When the Minnesota Vikings face the Carolina Panthers today, they will face a team without one of its better defensive players, Dan Morgan, and a team either without its best offensive player, Steve Smith, or a team using Steve Smith in diminished capacity. No matter which scenario plays out, it has to be better than facing Smith at full speed--a phenomenon that destroyed the Vikings last season.
The Panthers are coming off of a disappointing opener against the Atlanta Falcons and are certain to have some new wrinkles in their game plan to help jump start what was a rather anemic offense last week. With a steadily improving defense, however, the Vikings should be prepared for an offense absent its primary offensive threat, particularly when that loss makes the Panthers a more run-oriented team.
Even with Smith in Carolina's lineup, however, the Vikings appear sufficiently competent on pass defense to at least keep Smith's production to normal levels. Whereas last week the Vikings faced a quick-release offensive scheme, this week they face more of a drop-back offense in the passing game. That should allow the Vikings' ends to put more pressure on Delhomme than they were able to put on Brunnell last week. And pressure on Delhomme will mean fewer deep patterns for Carolina. Assuming an ability to tackle--something the Vikings last week demonstrated they could do throughout the defense--that should mean fewer long gains and a game that evolves into a battle for field possession.
On offense, the Vikings will again focus on the quick hits and spreading the ball with Chester Taylor carrying the ball 20-25 times. If Troy Williamson is able to catch the easy balls today, the Vikings' offense could produce not only the mundane field goals and hard-yardage touchdowns, but also one or two longer touchdowns.
With a Williamson of last week, the underdog Vikings win another close contest 19-17. With a more focused Williamson, the Vikings prevail 24-17.
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