Behind enemy lines: Vikings vs. Panthers

·3 min read

The Vikings and Panthers are entering a crucial matchup.

Minnesota has won two of its last three games, while Carolina is trying to bounce back after two consecutive losses.

The Vikings winning would put the team in a position to salvage their season. The Panthers winning could make people around the league think that Carolina is the real deal.

We talked with Panthers Wire’s Managing Editor, Anthony Rizzuti, to preview the Week 6 game:

1. The Panthers are 3-2. Does that surprise you at all?

Syndication: The Providence Journal

No. Despite the 3-0 start and the bold moves for cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and C.J. Henderson, this is still a young team in the second stage of a rebuilding process.

There has been plenty of good, with wide receiver DJ Moore putting the league on notice and the studs on defense coming together to form one of the game’s most exciting units. But, again, that learning curve, along with the absence of star Christian McCaffrey and an unreliable offensive line, is coming back to knock them down a peg from their initial success.

2. Despite the strong start, Carolina has lost two consecutive games. Do you think the Panthers’ early success is a fluke? Or are their recent losses not reflective of their overall play?

Photo: Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Sports

We’ll chalk up their first loss, the one to the Dallas Cowboys back in Week 4, to just succumbing to the forces of a superior contender. Those boys in Texas, especially on offense, are the real deal. So no shame in that game. It’s their more recent loss that’s troubling. Many of the fears heading into the season reared their heads against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Quarterback Sam Darnold reverted to the poor decision-making turnover machine, the offensive line crumbled and they couldn’t find any firepower sans McCaffrey.

I wouldn’t say their early wins were fluky, as they earned those triumphs behind smart offensive game plans and on the strength of their versatile defense. But they cannot allow that disappointing result from last Sunday to snowball.

3. Sam Darnold has been blank as the Panthers' quarterback.

Photo: Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Sports

Sam Darnold has been, well, Sam Darnold as the Panthers’ quarterback. I’m not saying that to be cheeky, I’m saying that because he’s still largely the same guy we’ve seen from the previous three years.

To his credit, he has shown some progression. He’s been, at least before the last two outings, more efficient with ball in terms of finding his targets and playing keep-away from the defense. He’s also tapped into that athleticism with his five rushing touchdowns.

But his questionable decision making, failure to see plays develop downfield and tendency to trust his arm strength too often are still very present habits. A better cast of supporting characters has just helped masked that, for the most part, thus far.

4. Who's the most underrated player on Carolina?

Oct 10, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson (26) reacts during the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

There are often a few players to chose from when it comes to this question for the Panthers. They’re an overlooked team in a small market that, frankly, not many people care about.

With that being said, cornerback Donte Jackson is a fine choice here. He’s shown very steady, very tangible success in coverage with each passing season. Jackson is also a torpedo in the run the game, as he often exhibits his speed and strength to stop plays when he shoots from the perimeter.

And while he may be underrated now, the money he’ll see this offseason certainly won’t go unnoticed.

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