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Vikings Ready to Follow a Panthers Precedent?

The 2013 Carolina Panthers began the season 1-3, but turned things around mid-stride and ripped off eight consecutive victories to climb to 9-3. They finished the season with a 12-4 record and won the NFC South. A lot of things went right for the Panthers during their winning streak, but the groundwork for the turnaround was their fierce defense.

From a personnel standpoint, the strongest part of their defense was the front four. DEs Greg Hardy and Charles  Johnson provided a presence as stout run defenders and explosive pass rushers, while Colin Cole, Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short – along with Dwan Edwards, once he returned from injury in Week 9 – comprised a rotation at DT that proved too formidable for most foes. Carolina also had – and still does have – a young star in the LB corps in Luke Kuechly. To round out the defense, the Panthers had physical safeties and tough CBs who were equally good in coverage and in defending the run.

This turnaround by the Panthers in 2013 should be a source of optimism for Vikings fans in 2014. Just as the Panthers did last season, the Vikings didn't get off to the start they hoped this season, going 2-5 in the first seven games. Since then, though, the Vikings have won two straight and generated momentum heading into their Week 10 bye. Also in similar fashion to the Panthers, stout play by the defense keyed the sudden turnaround. The Vikings defensive line has been the strength of the team, with Everson Griffen pacing a defensive line that's accounted for 23 of the team's 30 sacks. A deep and talented rotation at DT led by Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd, stud LB Antony Barr impressing more and more each week and a physical secondary led by Harrison Smith has contributed, too. Oh, yea, and Captain Munnerlyn, who was with the Panthers last season during their dramatic turnaround, has played well for the Vikings of late and has an interception in each of the past two games.

Personnel isn't the only commonality between what the Panthers did over eight games last year and what the Vikings have done in a much shorter but still notable timeframe (two games) this year. Take a look at these numbers.

Note: Panthers stats are from their 8-game winning streak in 2013, Vikings stats are from their current 2-game winning streak.

We don't know if the Vikings, paced by a vicious defense and anxiously anticipating the rise of a young, franchise quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, will be able to construct a big-time winning streak and make a push for the playoffs. But we do know a precedent has been set and the blueprint exists. And it appears to be a blueprint the Vikings can emulate.

Where Can the Vikings Improve?Duplicating what the Panthers did last season will be a tall task. While the Vikings are off to a good start, as illustrated in the chart above, there is still room for improvement. The chart below highlights a few areas the Vikings can focus on during the bye week as they gear up for the final seven-game stretch of the regular season.

Note: Panthers stats are from their 8-game winning streak in 2013, Vikings stats are from their current 2-game winning streak.

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