Last week is gone. We now accept it for whatever it may be-a moral victory, an agonizing defeat, a display of defensive deficiency or perhaps offensive fireworks supplied by the incomparable Adrian L. Peterson-and move on to next week’s game. Hardy veterans of the 2009 campaign may remember that dominant Vikings outfit being spanked by Julius Peppers, motivated by his search for a fat bonus, and Matt Moore. Yes, the baseball playing Dolphins backup quarterback, who was nearly split in half by David Harris on national television a week and a half ago (watch Matt Moore get destroyed) torched the Vikings for three touchdowns and 299 yards in Charlotte, in a loss that ultimately cost your very own Minnesota Vikings home field in the playoffs. It is also when Chilly and Favre began to make like Chuck Lorre and Charlie Sheen. Neither Peppers, Moore, Childress nor Favre are with the aforementioned teams anymore. That was then, and this is….well you get the picture.
What the Vikes did really well last week was get a push going in the run game. The offensive line played nasty at the point of attack, and often slipped blockers into the second level of the opposing defense. Think Joe Berger, who pushed B.J. Raji nearly 5 yards back (no mean feat for any center, not to mention a backup) before sticking A.J. Hawk as All Day ripped off a 54 yard gain. Statistically, it was Minnesota’s success on third down that impressed. Considering that the current range, by team, of third down conversion in the NFL is between 58 and 24 percent, with the median equalling 38.5 percent, one should note that the Vikings never broke 36 percent for a game, except against the Buccaneers, where they hit a respectable figure of 45 percent. Last week, with Ponder at the helm that percentage shot-up to 56 for the game. I’ll take that as a more substantive stat than completion percentage. Can this era of good feeling continue into next week?
Well, Carolina’s defense is the third most generous team when it comes to third down conversions, and only four other teams, including the Packers, allow more yards per play than this unit. They have been noticeably weak against the run, and star runners, giving up 205 yards to Matt Forte, 139 to Michael Turner, 122 to Maurice Jones-Drew, and 88 to Tim Hightower in essentially two quarters. All these figures are amenable to the Vikings offensive strengths of last week-running the football, making big plays-running and passing, and success on third down. With Jon Beason out for the season, and two rookies filling out the interior of the defensive line, expect a purple wave to steamroll the small and over-matched Carolina front seven. While all this works out on paper, teams do key on Peterson and sometimes their gameplan is successful. What determines success for the Cats of Carolina?
In every game the Panthers have won, surprise, surprise, they have been on the better side of the turnover differential. In every game they lost they did not win the turnover battle and/or conceded a special teams returns that surpassed 60 yards (two of those three being returned for touchdowns). For all intents and purposes, such returns have the same effect as turnovers, as they upend any advantage one team may have in field positioning, and steal momentum. Therefore, it is important that Ponder, who has shown poise, not throw those rookie interceptions he threw against Green Bay. Musgrave & co. should not keep the rookie on too tight a leash because he will not learn that way, but if victory is to be had, the Vikings must be taking rather than giving the ball away. And Cam Newton does give the ball away. Nevertheless, he is quite the weapon.
I like to think that the safeties will be kept relatively deep (are you familiar with Steve Smith and Greg Olsen?), although, in the past two games a giant rock might have done better than Husain Abdullah. This hunch also leads me to believe it will be the duty of the linebackers to watch out for Newton’s read-options and broken play scrambles. Between Henderson the elder’s knee issues, and the recent play of the other two linebackers, I am a bit worried. The group, while by no means horrible, has not demonstrated great instincts this year. If Kevin Williams can get consistent pressure into the center of the pocket, the job of the defense will be much easier. If Newton cannot step up, the non-stop motors of Allen, Robison, and the up-and-coming Griffen can hopefully keep him contained.
Containing Cam, turning the ball over, making a big return, and featuring a healthy Adrian are the keys. Seems simple, but that is why they play the…well you get the picture, especially if you are a Vikings Fan.