Panthers vs. Vikings: Takeaways from Minnesota's 35-10 Loss to Carolina
While not all of the ills of this team are at the quarterback position, it's clear that Matt Cassel's future is that of a backup. Two Cassel interceptions that led to 14 points for Carolina highlighted the problem with the Vikings offense.
But let's not overlook the fact that the defense was shredded all game long. Cam Newton led the Panthers on long scoring drives in the first half, one of 15 plays and the other of 14, to open a 14-3 lead at halftime. He then used the big play to open the scoring in the second half, completing a 79-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell with just more than a minute gone in the third quarter.
This loss was extremely difficult to watch after the Vikings looked good in their win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in London.
Here are some takeaways from the game. Warning, it won't be a pretty picture.
Matt Cassel Is...
Completing the title from above...not the starter everyone was hoping for.
It's now extremely obvious why head coach Leslie Frazier remained high on Christian Ponder in the two weeks since Cassel led the Vikings to victory.
He showed a huge flaw in the Panthers game on both of his interceptions. Twice he overthrew Greg Jennings on a deep route that ended up in the hands of Carolina safety Mike Mitchell. All Mitchell had to do was catch the ball as he stood facing Cassel.
Cassel does not have the ability to throw the long ball. He completed 32 passes but only for 242 yards. Even with a late touchdown, which had no impact in a game already decided, he finished with a 74.1 passer rating for the game.
It's Not Adrian Peterson's Fault
Whether you agree or not with Adrian Peterson's decision to play on Sunday doesn't matter. In the end the Panthers made sure he would not be a factor in the game.
Peterson had his worst performance of the season finishing with 62 yards on 10 carries. In addition to his rushing total being the lowest of the year, it was the fewest number of carries for Peterson in a game in 2013.
On the other hand, he averaged 6.2 yards per carry, which is the highest of any game this season. The problem was that the Panthers dominated the time of possession in the first half, as they opened a 14-3 lead. Then they quickly extended that lead in the third quarter and forced the Vikings to abandon the run.
Another Troubling Result for the Defense
The Vikings defense entered the game with the 29th-ranked scoring unit in the NFL, allowing an average of 30.8 points per game.
Giving up 35 points to the Panthers increases that average to 31.6.
The defense needed to put pressure on Cam Newton, who turned the ball over four times last week against the Arizona Cardinals. Instead Newton threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth.
The Panthers offense was able to do just about anything it wanted, moving the ball with a balanced attack. Carolina finished with 131 net rushing yards and 236 net passing yards.
The Vikings had plenty of chances to stop Carolina as its offense ran 66 plays in the game. The Panthers converted seven of 12 third downs and was a perfect 2-for-2 on fourth downs, with one such conversion coming on their first touchdown of the game.
On what I guess is a positive note, the Vikings D held Newton to under 300 yards passing.
Alan Williams or Bill Musgrave: Whose Seat Is Hotter?
If you follow the Minnesota Vikings, you see there are plenty of fans calling for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's head for his unimaginative playcalling.
Yet, the offensive side of the ball has not been the problem. Up until this game, they have averaged 28.8 points per game—good for fifth in the NFL.
The problem has been the defense giving up over 30 points per game. Yet the only personnel changes from last season's team are at the slot corner and linebacker positions.
There's no way that Antoine Winfield and Jasper Brinkley were worth 10 fewer points per game. Last year, the defense allowed 21.9 points per game. If they could have held to that average this season, the Vikings would be 4-1.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams should be finding it hard to sit down.
Something Has Got to Change
If head coach Leslie Frazier wants to finish out this season, he needs to make a change. It doesn't really matter what that change is, but if he continues with the status quo, team ownership might make a change.
And they don't usually fire coordinators.
Josh Freeman Cannot Get Up to Speed Fast Enough
Josh Freeman is either thinking, "what have I gotten myself into?" or "I can be a superstar here."
Freeman will have 11 games to audition himself as an NFL quarterback. If he does well, he might have plenty of teams knocking at his door for his services, and the Vikings may find themselves in a bidding war for the 25-year-old quarterback.
Of course, as pointed out repeatedly, the problem is not the quarterback position—unless Freeman can lead the Vikings offense to 40 points per game.
Jared Allen Is as Good as Gone
After recording 2.5 sacks against the Steelers in Week 4, everyone thought Jared Allen was back. He led the Vikings defense with 3.5 sacks in four games.
Then this past week, the Vikings announced that they re-signed Brian Robison, the Vikings' left defensive end, to a four-year extension worth $28.3 million. That's about half as much as they're paying Allen this season.
There has been no indication of any negotiations between the Vikings and Allen...and perhaps for good reason. That money can be used to upgrade the cornerback position next offseason.
Chris Cook Is Not a Shutdown Cornerback
The Vikings welcomed back cornerback Chris Cook this week. After missing the Steelers game, the defensive backfield could have used a boost.
That did not happen.
Sure the Vikings defense held Cam Newton to 242 passing yards, but they gave up three touchdown passes, including a 79-yard catch-and-run.
In a report from 1500EPSN earlier this season, Cook told the coaching staff that he wanted to cover the opposing team's best receiver. Giving Cook that assignment has not worked out too well for the Vikings this season.
Against the Panthers, Newton seemed to pick on Cook who, according to ESPN, finished with the most tackles among the Vikings' defensive backs with six.
This Team Is a Mess
It's very possible that the Minnesota Vikings could finish 1-15.
If they don't win against the 0-6 Giants on Monday night in New York in Week 7, things could unravel so quickly that there will be no way to turn the situation around.
There is not a team left on the schedule that you can say is a guaranteed win for the purple.
The Vikings' three first-round draft picks—defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson—have not been given the opportunity to contribute, as the team has them sitting on the sideline.
It's time to turn them all loose and see what they can do.