The key word last week was “physicality.” The Vikings, a week after getting out-efforted by the Cardinals, needed to assert themselves against Cincinnati, especially in the running game. Their re-commitment to the ground attack paid off in a big game for Adrian Peterson and a convincing victory over a playoff caliber team.
The foe this week is anything but playoff caliber, but the running game will again be vital. The Vikings need to push Carolina around early, ram AD down their throats and make them cry uncle. I also expect Chester Taylor to be in the mix more than last week, when Brad Childress gave him 5 carries to AD’s 26.
Chester could also be a big factor in the passing game. The receiver corps, a strength all season, figures to be somewhat weakened this week, with Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice coming off health issues that limited their practice time. The short passing game to the backs would be one way to compensate for this, and possibly slow down the pass rush of Julius Peppers, who has been known to torch Bryant McKinnie from time-to-time.
For Brett Favre, this is another chance to prove his prowess in inclement late season conditions. Of course, “inclement” is a relative term. It will be around forty in Charlotte tonight, chilly for North Carolina, but positively balmy for a guy who played most of his career in the frozen wastelands of Wisconsin.
Favre will face a Panthers pass defense that has picked off 18 balls this year, 5th in the NFL. This might not have seemed a big issue earlier in the year when Favre was protecting the ball, but he’s gotten intercepted three times the last two weeks while occasionally seeming borderline senile. That’s all the more reason to dial back the down-the-field passing and put the game in Adrian and Chester’s hands.
For the Vikings defense, the major challenge will be slowing down a Panthers run attack that ranks 4th in the NFL. DeAngelo Williams is one of the top rushers in the league with his 1104 yards and 7 touchdowns, and Jonathan Stewart is a fantastic complementary back with his 693 yards and 7 TDs. The Viking run D is still one of the best in the league, but they did nearly surrender a 100-yard rushing game last week to Cedric Benson, and there have been other occasions this year when teams have been able to run up the middle with more success than expected.
The Carolina passing game still sports one of the best receivers in the league in Steve Smith, but is now being run by Matt Moore instead of Jake Delhomme…a circumstance welcomed by those who were tired of watching Jake turn the ball over at a rate that would embarrass even Jay Cutler, but still not necessarily conducive to victory (Matt Moore’s passer rating is ten points higher than Delhomme’s, but still well below even halfway decent).
The inexperienced Moore will not only have to deal with a Viking defense that’s first in the league in sacks, he will also have to contend with a secondary that visibly improved with the return of Antoine Winfield. The Panthers figure to take the pressure off Moore by running it and sticking to controlled passes, which lessens the possibility of the Vikings’ brutal safeties being exploited deep like they were by Kurt Warner.
This game may boil down to one simple question: how much fight do the Panthers have left in them? They are out of the playoffs at 5-8, but pride and anger may be sufficient to motivate them, plus there’s the chance to play spoiler to a team that’s battling for playoff positioning.
If the Vikes can get Adrian Peterson cranked up early, mix in some Chester Taylor and get a couple of big plays out of Brett Favre, they should be in for another solid offensive effort. The concern is that Carolina will get their own running backs going, shorten the game and keep it close late. That’s where a Brett Favre interception or AD fumble could tip the balance over to the otherwise outmatched Panthers.
Carolina could be in big trouble, though, if the Vikings flash the same game they brought against the Bengals. Either way, this is a huge one for the Vikings who, with New Orleans losing, still have a shot at homefield throughout the playoffs.
Topics: Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Arizona Cardinals, Brad Childress, Brett Favre, Bryant Mckinnie, Carolina Panthers, Cedric Griffin, Chester Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals, Jake Delhomme, Jay Cutler, Juluis Peppers, Kurt Warner, Matt Moore, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Steve Smith