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After Tackling Green Bay, Vikings Prepare for 'Giant' Quarterback

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Fee, fi, fo, Cam?

A tall task awaits the Vikings this weekend when they visit the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers, who lead the league in rushing with 166.5 yards per game.

Minnesota has been strong against running backs, allowing just 95 yards on 30 carries, but the Vikings have allowed 48 yards on seven carries by quarterbacks this season.

Marcus Mariota rushed four times for 19 yards (4.75 per carry) in the season opener at Tennessee, and Aaron Rodgers rushed three times for 29 yards (9.67 per carry) that included a 10-yard touchdown on a scramble.

There's an even bigger threat — in physical stature and potential damage on the ground — awaiting this weekend: Carolina's Cam Newton, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds. The reigning NFL MVP has 91 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries (5.4 yards per attempt) and isn't shy on executing designed runs or finishing them with a thump.

"They're obviously all mobile," safety Harrison Smith said. "Cam is also a giant, so their offenses are different. The schemes are different, but all of the quarterbacks have been mobile so far and super talented."

Newton led all quarterbacks with 132 rush attempts, 636 yards and 10 scores on the ground in 2015.

The Panthers rushed 37 times for 176 yards last week, despite losing Jonathan Stewart during their win against the 49ers. Fozzy Whittaker stepped in and rushed 16 times for 100 yards against San Francisco.

Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said the dual threat posed by Newton is significant.

"[They can] make big plays down the field in the passing game where he's able to stay alive in the pocket," Edwards said. "He's got a strong arm, can make the throws. They've got a good corps of receivers that can go up and catch the football.

"They've got a tight end [Greg Olsen] who really does a good job," Edwards added. "He does a good job with the route running and those type deals. I think it's a combination of everything they do offensively. They're very good in the run game and have been successful in the pass game. [Newton's] ability to stay alive in the pocket, being able to scramble and run and do those things also creates another problem."

Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said Newton's playmaking provides a "good energy boost" for the whole team that has won 14 home games in a row (including playoffs).

"There's not a lot of guys that are able to do what he can do, whether that's running the ball, escaping the pocket, throwing the ball … it's fun to watch him have fun," Kuechly said.

Minnesota was able to sack Mariota twice and Rodgers five times by maintaining a disciplined rush plan orchestrated by Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Edwards. Zimmer said this week that cautious control will be needed again.

"You have to be careful with how you rush him just like you do with the other two guys," Zimmer said. "I mean, the offenses are different, the protections are different. There's a lot of different things, and obviously there's some similarities as well." 

Brian Robison, who recorded one of the sacks against Rodgers and forced a fumble that swung momentum back to the Vikings with 6:53 left in the game, is expecting a physical challenge.

"If he does get running downhill, he can obviously do some damage," Robison said. "As far as being in the pocket, we've got to make him antsy, we've got to hit him."

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