The NFC South team is coming off a dominant 20-0 defeat of the Lions and may have All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey back in the lineup. McCaffrey, who in 2019 led the NFL with 2,392 yards from scrimmage, has only played in Weeks 1, 2 and 9 this season.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke to Twin Cities media members Wednesday and emphasized the talented team he's preparing to face at U.S. Bank Stadium this weekend.
"We're getting ready to play a good Carolina team – a very, very good team. I've been very impressed with them," Zimmer said. "Very young defensively, fly around to the ball, do a great job in situations."
Zimmer mentioned a trio of "really good receivers that have great speed" in DJ Moore, Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel. He also emphasized that former Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is playing well in his first season as a starting quarterback since suffering a devastating knee injury in August 2016.
"McCaffrey and [Mike] Davis are both really good backs. We're going to have to play really, really well to win," he added.
Here are four other topics Zimmer covered during his session with media:
1. Respect for Davis
With McCaffrey missing substantial time this season, Davis has taken advantage of his opportunity with 111 carries for 449 yards and three rushing scores. He also has 49 catches for 305 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
Davis has spent time with four different teams – San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and Carolina – since entering the league in 2015 as a fourth-round draft pick. He's currently on-pace for his best NFL season.
Journeyman or not, Zimmer won't be counting Davis out.
"He does everything," Zimmer said. "He catches the ball well out of the backfield, is good on the screens, he runs very, very hard, he's elusive in the open field. I've been very impressed. He carries his pads forward."
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Panthers.
2. Facing a friend
In reference to Bridgewater, Zimmer was asked if it ever "feels normal" to game-plan against a player he's been close to.
He shared that he's been in touch with Bridgewater ever since he departed Minnesota as a free agent in 2018.
"Teddy and I have a great relationship. We've talked ever since he's left," Zimmer said. "When the schedule came out, I don't know if he texted me or I texted him, but I told him I was rooting for him in 15 games, just not when we played them, and he basically said the same thing. I'm proud of what he's done. He's a great kid, great family.
"It is a little different when you're as close to somebody, but I think Deion [Sanders] went and played with [Washington] after I coached him and things like that," Zimmer continued. "You're still trying to beat the heck out of him as best as you can."
3. An update on Thielen's status
The Vikings on Monday placed receiver Adam Thielen on the COVID-19/Reserve list.
Asked about Thielen's status and whether he could be activated for Sunday's game, Zimmer said he's unsure.
"I don't know, honestly. Obviously he's in the COVID protocol, and we'll just see," Zimmer said. "When you get in these protocols, it's always about, 'What's the next test, and the next test?' So we'll just have to see as the week goes on."
If Thielen is unable to play against Carolina, that could create more targets for rookie Justin Jefferson, but Zimmer said there won't be extra "responsibilities," per se, for the rookie receiver.
"I don't think so. There's a lot on his plate now, the things that he's doing and trying to do, and obviously we still don't know about Adam," Zimmer said. "It's kind of hard to say, 'Well, if Adam doesn't play, you're going to do all these different things, and if he does play, then you're going to do this.' "
4. Rolling with the punches
Minnesota was without wide receivers coach Andrew Janocko for last week's game against the Cowboys. The previous week, the team traveled to Chicago without assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher.
Zimmer was asked about the challenges of adapting when abrupt (temporary) changes to the coaching staff occur.
"Yeah, it's happened a couple of times, obviously. It adds to other guys' duties that they have to do, responsibilities," Zimmer said. "Fortunately, the ones that have missed have not been sick, so they're able to do a lot of things virtually still.
"If these guys got really ill and sick and couldn't do things, then obviously it would make it more difficult, but we have a plan in place for if I get [the virus] or whoever gets it," he added.