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What Went Wrong: 5 Vikings-Panthers Takeaways

Posted Oct 13, 2013

What Went Wrong?
Coming off their first win of the season two weeks prior in London and then a bye week to refresh and recover from early-season injuries, the Vikings hosted the Carolina Panthers at Mall of America Field on Sunday. But they couldn’t capture momentum from the win against Pittsburgh and a week off to refresh, as the Panthers jumped on the Vikings early and didn’t relent along the way to a 35-10 thrashing of the Vikings.

So what went wrong? Here are a few ideas…

Couldn’t contain Cam
Through the first four games, Cam Newton was having an up-and-down season. He entered Sunday’s game with nearly as many interceptions (five) as touchdowns (six) and he was completing just 57.5% of his passes. In the season’s fifth game, though, Newton broke out and hit his stride to lead the Panthers to victory.

Newton, who was able to leave the game midway through the 4th quarter after it was in-hand for the Panthers, finished going 20 of 26 for 242 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, for a passer rating of 143.4. Newton also had nine carries for 30 yards and one touchdown.

What we saw on Sunday was Newton at his best. At his best, Newton is one of the most dynamic players in the entire NFL. We saw that first-hand, it was impressive, and it ruined the game for the Vikings.

Defense didn’t get off the field
From the beginning of the game to the end, the Vikings defense just couldn’t get off the field. On Carolina’s first offensive series of the game, they drove 61 yards on 15 plays and took 9:29 off the clock to go up 7-0 and stun what was an energetic crowd at Mall of America Field. On that drive, Jamarca Sanford dropped an interception on the first play, the Panthers converted twice on 4th down, including the scoring play, they had a drive extended thanks to a Chris Cook holding penalty on a 3rd down.

Combined with the offense’s inability to sustain drives (more on that below), the defense’s inability to get off the field allowed Carolina to possess the ball for 36:27 compared to the Vikings 23:33. At one point in the 1st half, the Panthers had run 34 plays and the Vikings had run just 14 plays.

Vikings

Mistakes in coverage
Aside from the dropped interception by Sanford and then the holding call against Cook on a 3rd down that would’ve otherwise been a stop, the Vikings made several other mistakes in coverage. Newton’s first touchdown toss of the day went to Steve Smith, who motioned from the left side of the formation to the right side and then after the snap ran back across the formation to break open in the left half of the end zone. Josh Robinson was caught in traffic on the play, giving Newton an easy touchdown toss. Early in the 3rd quarter, it was Robinson who let Brandon LaFell run free on a wheel route, thinking he had help over the top when he actually didn’t. As a result, LaFell ran free down the right sideline and Newton floated him another easy pass. LaFell caught it and out-sprinted the rest of the defense to the end zone.

Offense couldn’t sustain drives, defense didn’t rest
The Vikings only had nine offensive possessions in the game. Three of them were three-and-outs, another was just four plays, and six of them had just two or fewer 1st downs. And speaking of 1st downs, the Vikings picked up just two of them via the ground, an amazing stat for a team that boasts the best running back in the NFL and a Pro Bowl fullback leading the way for him.

All of that led to some of the problems the Vikings defensed faced with being on the field so much, and it ultimately led to Carolina building an early lead and eventually taking away the Vikings biggest threat – the running game.

Another unfortunate turn of events for the Vikings offense came at the end of the 1st half and the beginning of the 2nd half. The Vikings drove the ball 76 yards in 15 plays near the end of the 1st half, but couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone for a touchdown and instead had to settle for a field goal. Then to begin the 2nd half, the Vikings defense gave up the long LaFell touchdown and the offense couldn’t muster a response, losing seven yards in three plays and then punting the ball back to Carolina. Newton struck moments later on a seven-yard touchdown run to blow the game open and stake the Panthers to a 28-3 lead.

Execution, not effort + the silver lining
In his post-game press conference, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier didn’t criticize his team’s effort. He cited the promising opening drive by the offense that ended with an interception and the fact that the defense forced Carolina into plenty of 3rd downs early in the game. Unfortunately, as Frazier also mentioned, the Vikings just couldn’t make the big play when they needed it, and Carolina did.

So the silver lining is two-fold: A) The Vikings effort wasn’t lacking in Sunday’s loss and there’s no reason to expect anything but maximum effort next week when the Vikings travel to Met Life Stadium to face the NY Giants on Monday Night Football, and B) No one in the NFC is running away with things, so the goal should still be to even this out and get to .500 before making another late-season push to the playoffs, which the Vikings did just a year ago in winning four straight to earn entry into the postseason.