Key Match-ups for Panthers vs. Vikings

The Carolina Panthers are in a five game sprint for the NFC South division title and it starts in Minnesota. These are three key match-ups worth watching that could decide the outcome of the game.

Panthers Run Game vs. Vikings Run Defense

If there is one way to beat the Vikings defense, it is on the ground. The Vikings have a top 10 pass defense (7th in the NFL) but rank towards the bottom against the run (22nd in the NFL). The problem is the Panthers have not been able to establish a run game all season.

The Panthers running backs have combined for 723 yards on 218 carries, averaging 3.2 yards per carry. They only have three rushing touchdowns this year, with Jonathan Stewart accounting for two of them.

The good news though is that Carolina gets fullback Mike Tolbert back this week, whose value goes well beyond the stat sheet. The Pro Bowl fullback is a punishing lead blocker and with Tolbert leading the way, it should create bigger running lanes for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

 

Battle of Back-up Right Tackles

The Vikings have been equally as bad as the Panthers when it comes to protecting the quarterback with the Panthers giving up 33 sacks and the Vikings giving up 34. Both teams will be entering this week with a new starting right tackle due to injuries.

According to ESPN.com, guard Amini Silatolu has been getting regular reps at offensive tackle and should be in line to replace Nate Chandler, who was placed on the Injured Reserve during the bye week.

If Silatolu gets the start, he will go up against Vikings defensive end Everson Griffin, who is currently ninth in the NFL in sacks with nine. This is not going to be an easy match-up for a player who has not taken a single snap at tackle since college.

On the Vikings side of the ball, Phil Loadholt tore his pectoral against the Green Bay Packers and was replaced by Mike Harris, who should get the start Sunday. An undrafted rookie in 2012, Harris played extensively his rookie season for the San Diego Chargers but has played sparingly the past two seasons. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Harris has a cumulative grade of -46.4 and this does not bode well for Teddy Bridgewater.

This is one match-up the Panthers’ Mario Addison and Wes Horton will need to take advantage.

 

Cam Newton vs. Captain Munnerlyn

The Panthers are going to go up against a former teammate when they face Captain Munnerlyn, who left for Minnesota in free agency before the season. Munnerlyn was drafted in the seventh round by Carolina in 2009 and only missed three games over his first five seasons.

The last two seasons with the Panthers, he started to develop a reputation of making game-changing plays with four interceptions, all of which were returned for touchdowns. Munnerlyn hasn’t scored a touchdown this year and he would love the opportunity to do that against his former team.

"I'm sure I'll be a little edgy, a little chippy," Munnerlyn said. "But at the same time, I'm just ready to play."

This is something that Cam Newton can use to his advantage. The Vikings cornerback is going to aggressively look for that big play and calling double moves and using pump fakes could leave him susceptible to the big play.

The Panthers should try to line up wide receiver Philly Brown against Munnerlyn as much as possible to take advantage of this. The speedy wide receiver does not need much room to gain separation and calling a slant and go could be enough to hit a big play.

This is going to be a cat and mouse game all afternoon between Newton and Munnerlyn.


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