Was it Carolina or the Vikings Defense?

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On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings got their first win of the 2023 regular season. It started ugly, and turnovers looked to be again the reason Kevin O’Connell’s squad would drop another winnable game. Then Brian Flores saw his defense step up, and if that continues going forward, the season could see a nice turn.

Was it Carolina or the Vikings Defense?

Coming into Sunday’s game against the Vikings, the Carolina Panthers had struggled mightily against pressure. With Bryce Young back under center instead of veteran Andy Dalton, Minnesota would have more opportunity to pin the defenders’ ears back and look to get home.

Was it Carolina
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Last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, Brian Flores drew up blitzes against quarterback Justin Herbert right around 80% of the time. Looking to pressure him into errant throws, Herbert instead sat back and picked apart the defense. He found Keenan Allen early and often to push the ball down the field. Flores failed to make necessary adjustments, and the pressure never found its intended impact.

Fast forward to Sunday against the Panthers, and not only did the Vikings rush Young often, but they found success doing it. Rather than allowing the rookie quarterback to stay comfortable behind a poor offensive line, they had him constantly on the move and caused turnovers because of it.

Starting the third quarter by taking the lead, Minnesota’s rush got home and knocked the ball free from Young’s grasp, allowing D.J. Wonnum the opportunity for a 51-yard scoop and score. The scoring play wasn’t the only impact from the rush, though. The Vikings got home five times on the afternoon, three of which came from future Hall of Famer Harrison Smith. Making his first substantial appearance after missing time, Marcus Davenport also got home on a coverage sack.

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It’s beyond great to see that Flores found a way for his defensive pressure to make an impact against the opposition. In hoping to alleviate pressure from the secondary defenders, who remain a bit in over their heads, getting to the quarterback with quickness is a must. Finding a way to replicate that outcome against a better team will now be the key.

Of course, the Panthers are 0-4 and appear to be going nowhere fast. Minnesota’s road immediately gets tougher when they welcome Taylor Swift and the Kansas City Chiefs to U.S. Bank Stadium next weekend. The Chiefs, however, have played close games with the Detroit Lions and New York Jets, so it’s not as though they aren’t susceptible to a defeat.

Although the Chiefs possess a much better quarterback than Young and one that can improvise as much as Patrick Mahomes can, the receiving options remain lackluster. The Vikings must be ready to cover for decent durations, and Travis Kelce will present difficulties from the tight end spot. If Flores can scheme opportunities to force action, though, Minnesota can try to repeat some of their success from Sunday.

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The Vikings best chance to succeed defensively this season has always been through aggressiveness towards the quarterback. That doesn’t actually play if rushes don’t get home, but the more consistent the lineup remains and the more production from up front, the better.

Flores and his unit will have an immediate opportunity to prove this wasn’t just a Carolina Panthers and show what they can do as underdogs against a team ready to air it out.

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.