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Minnesota Vikings-Carolina Panthers: 5 things you can count on happening

The Vikings will look to open things up in Carolina.
Mike Zimmer

For everything that went wrong in the Vikings' win over the Lions, they were able to get the victory. Sitting at 2-3, they now have the opportunity to enter the bye week at .500 if they can beat the Carolina Panthers.

The Panthers have come back to earth after a 3-0 start but still pose some difficult matchups. While Sundays have been unpredictable this year, here are some things you can count on when the Vikings head to Carolina.

1. A return to basics on offense

One of the most maddening things about the win over the Lions was the lack of aggressive playcalling. Coming into this week, Zimmer instructed his offense to do some "self-scouting" but it's fair to question how much will change. 

Zimmer seemed defiant when asked about his final drive of the first half and when he gets into trouble, he seems to lean on what he knows best. Although he will want to run the ball as much as possible, he has to know that the current state of the offense isn't set up for long-term success. 

That could mean subtle changes such as throwing on second and long and maybe mixing in an extra target for Justin Jefferson. Either way, something has to change if the Vikings want to be legitimate contenders.

2. Christian Darrisaw making his first career start

According to Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune, Darrisaw will make his first career start against the Panthers. While he will step into his role as left tackle of the future, his debut has been a long time coming.

Darrisaw mixed in with Rashod Hill last week and held his own against the Lions. In 16 pass-blocking snaps, Darrisaw didn't allow a pressure and never looked like he was overmatched.

Zimmer told reporters after the game that rotating Darrisaw and Hill was part of the plan but they had to realize that Hill isn't getting the job done. Through six weeks, Hill is tied for eighth among all offensive linemen with 20 pressures and his Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade is the fifth-worst among qualifying offensive tackles.

That makes Darrisaw an instant upgrade when he makes the start against Carolina. While there could be some growing pains, the Vikings didn't draft Darrisaw to be a developmental project. Now that he's healthy, he can help solve the issues along the offensive line.

3. Carolina's defensive line being a problem

Further pressing the need to start Darrisaw is the Panthers' defensive line. The strength of Matt Rhule's defense is their ability to stop the run, which comes into eighth against the run and 12th in Football Outsider's DVOA metric, which accounts for strength of schedule.

While the numbers are impressive enough, the average is also inflated by Dallas's 245-yard effort in Week 4. The Panthers have held four of their five opponents under 100 yards rushing and could make life difficult for the Vikings' ground game.

But the Panthers are also dangerous against the pass. No opponent has thrown for over 200 yards since the Jets tallied 207 passing yards in Week 1 and Carolina ranks third in the NFL with 16 sacks.

However the Vikings choose to attack the Panthers, the offensive line will have to pack a lunch. 

4. The Vikings putting pressure on Sam Darnold

While the Panthers are capable of putting pressure on the Vikings' offense, Mike Zimmer's defense is just as able to make things harder for Sam Darnold.

The Panthers' offensive line has been miserable this season in pass protection. According to PFF, Darnold has been under pressure on 38.1 percent of his dropbacks (8th highest in the NFL) and has compiled a 59.6 passer rating when pressured (8th lowest among qualifiers).

Darnold has discovered his mobility, running for five rushing touchdowns but running for your life isn't a sustainable method for success. With the Vikings ranking second in the NFL in sacks, there's a good chance they will get to Darnold on Sunday afternoon.

5. An ugly, low-scoring game

The first word that came to mind when discussing this game was "slobberknocker." But Jim Ross usually saved that term for to two heavyweights trading blows. This game could be more like something you would see at 2 a.m. down at the local establishment.

The Vikings and Panthers are heading in opposite directions but they have a lot in common. While their defense can take over games, it's a mystery as to which offense is going to show up.

We can't say that the Vikings that showed up in Arizona will make their way to Carolina but they're in better shape than their opponent. With the return of Cook and a (hopefully) aggressive approach on offense, the Vikings have the talent to come away with a win.

Prediction: Vikings 17, Panthers 13

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