Panthers Present Unique Challenges for Vikings

Aug 25, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) celebrates with quarterback Bryce Young (9) after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into Week 4 of the 2023 NFL regular season, the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers bring 0-3 records. For the squad breaking in a rookie quarterback, that was a bit more expected, but the Vikings certainly didn’t think they’d see fan-favorite Adam Thielen with both organizations winless. Looking to right the ship, Kevin O’Connell’s team has a couple of unique challenges they’ll face.

Panthers Present Unique Challenges for Vikings

Not only are the Vikings struggling internally with their own production, but the opposition has tied them in knots at times as well. Minnesota played toe-to-toe with both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Chargers. Those are two teams they should see as relatively even matchups, but they were always going to be seen as lesser than the Philadelphia Eagles.

Let’s not pretend that the Panthers have any semblance of reflection to the Eagles, but the quarterback is certainly a dual-threat talent. Andy Dalton started last week for the Panthers, but rookie Bryce Young is back, and all systems go. Coming out of Alabama, Young was viewed as a prolific passer who could make all the throws. He isn’t a runner in the sense of Justin Fields, but he’s more than a capable scrambler if the pocket breaks down. The only real knock on Young was his size, but that doesn’t dictate weekly performance.

Panthers Present
Sep 24, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young (9) greets a teammate on the sideline following a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports.

Brian Flores will need his unit to bear plenty more fruit for a Vikings defense that blitzed over three-quarters of the time a week ago. Despite sending a ton of pressure at Chargers signal caller Justin Herbert, the Vikings got home just once. With Young still so raw at the position, making him uncomfortable and actually taking him down in the backfield has to be a focal point for Minnesota. If the Vikings can’t capitalize there, Young could settle in early and pick apart a lackluster secondary as Herbert was able to do a week ago.

In the same vein as the quarterback, Minnesota will face a challenge in the form of Adam Thielen, who is looking to prove a point. It was somewhat clear that the veteran had lost a step last season, and his ability to separate from defenders was not the same. The former Mankato product has always shown elite route running and hands skills, but the former deteriorates as speed declines. With Minnesota moving on to a younger option in rookie Jordan Addison, this is Thielen’s Super Bowl to show they were wrong.

Sep 24, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) walks back to the locker room following pregame warmups against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports.

Already oddly talking about this game as a playoff matchup, despite two bad teams, it’s clear how important the contest is for Thielen. Even while playing largely from behind against the Seattle Seahawks, it can’t be discounted how gaudy the numbers were for the former Vikings standout. Although he was the favorite target of veteran Andy Dalton, Thielen should continue to be a reliable receiver for Young under center as well.

Minnesota’s secondary got torched for over 200 yards by Keenan Allen a week ago, and despite the Chargers basically informing the Vikings that he would get the ball every play, the group could do nothing to stop it. Like Allen, Thielen is in the twilight of his career but still more than capable of putting up a big stat line. You can bet that the Minnesota native would like to stick it to his former team, and without substantial adjustments, he should find himself with a nice day as the dust settles.

Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell takes the field before a game against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings realistically aren’t playing for the postseason anymore, but they haven’t started a season 0-4 since 2011, and doing so with a loss against the Panthers would represent a new low. Minnesota is in the midst of a competitive rebuild, but finding a way to remain competitive is still a reality that needs to show itself.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.