Even though the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings just saw each other last season, things have changed a little bit on both sides. So it’s time to reintroduce ourselves.
We mixed it up with Vikings Wire managing editor Jack White to see what the Panthers’ Week 6 opponents are currently up to heading into Sunday.
Panthers Wire: With the recent (and unsurprising) struggles along the Panthers’ offensive front, Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter will certainly be of particular interest in this matchup. What makes him one of the league’s most destructive wrecking balls?
Vikings Wire: Hunter has a variety of ways to attack opposing offensive lines.
He can vary his speed well, he has a good rip move, he has a good spin move. Draft analysts tabbed Hunter as a raw prospect out of college, and he didn’t produce absurd numbers at LSU.
However, he’s honed his craft at the NFL level and has transformed into one of the best edge rushers in the game. Even better: he’s only 26. Hunter’s absence from 2020, due to injury, was likely the biggest loss for the team in 2020.
PW: The rest of that Minnesota defensive line isn’t full of slouches either. What have the additions of guys like Dalvin Tomlinson and Everson Griffen done for the unit thus far?
VW: I think Tomlinson has probably under performed. The Vikings signed Tomlinson to be a three-technique player, despite his most productive position being nose tackle. He hasn’t been getting pressure on a regular basis.
Griffen, though, has exceeded expectations. Griffen reunited with the Vikings this offseason, and he’s looked like the Griffen of old so far. He has four sacks already, playing his way into the starting edge rusher spot opposite Hunter.
PW: Speaking of Dalvins, that guy who carries the ball is a pretty okay player. He’s also cut from a similar cloth to Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, as they’re both a nightmare for defenses on the ground and through the air. How does his presence affect what the Vikings do on offense?
VW: Under Mike Zimmer’s leadership, the Vikings have been a run-heavy team, so it helps to have a player like Cook.
He’s explosive. He can beat defenses with his speed, but also has a power to his game. He might be the most balanced running back in the NFL. He can thrive in the receiving game at times, but he mostly catches screens and dump offs.
If he was as good as McCaffrey in the receiving game, the Vikings might have the best running back in the NFL. But the team still has a good one in Cook. The biggest drawback is how many injuries he’s had during his NFL career already. However, he should be ready for Week 6.
PW: In the same breath, both McCaffrey and Cook have dealt with numerous injuries in their careers, perhaps, due to heavy workloads. And even though they’re clearly special players, do you think this is a warning of sorts for teams looking to pay running backs?
VW: I think it is. Whenever a team relies on a running back, it can be trouble.
The Vikings have an explosive offense, but so much of it is dependent upon Cook staying healthy. Running back is such a physically demanding position.
There is, of course, a long track record of team’s extending running backs who end up not living up to their large deals. The whole theory behind “running backs don’t matter” is that a running back who’s top tier needs to stay healthy and needs an offensive line that can run block.
Not much separates an average running back and an elite one, compared to quarterback and other premium positions. When you put too many eggs in the running back basket, there ends up being a lot of factors outside your control.
Minnesota would probably be better off allocating some of Cook’s money to other positions. But Cook is still great, and this current Minnesota team, with the way it’s constructed, needs him.
PW: We’ve gone over a handful of premier names for the Vikings. So is there one player, who isn’t as heralded, Panthers fans might want to keep a mental note of heading into Sunday?
VW: I think Eric Kendricks might be underrated around the league. He may be the best off-ball linebacker in the entire NFL. Last game, he made a one-handed interception.
There’s also Tyler Conklin, a player who’s become the primary tight end after Irv Smith Jr. went down with what is likely a season-ending injury. Conklin has played well in relief.
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