Saturday, September 24, 2016

Vikings vs. Panthers Preview
The Vikings will travel to Carolina for a challenging matchup with the Panthers. How will they handle the adversity they faced this week. Daniel House says the leadership of Mike Zimmer should leave zero doubt in the minds of Vikings fans.

Updated: September 24th, 2016 9:00am

By: Daniel House

The Vikings will continue their regular season slate as they travel to Carolina for a matchup with the Panthers. Minnesota is battling some adversity and will look to overcome it against the reigning NFC champions.

The Carolina Panthers opened their season by losing to the Broncos on a missed field goal, but rebounded as they destroyed San Francisco 46-27 last week. They have an explosive offense and an opportunistic defense that knows how to create turnovers. This game is a big challenge for the Vikings. Throughout the first three weeks of the season, Minnesota has dealt with adversity. First, they lost their starting quarterback, then their running back went down for the year, and their left tackle was place on injured reserve. However, this is nothing they can't handle. A coach who schemes better than anyone and a collective group of assistants who maximize the potential of their players will be the difference. It will take all 53 players stepping up to fill the void. The next man up philosophy will be in full force. Containing the likes of Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, and Kelvin Benjamin isn't easy. How do the Vikings stop them? Also, how do they move the ball and sustain drives on offense?

I provide my five key areas of emphasis as the Vikings travel to Charlotte:

Containing Cam Newton and stopping Carolina weapons
Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton is one of the most electrifying weapons in the league. He has a strong arm and creates so many explosive plays with his legs. It is important to put pressure on Newton, but you have to keep him inside the pocket. He is known for his rushing ability and can extend plays better than any quarterback in the league. Mike Zimmer will bring plenty of pressure to keep Newton on his toes. The key is making sure they can drop him for loss or prevent him from escaping the pocket. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is back after injuring his knee last year and is a massive red zone threat in their offense. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes may return this week and will likely have coverage responsibilities on Benjamin. Rhodes needs to be ready for the physicality and ball skills Benjamin has when he makes a play on the ball. Making sure you are in the correct position and ready to defense a pass is critical to being successful. Not to mention, tight end Greg Olsen is one of the best in football. He hauled in a 78-yard touchdown reception last week and is one of Cam Newton's favorite targets. Carolina loves to isolate Olsen in space and exploit any weaknesses linebackers may have in coverage. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks will be tested in the nickel package and must keep a close eye on Olsen. Barr didn't have his best week in coverage against Green Bay and will need to bounce back quickly. The Vikings need to account for the passing weapons the Panthers have because Carolina has a powerful aerial attack.

Creating Turnovers
The Vikings defense has been doing a fantastic job at creating turnovers. They have forced six takeaways through two games, including two defensive touchdowns. Three fumbles they forced were not recovered last week and this must improve. However, having the opportunities is certainly very encouraging. Creating more turnovers was an area of emphasis this offseason and it is great to see the defense stepping up to make plays. Whoever turns the ball over less will win this football game. The Panthers led the league in takeaways last year and already have six in the first two weeks. Minnesota has turned the ball over just once in two games, which bodes well for a team that is predicated on making plays defensively and controlling the clock on offense. If the Vikings defense can create some turnovers, they set the offense up with a short field and put more pressure on the Carolina defense to make plays. Limiting mistakes and creating takeaways on defense is going to be the x-factor in this ball game.

Enter Mr. McKinnon and Asiata 
With Adrian Peterson heading to injured reserve, the Vikings will again lean on Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata to hold down the fort in the backfield. This isn't a bad thing. McKinnon can run well out of the shotgun and is a dynamic weapon in the passing game too. Having him in the backfield allows the Vikings to spread the field and be more creative on offense. I told many of you Stefon Diggs looked poised for a big year in training camp and I was equally impressed with McKinnon. He has the chance to be a very special player if he is placed in the best situation to be successful. With extended playing time, this might be the opportunity he needed. Additionally, the ol' reliable Matt Asiata can vulture some goal-line snaps and propel your opponent's fantasy team to victory. We saw how it unfolded in 2014. I'm sorry...Asiata is just an animal inside the 5-yard-line. I expect to see Asiata and McKinnon share snaps and equally contribute to the scheme. Asiata is amazing at creating yards after contact and runs down hill extremely well. McKinnon is a change of pace back with such great agility and low center of gravity. The Vikings have a nice blend of running backs to put on the field while Adrian Peterson recovers from surgery.

Protect Bradford 
Can the coaches just put quarterback Sam Bradford in bubble wrap so he doesn't get hurt? He is the one player the Vikings can't afford to lose. With the daily surgical updates that came this week, everyone just holds their breath. Bradford was incredible in the game against Green Bay. I tweeted many of my game observations for all of you, but he was easily one of the top performers in that game. He stood tall in the pocket and flashed some amazing arm strength. He placed his throws very well and fit several passes into some very tight windows. The pocket was terrible for him and he still took advantage. Bradford can't continue to get pounded like he did against Green Bay. If he does, he will get hurt. Left tackle Matt Kalil underwent surgery for a torn labrum in his hip and was placed on injured reserve. That means T.J. Clemmings will be handling the duties at left tackle. Clemmings needed so much help last year and tight ends were blocking off the edge on frequent occasions. He is a very raw player and needs experience to improve. Having him protecting Sam Bradford's blindside is slightly scary to say the least. The unit didn't perform well with Kalil either and whether they can improve is going to dictate the success of this team. If they can't protect Bradford and allow opposing defensive line groups to dominate, the Vikings won't be effective on offense. Additionally, they need to get a better push in the running game. Minnesota running backs are averaging 1.9 yards per carry and they haven't done anything on the ground. If they can establish the run, it will open up more passing lanes. The Panthers defensive front has allowed 106.5 rushing yards per game through the first two weeks and the Vikings should be able to run the ball on them. If they can't, it is time to start questioning what is wrong with the offensive line.

Prove the doubters wrong
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer had some additional adversity to handle this week. The good news is: he is the master of defying odds. Zimmer and his squad have another opportunity to make a huge statement. "I don't think many people think can win this game. I don't think many people thought we could win last game," Zimmer said this week.

These are the type of situations Zimmer is a master at coaching through. The Vikings are a tough and resilient football team and their head coach has built this culture. They are squaring off with the reigning NFC champions without their starting quarterback, running back, and left tackle. That means absolutely nothing to this team. Zimmer is going to have them ready to play and will scheme to maximize the potential of every player he has on the roster. The Vikings aren't out-coached anymore. They win football games because they make the adjustments necessary to thrive as a team. The players have bought into the system and culture Zimmer has established. Now, they have a chance to make a huge statement and show they can handle any type of adversity, no matter the circumstance.

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