What's interesting about this matchup is the game features two teams that are arguably better than their record reflects.
The Panthers are 2-5 and the Vikings are 1-6.
What is even more interesting is the fact that both teams' losses were by a margin of seven points or less, with the exception of one major loss to a divisional opponent—Vikings lost to Chicago by 29 and Carolina lost to Atlanta by 14—and both teams could've won the majority of the games they in fact lost.
With so many similarities, it's hard to ignore this matchup.
For the Vikings, however, this game is basically a must-win situation for them.
After this contest, they enter into their bye week and exit out of said bye week in a rematch with the Green Bay Packers; a team they already almost beat last week.
Needless to say, entering into the bye on a high note is paramount for a team that has struggled to find its way.
I'm not suggesting this will be easy, but I am also not saying it is impossible. So let's take a look at how the Vikings can win this game, shall we?
You see that image? That is a picture with positive proof that the Vikings face a quarterback who is not only very good at running, but also very willing to do so.
But stopping Newton's mobility is only part of the equation; you have to understand who the player is.
Newton can hurt you multiple ways, in the sense that he can take off and run all over the place in the open field, or burn you with the right throws.
The way you neutralize him is you blitz him, plain and simple.
Minnesota's most successful blitzes have come from the linebackers, particularly E.J. Henderson and Erin Henderson.
The Vikings have tried to blitz from the outside, but it always comes back to burn them in the end.
If you keep constant pressure on Newton, you will throw off his timing and prevent him from finding a groove thus solving part of the defensive equation.
Now on to part two of that equation.
You cannot, under any circumstances, leave this guy one on one with ANYONE—I don't care who covers him, because he WILL make you pay.
The Vikings are already devoid of Chris Cook (suspension) and Antoine Winfield (neck) in this game, and they could be without Jamarca Sanford (concussion), which doesn't bode well for the Vikings.
The Vikings do have have FS Husain Abdullah and DB Cedric Griffin still remaining, and that should be more than enough.
The Vikings could very easily move both of these players—the best they have in the secondary right now—into a combined position to account for Smith, which would remove one of Cam Newton's primary targets.
The balance of the Vikings defense is aggressive enough to handle the other weaponry Carolina could feature, and the strategy would force Newton to "beat Minnesota himself."
This move, combined with additional pressure on Newton, and aggressive play from Jared Allen and the front four, is more than enough to hopefully contain and control the most explosive rookie QB in the league right now, but what else?
If head coach Leslie Frazier wants to run the offense through Adrian Peterson, now would be an ideal time to do so.
The Carolina Panthers are ranked 29th against the run and no other team has allowed more rushing touchdowns or 20-plus yard gains.
In essence, it's the perfect matchup on paper for Peterson.
The last team Peterson faced who was horrible against the run was Arizona (at the time), and he gouged them for 122 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
To add to that fact, Peterson already faced Tampa Bay—also poor against the run—and torched them for 120 rushing yards and two scores.
Last week, Peterson faced a Packers team who excelled at stopping the run and he tore them up for 175 rushing yards and a score—facing a team as bad as Carolina is just about as good as it gets.
But featuring Peterson also helps the Vikings in another strategical approach...
Christian Ponder—despite a sub-par outing against the Packers—once again showed he can methodically move the chains.
What is important about this notice is the fact that a successful ground game enables the quarterback to more effectively move the ball and chains in any given drive.
Carolina is much better than Green Bay in pass coverage (Green Bay is ranked 31st, whereas Carolina is ranked 12th), but if Ponder can utilize the short passing game here and there, while also taking advantage of the play-action—due to Carolina focusing so much on Peterson—the potential success rate significantly increases.
But there is one final catch...
The Vikings need to utilize the smaller aspect of the game if they are to not only be successful, but also close out the game in winning fashion; something they have not been able to do.
- Convert on third down
- Successful first-down passes when applicable
- Protect Ponder
- Keep mistakes to a minimum
The Vikings have been horrible on third-down conversions this year, but it is paramount that they reverse that aspect of their game; doing so would greatly benefit the approach.
When the Vikings do decide to pass on first down, Christian Ponder MUST make it worth while. Entering into a 2nd-and-10 against Carolina is only going to cause more offensive back-peddling.
The offensive line has done a nice job of protecting Ponder, but they need to be more consistent if they want Ponder to find his place in the game. If Ponder is rushed all day long, the Vikings offense will become one dimensional and easier to manage.
Mistakes hurt teams! The Vikings players must realize they are entering this contest as an injured team.
Their pride is injured, their confidence is injured and their faith in themselves is injured—all reasons to worry about someone flying off the handle or falling victim to overflowing emotions.
Playing smart and clean will only help the Vikings achieve what they crave so much—a simple win!
I hope you all enjoyed, and feel free to suggest how you think the Vikings can beat Carolina below.