Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers: Week 3 review and grades

What grades were earned during the Minnesota Vikings statement to the league against the Carolina Panthers and what challenge looms ahead on Monday Night Football against the New York Giants?

The Minnesota Vikings have definitely learned how to make a statement. Literally knocking the reigning NFL MVP off his high horse to the tune of 3 interceptions and 8 sacks is an extremely loud announcement to the entire NFL. The statement that the Minnesota Vikings may have the best defense in the NFL, can no longer be considered a hyperbolic pronouncement.

The 3 interceptions and 8 sacks on the day only highlight the victory that ended the Carolina Panthers 14 game win streak by holding breakout superstar Kelvin Benjamin without a single catch and limiting an offense that last season averaged 31 points a game to only 10 points, all scored in the first quarter.

The first half was another slow start by the Minnesota Vikings offense, as it appeared to take a bit to size up the Carolina Panthers defense, but combined with impeccable special teams play and defense, the Minnesota Vikings scored on a safety by Danielle Hunter and a made it look easy punt return touchdown from Marcus Sherels, to enter halftime only down 10-8, and to come out after the half take the lead and never look back.

Everson Griffen is the easy choice for MVP for the Vikings but you could easily have to pass out game balls to  Marcus Sherels, Kyle Rudolph, Jeff Locke, and Cordarrelle Patterson as well. This Minnesota Vikings team looks like they can win with whoever suits up week in and week out and that is the greatest testament and highest praise that can be bestowed upon head coach Mike Zimmer and the rest of the Vikings coaching staff.

What grades are bestowed upon the Vikings who were again victorious in battle? Let’s open up with the offense.

Sep 25, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) makes a one handed catch over Carolina Panthers defensive back Robert McClain (27) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 25, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) makes a one handed catch over Carolina Panthers defensive back Robert McClain (27) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The QB Situation – Grade: B

Sam Bradford wasn’t perfect in this game but he didn’t have to be. He had to be good enough, and he surely was as the Carolina Panthers took away his favorite target in Stefon Diggs for most of the game. Instead of forcing ill-advised throws, Bradford found a new favorite target in this game in his TE Kyle Rudolph. Emerging from the uprising of a Vikings passing attack is WR Adam Thielen who is pushing to unseat Charles Johnson from his spot on the depth chart by making consistent highlight reel catches and showing that he has true big catch capabilities that will most likely become more evident as the season rolls along. As Bradford delves deeper into the Minnesota Vikings playbook he will uncover more creative ways to spread the ball around to different receivers. For the second consecutive week Bradford managed to find 7 different receivers in the game, and with continued production of that magnitude, defenses will not be able to cue in on all of the talented Vikings receivers and be able to control the Vikings rushing attack.

The O-Line performance – Grade B+

No unit on this years Vikings squad needed a boost more than the offensive line. Against this vaunted Carolina Panthers defensive front, the Minnesota front limited the defense to being able to secure only 2 sacks and paved the way for Minnesota’s backup running backs to rush for 70 yards in this game. T.J. Clemmings starting for the injured Matt Kalil, protected Sam Bradford’s blind side better than it had been in the Vikings first 2 matchups this season. After a dismal showing against Green Bay the Vikings offensive line started to look like the “Minnesota Moving Company” of seasons passed. This unit shoring up all its holes will solidify the Vikings as the team to beat in the NFC this season.

Sep 25, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) reacts after making a sack in the fourth quarter. The Vikings defeated the Panthers 22-10 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 25, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) reacts after making a sack in the fourth quarter. The Vikings defeated the Panthers 22-10 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The rushing attack – Grade: B-

Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata were given the mantle of starting running back duo in the absence of Adrian Peterson. Whereas they did not implore the defense to sell out on the run they still made the Panthers defense play honest. 70 yards total was really a shortcoming in this game, contributing to the Vikings being 3 of 12 on third downs and punting the ball 7 times. As it was the first extended action for this duo, it was still an admirable effort against a very stout run defense. As running backs dropping in to pass protection, they helped keep the pocket clean and were penalty free and both of the backs also caught a pass in the game as well.

The ball hawking defense – Grade A+

3 weeks in to this young season and the Minnesota Vikings deserve a grade higher than an A+.

This defense is already drawing comparisons to other great Vikings defenses of the 70’s, the Purple People Eaters, and beyond all that comparisons to the platinum standard of defense the 85 Chicago Bears. Yes, it is early in the season to be handing out such high praise but there are several factors that bode well for not only sustained defensive production but actually boding even better for INCREASED defensive production! Can you imagine what could happen when these pass rushing demons get their hands on a couple of rookie quarterbacks later on against Dallas and Philadelphia? The defensive craftiness in their shifts and blitzes will continue to give opposing offenses fits. How comfortable will a pocket passer like Eli Manning feel watching the beautiful defensive choreography of the defensive line, watching the like of Erik Kendricks, Harrison Smith, and Anthony  Barr creep up to the line of scrimmage not knowing who is coming at him and who is dropping back in to coverage? This unit gave up only 1 early touchdown to an elite offensive force and managed to keep the endzone out of reach for the remainder of the game. Throw in three interceptions the week after Green Bay managed to fumble away the game to us and you begin to see how opportunistic this defense really is.

Sep 25, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Marcus Sherels (35) returns a punt for a touchdown in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams – Grade A

Coach Mike Priefer has really setup a successful unit of his own with the Vikings special teams. The often overlooked 3rd unit has been another highlight of this young season. Marcus Sherels  punt return ability sparked this team and brought the score to 10-8.

Jeff Locke, the punter the Vikings were testing competition for, was called upon 7 times to punt the ball and did a masterful job helping the Minnesota defense by flipping field position. His 7 punts averaged 48.4 yards per attempt, with his longest being a booming 62 yard bomb, and 3 times pinned the Panthers inside the 20.

What was the real icing on the cake? How about finding out that Cordarrelle Patterson is not only a premier kick returned but also a top gunner on punts? It’s not exactly justification of his first round pick status, but it is a return on an investment and allowing him to have more time to show up on the field and earn playing time on offense.

Blair Walsh… (sighs)… missed his 2nd extra point kick of the season. Is it nerves? Focus? Confidence? Not sure, but its annoying and obnoxious. It wasn’t a factor this week, thankfully, but in the NFL you win by the points you accumulate, and you lose by the points left on the table. Walsh’s flaws are becoming  a headline and a distraction, fans are calling for him to be replaced. Mike Zimmer is trying his best to silence the masses and instill a vote of confidence in his kicker, for he knows that there are no better options available, or we would probably have signed one.

The fans – Grade: A

Vikings fans must have been planning a vacation around this game. Every time the camera panned the crowd, you could see swells of purple in a sea of powder blue. All around town and on the radio, Vikings fans professed their faith in the purple and local radio analysts explained breathlessly that Minnesota stood a way better chance than the national media outlets led fans to believe. The belief in our team is at an all time high heading into 2 home games before the bye week. Nothing could possibly sound better than heading into the week 6 bye at a record of 5-0!

Sep 25, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Thomas Davis (58) dives for the tackle on Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 25, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Thomas Davis (58) dives for the tackle on Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (82) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Overall Grade against the Panthers: A

When you perform at this high of a level you have to make sure you play this hard for every opponent you face, no win will come easy and I’m sure Zimmer will keep these Vikings grounded. The trick for the rest of the season will be to not fall victim to any trap games. Any game against an opponent with a lesser record, can be a trap game if the players start to buy in to their own hype. Hopefully the pursuit of perfection and status as an elite defense will be enough to keep them on point.

Week 4 vs the New York Giants

Game 2 at US Bank Stadium on Monday Night Football should be an interesting matchup for the Vikings. Eli Manning the 2 time Super Bowl champion comes in to town with his New York Giants team starting to feel the cruel wrath of the early season injury bug syndrome sweeping the league. Having his 3 big receiving targets in Beckham Jr, Cruz, and Sheppard may play to the strengths of the Vikings.

Eli being a pocket passing QB, and the Vikings ability to collapse a pocket in a hurry, and also not only shut down receivers but takeaway the ball could have the Giants in for a long game.

Final score prediction: Vikings 24-Giants 13

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