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Vikings-Panthers: 5 Storylines To Watch

Posted Oct 9, 2013

The Vikings return from their bye this week to host the Carolina Panthers. Fresh off a week rest and just two weeks removed from their first taste of victory this season, the Vikings will be eager to retake the field and begin a stretch of 12 consecutive games with no rest. In doing so, they’ll take on a 1-3 Panthers team that is coming off a loss last week to the Arizona Cardinals.

Let’s take a look ahead at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Panthers prepare to battle each other in Week 6 action…

 

Vikings

1. Who’s in, who’s out at QB for the Vikings?
Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier says Christian Ponder is the team’s starter if healthy. But a rib injury has left Ponder unhealthy. Matt Cassel stepped into the lineup, played well and led the Vikings to victory in the last outing, but the Vikings signed Josh Freeman this week. The Vikings quarterback depth chart includes three passers who’ve shown they can get the job done. But the question is: Which guy can demonstrate consistency. At this point in the week we don’t know who will start the game and who will back him up. We know Freeman won’t start, but will he even dress? All questions that will be answered in time as the week goes on.

Regardless of who plays quarterback, just remember that the Vikings offense begins and ends with the run. More on that coming up.

Vikings

2. Carolina’s fearsome front five
This Panthers bunch may be 1-3, but don’t sleep on their defense. Carolina boasts the League’s top-ranked scoring defense, having allowed just 56 points, and their combination of four defensive linemen plus the middle linebacker is about as good as you’ll find.

The middle linebacker is Luke Kuechly (pictured), and while he’s in just his second season he’s already playing like a perennial Pro Bowler. He can run from sideline-to-sideline, he can cover in the passing game and he can fill a gap against the run.

Playing in front of Kuechly is a talented group of four defensive linemen, who are backed up by quality reserves. Charles Johnson has 46.0 career sacks, including 3.0 this year, and plays left defensive end, while Greg Hardy bookends Johnson as the right defensive end. In the middle, Carolina features veteran Dwan Edwards and first-round pick Star Lotulelei at defensive tackle. Edwards is a lunch-pail guy who is solid and doesn’t take a play off, while Lotulelei has the look of a rising star. Behind those two, the Panthers have another veteran-rookie combo in Colin Cole and Kawann Short.

3. Easier said than done: Containing Cam
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is not having his best season. He has just one more touchdown pass (six) than interceptions (five), he’s completing a career-low 57.5% of his passes and he’s already taken 15 sacks. But make no mistake, Newton is a lethal threat and may be a sleeping giant. The Vikings must make containing him a priority.

Throughout his career, Newton has been a dual threat – a strong-armed passer who can also break the pocket to make plays with his feet. In just two-plus seasons, Newton has 46 touchdown passes and an 84.5 passer rating, and he already has over 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground. If you don’t have a good plan for Newton, he will ruin the game. He will win the game on his own.

The good news is the Vikings pass rush came alive in the last game. Jared Allen had 2.5 sacks on Ben Roethlisberger, and Everson Griffen won the game when he got to Big Ben and registered a strip-sack that was recovered by Kevin Williams. The Vikings need a similar effort from their pass rushers this week against Newton. If Allen, Griffen and Brian Robison are crashing the pocket from the edge, it is pivotal for someone in the middle of the defensive line (Fred Evans, Sharrif Floyd, Letroy Guion, Kevin Williams) to penetrate as well, which will give Newton nowhere to run.

Vikings

4. Vikings look to keep the running game going
As stated above, the Vikings offense begins and ends with the running game, regardless of who plays quarterback. Individually, Adrian Peterson is off to a great start – the second-fastest start of his career and the third-fastest start in team history with 421 yards through four games; he also leads the League with five rushing touchdowns. But as a whole, the Vikings running game got on track a couple weeks ago against Pittsburgh. It was the best game the offensive line has played, and Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton made his 2013 debut after a three-game suspension to start the season.

The running game will be important on Sunday against Carolina. In fact, keeping the running game on track essentially summarizes the first four storylines. If the Vikings are able to accomplish #4 (keep the running game on track), it means #1 doesn’t matter, #2 (Carolina’s fearsome front five) was taken care of and #3 (containing Cam) is easier.

5. Inching back to .500
It’s never good to be 1-3. But if you have to be 1-3, now isn’t the worst time to be there in the NFC. There are just five teams with winning records in the NFC, and conversely there are 10 teams with winning records in the AFC. The point here is not that it’s okay to be 1-3, rather, the point is the Vikings are not far off the pace (just one game back in the loss column in the division) and a win on Sunday against Carolina will move them even closer. The Vikings can’t win two games and get back to .500 this week, but they can take a big step toward getting back to .500 by taking care of business at home against Carolina. If they do that, then their sights will be set on getting to .500 by defeating the NY Giants at Met Life Stadium on Monday Night Football.