Panthers, Vikings look to solve lulls on offense
Published 12:00 am Friday, October 15, 2021
By Steve Reed
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — The game between the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers on Sunday might just come down to who can score a touchdown in the second half.
Both teams have struggled coming out of the locker room at halftime this year.
For the Panthers (3-2), who’ve scored a league-low seven points in the third quarter, the second-half offensive lulls came back to bite them for a second straight week as the Philadelphia Eagles were able to stick around and ultimately erase a 12-point deficit and beat Carolina 21-18.
The Vikings’ problems might be worse as they’ve gone eight quarters — and 24 offensive possessions — after halftime without a touchdown. Unlike Carolina, the Vikings (2-3) were able to hold on last week, beating the winless Detroit Lions 19-17 on a 54-yard field goal by Greg Joseph.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer went looking for answers, asking his coaching staff to do some self-scouting earlier this week — something that’s normally reserved for the bye week — to find a remedy for the second-half blues.
“I don’t know if I pinpointed it, but we’ve researched it an awful lot,” Zimmer said. “We went through every possession in the second half. We’ve gone through down-and-distance tendencies, first-and-possession, earned first downs, second-down-and-long after a penalty, after a sack. …”
Zimmer said one modification the Vikings will make is having a more detailed plan coming out of halftime.
“Instead of saying, ‘Hey, these are the plays that we’re thinking about running,’ … going, ‘all right, here’s what we’re going to run. Here’s the first play, second play, third play,’ and we go from there,” Zimmer said.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule said his team’s second-half woes are “driving me nuts.”
“I think we will fix it,” Rhule said. “Most of our touchdowns happen in the first three or four drives of the game. And it’s like after those things that we are real comfortable with are gone and things get harder, everyone just starts pressing. Just play within the system, whether that is (quarterback) Sam (Darnold) or a linebacker. Don’t try to do too much.”
The Vikings and Panthers have met twice since Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey were drafted in 2017, but they’ve yet to face each other due to injuries. Cook missed the game as a rookie with a knee injury and McCaffrey last year due to a shoulder injury.
McCaffrey skips Panthers’ practice Thursday
Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey did not practice Thursday, a sign that he could miss his third straight game while trying to rehab from a hamstring injury.
The 2019 All-Pro running back had participated in four straight practices for the Panthers on a limited basis.
Coach Matt Rhule told reporters on Wednesday that McCaffrey was “50-50” for the game and that his playing status would likely come down to a game-time decision. Rhule does not address reporters on Thursday of a normal game week.
The Panthers (3-2) host the Minnesota Vikings (2-3) on Sunday.
The Panthers’ 2017 first-round draft pick was injured in a Week 3 win against the Houston Texans. He hasn’t played since and the Panthers are 0-2 without him in the starting lineup after starting the season 3-0.
Chuba Hubbard would start if McCaffrey can’t play. Hubbard ran for 101 yards on 24 carries in Carolina’s 21-18 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday.
The Panthers also placed punter Joe Charlton on injured reserve with back soreness and signed Ryan Winslow to the practice squad.