The Carolina Panthers must find a way to neutralize Sam Bradford in order to win on Sunday.
The Carolina Panthers have a new challenge to meet this Sunday. They will be playing the Minnesota Vikings without Adrian Peterson. While the Vikings will likely try to continue to run the ball with the likes of Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, new focus must move to the quarterback position.
The Vikings came into the preseason believing that Teddy Bridgewater was ready to break into his own as a starting quarterback. Then Bridgewater was gone to a noncontact injury for the season. The Vikings now had Shaun Hill in the back end of Adrian Peterson’s prime. They kind of panicked and brought in Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles for a couple of draft picks, including a first rounder.
Bradford has had a checkered career in the league. He was drafted to save the St. Louis Rams and he proceeded to get injured. He was traded to the Eagles to see if he could run Chip Kelly’s offense since he was a spread quarterback at Oklahoma. In both places, the pressure on Bradford was strong and he never truly delivered even when healthy.
Bradford’s move to the Vikings reflects two things that should make him a concern to the Panthers. One, Bradford has no pressure on him. The Vikings may be 2-0, but the loss of Peterson removes all expectations from the season. Bradford will not live and die on every win. There is a chance for him to be appreciated.
Secondly, Bradford has been at his best as a distributor. Bradford has been in places where he had to be a playmaker and that really has not been there for him. At Oklahoma he just needed to find superior weapons and let them go. In one game with the Vikings, Bradford had a good game doing something similar. Bradford does not have to win (unlike Rams and Eagles), he just has to not lose.
That should move the focus away from Bradford and to his receivers. The Vikings have a young underrated receiver corps. They are led by Stefon Diggs.
For a generation after Ralph Friedgen took over at Maryland, the Terrapins have produced a series of fast wide receivers (this continued under Randy Edsal a little bit). The Panthers faced one last week in Torrey Smith. Darius Hayward-Bey is out there somewhere. Tight end Vernon Davis also sort of fits this mold. Diggs is in that mold of very fast pass catchers. He is not big for the position, but he has established himself as the number one threat.
How will the Vikings use him? Probably much like the 49ers used Smith. They will try to match him up with James Bradberry and coax the rookie into mistakes. Since Diggs represents their best home run threat, getting the occasional defensive penalty could extend drives.
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To be fair, that strategy really did not work for the 49ers. Bradberry got his first career pick. Then there is the issue of whether you would rather have Bradford or Blaine Gabbert behind center making those calls.
The final thing to consider is Kyle Rudolph at tight end. There were two plays were the Panthers lost the 49ers tight end. One was a touchdown. One could have been if he just caught the ball. Rudolph is a better player, and he is security blanket for new quarterback Bradford. Rudolph has to be accounted for.
Without Peterson, Bradford becomes the focus. He has some tools to use and he has less pressure than any time in his career. The Vikings cannot be overlooked, especially with the division rival Atlanta Falcons coming next week.