Outside of Aaron Rodgers, there may not be a more impressive performer in the NFL this year than Carolina rookie QB Cam Newton. The No. 1 overall pick in last spring’s draft has exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations, ranking behind only Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady in passing yards through the first seven weeks, and re-writing the rookie record books with his running capabilities. In much the same way that Vikings rookie
When the Vikings have the ball:
Ponder electrified the Mall of America crowd on the first play from scrimmage last week and then performed admirably during the 4th-quarter comeback attempt that came up just shy. In between, he was basically what you’d expect of a rookie signal caller making his first pro start; excluding the first two plays of the game (a 72-yard bomb to WR
Carolina has struggled to defend the pass all season long. Three different passers have eclipsed the 300-yard mark against them, and all but two have accounted for two touchdowns. If Redskins backup John Beck can manage 279 yards and a passing touchdown, along with a rushing score, you have to like Ponder’s chances for statistical success. If last week was any indication, he’ll favor Jenkins and Shiancoe, both of whom were the intended receiver on eight of Ponder’s pass attempts against the Packers. Jenkins, however, figures to draw a tough assignment in top Panthers cover CB Chris Gamble. According to Pro Football Focus, Gamble has allowed completions on just 32% of the passes thrown his way. Just one of the eight catches he’s allowed has gone for a touchdown, and opposing wideouts are averaging just 10.5 yards per reception against him. Overall, the Panthers secondary hasn’t let a receiver top 84 yards since Week 2, and none have scored in the last four weeks. With
When the Panthers have the ball:
Just seven games into his NFL career, Newton has already reached “you can only hope to contain him” status. Outside of Michael Vick, there simply isn’t a QB on the planet that can beat you in as many ways as Newton. The knock on Newton coming out of college was the idea that he wouldn’t be able to throw the ball effectively at the NFL level. With just a hair over 300 passing yards per game and completing an even 60% of his passes, Newton has already put those doubts to rest. As if the gaudy passing stats weren’t enough, Newton has also shredded opposing defenses on the ground; he averages 4.7 yards per carry and 38 rushing yards per game and, while serving as the primary running option in goal-to-go situations, has scored seven rushing touchdowns as well. The only team to hold him in check were the Jaguars, and they needed a monsoon (literally) to slow him down in Week 3. The Vikings will have to assign a linebacker to monitor Newton on virtually every play in an effort to limit the damage he can do on the ground, and they’ll have to employ a disciplined pass rush to hopefully contain him within the pocket as much as possible. Easier said than done.
Much of Newton’s success in the passing game can be traced to the re-emergence of veteran Steve Smith as one of the most dangerous receivers in the game. Smith leads the NFL with 818 receiving yards and has had at least 143 yards in four different games already. A struggling Vikings secondary that will be without starting CB
With the passing game firing on about 12 cylinders, the Panthers haven’t had to rely on either of their talented running backs. Both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have proven to be very good NFL runners, but neither has had an opportunity to get going this season. Combined, Panthers RBs have rushed for an average of just 89 yards per game, and only the Seahawks have handed off to their backs with less frequency. A top-notch Vikings run defense doesn’t figure to need much help shutting Stewart and Williams down, but both are capable of breaking off long runs when given the opportunity.
QB Christian Ponder – 200 yds, 1 TD
RB Adrian Peterson – 150 yds, 2 TD
WR Percy Harvin – 3 rec, 40 yds
WR Michael Jenkins – 3 rec, 35 yds
TE Visanthe Shiancoe – 5 rec, 65 yds, 1 TD