Cam Newton-to-Steve Smith can be one of the more dynamic QB-WR duos in the NFL, but they sure didn’t look it last weekend vs. Arizona. In Carolina’s 22-6 loss to the Cardinals, Smith was targeted 10 times by Newton but only pulled in four of the passes. The normally sure-handed Smith dropped two passes early, and that sort of set the tone for the day. Later Smith watched as two throws in his direction were picked off by Arizona defenders, and made his own lousy day lousier by getting called for pass interference.
Newton’s performance overall was just plain frustrating from a Panthers point-of-view. Cam was picked three times, and fumbled late while being sacked by Calais Campbell. On the day Cam was sacked a whopping seven times, twice each by Campbell, Carlos Dansby and Daryl Washington. Not exactly a highlight-reel sort of game for Newton and the Carolina pass protection.
It could be another long day for Cam this Sunday if the Vikings can get that pass rush cranked up like they did against Pittsburgh in London. The Vikes sacked Ben Roethlisberger 5 times, with Jared Allen accounting for 2 1/2 of those. And of course there was arguably the biggest play of the game, Everson Griffen’s forced fumble on Roethlisberger to seal it late.
But if the Panthers can keep those Vikings pass rushers off of Cam Newton and give him chances to find Steve Smith and his other receivers? Cam could have a chance at a big day. Quarterbacks have been carving up the Vikings secondary this year at a rate that must have Alan Williams contemplating a change of career. The biggest problem has been the performance of Josh Robinson, who has been bad on the outside in the base defense and even worse inside in the nickel.
Viking fans have plenty of ugly memories of Steve Smith tearing us to shreds (2005? Fred Smoot? Nuff said?), but at least there’s hope this week that maybe the secondary can be shored up a little bit and the Carolina passing game can be held in check. Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford are both returning to practice after injury, and if those guys can play, it will go a long way toward relieving the stress on the defense.
But it isn’t just about getting the personnel sorted out. Alan Williams and Leslie Frazier must figure out what is going wrong with this defense in late half situations. It seems like no matter what Williams dials up, when teams go into the two-minute offense, they get big chunks against the Vikings. The offense has performed well enough to succeed, but the defense has not been holding up its end, especially in clutch situations.
Cam Newton and Steve Smith are well-aware of the Vikings’ struggles against the pass, and will be looking to get themselves back on track this week. But Cam must also be aware that the Vikings, like the Cardinals, have some pretty salty pass rushers with a knack for making big plays in big moments. The Vikings may not have a lock-down defense but they have been forcing turnovers at a higher rate this year, and Cam is a guy who can turn the ball over. But he’s also a guy who can put up big numbers on you if you don’t have your pass defense in order.