The Panthers are looking to end a two game losing streak when they take on the Vikings on Sunday at Bank of America stadium. Kick-off is set for 1:00 on WBT. That task got a little harder with the news that Christian McCaffrey will not play. The All-Pro running back will miss his third straight game with a hamstring injury. The Eagles, meanwhile, got some good news about their star running back. Pro Bowler Dalvin Cook is set to make his return from an ankle injury, and that instantly makes this Vikings team better. They’re 2-3 on the year after a last second win over the Lions last week, but those three losses are by just a combined 11 points.
Of course, the Vikings are having some of the same struggles as the Panthers – inconsistency on the offensive line and second half woes – the Vikings haven’t scored a second half touchdown since week one. But getting Cook back will make a big difference. He was second in the NFL last season in rushing yards and touchdowns, and is a game changer according to Panther coach Matt Rhule. “He’s absolutely fantastic,” said Rhule. “There’s not a thing that he doesn’t do well. He’s certainly one of the best players that we’ve faced and one of the best players that I’ve seen.”
The Vikings also have a pair of outstanding receivers in Pro Bowler Adam Thielen and explosive second year player Justin Jefferson, they’ve combined for 59 catches and 7 touchdowns, with Jefferson averaging 14 yards a catch. Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins directs the NFL’s 10th ranked passing attack that averages 269 yards per game, he’s thrown 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. They’ll face a Panther defense that is number one in the league allowing just 161 passing yards per game.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings have a stout defense that is improving every week. They’ve only allowed one touchdown pass in their past three games, and have held their last three opponents to 17 points or less. And oh yes, they get after the quarterback – they rank second in the NFL with 17 sacks – and that’s bad news for a Panthers team that has had trouble protecting the quarterback lately. Star defensive end Danielle Hunter and veteran Everson Griffin have combined for 10 of those sacks, while All-Pro Eric Kendricks starts at middle linebacker, he leads the team in tackles and has an interception. The Vikings have a ton of talent in the secondary, starting with longtime Cardinals All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson and five-time Pro Bowl safety Harrison smith. They’ll face a Panthers team that averages 256 passing yards per game, but has turned the ball over too much in the past two games.
These teams played last season in Minnesota, with the Panthers losing a one point heart breaker on a last minute touchdown. They’d like a little revenge for that game, not to mention get back in the win column after back to back losses the past two weeks. So how do they do that, especially without their best offensive player? “It just comes down to execution,” said quarterback Sam Darnold. “I think that’s the biggest thing, is all 11 guys doing their job, and everything else will fall into place.”
By Sharon Thorsland
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