- Establish the Run
- Get Philly Brown involved
- Protect the Right Tackle
The Panthers offense has struggled for most of the year and I believe part of it is due to a lack of run game. Last year, the Panthers averaged over 30 rushing attempts per game and that number has dropped to 26.4 this season. The Panthers have had only one 100-yard rusher (Cam Newton against the Bengals) and have had eight games where the leading rusher has gained 50 or fewer yards.
The return of lead blocker Mike Tolbert could help the Panthers, especially as they go up a Vikings defense that has struggled against the run. However, for the run game to be effective Mike Shula has to stay dedicated to it and call the necessary plays to keep the opposing defense honest.
The Panthers have had two weeks to develop a game plan for wide receiver Philly Brown. The speedy rookie should be taking over for recently released Jason Avant and brings a skill set that has been lacking among the Panthers wide receivers. This was on display against the Falcons when Brown pulled in a 47-yard touchdown pass.
Brown has the speed to not only run past defenders for the deep pass but turn seemingly short routes (slants and drags) into huge gains. This should stop defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage and making life difficult for Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.
The last key point the Panthers offensive coaching staff should focus on is protecting whoever starts at right tackle for the injured Nate Chandler. Originally the plan seemed to be having Amini Silatolu line up at this spot as he has gotten practice snaps there the past two weeks. However, he missed practice on Thursday due to a knee injury and his status is in question for Sunday.
This is going to be the weak spot on Sunday and to make matters worse, the person who starts will have to find a way to contain Everson Griffen, who has nine sacks this year. The Panthers should, whenever possible, line up extra blockers on the right side particularly Greg Olsen and Mike Tolbert. This should help give Cam Newton a little extra time to make the necessary throws.
- Pressure Teddy Bridgewater
- Get off the field on third down
- Give the Panthers offense a short field
If there is one player who can relate to Cam Newton when it comes to sacks, it is Teddy Bridgewater. The rookie quarterback has been sacked 22 times in eight games this year and similar to Newton he will be without his starting right tackle this week.
The Vikings lost Phil Loadholt for the season when he tore his pectoral muscle last week against the Green Bay Packers. They turn to Mike Harris, who has not seen much playing time the past two seasons but did start regularly his rookie season while with the San Diego Chargers. This is a mismatch the Panthers defense has to exploit.
Another issue the Panthers defense has had this season is getting off the field on third down. For the year, they rank 27th in the NFL, allowing opposing offenses to convert 44.8% of the time. When the Panthers are on the road though, that number jumps to 52.8%. If the Panthers are able to win the battle on third down, it will help them achieve the third key point.
The Panthers defense has to find a way to force three-and-outs and turnovers against the Vikings offense. Even with a rookie quarterback, the Vikings have done a good job of protecting the ball with only 14 turnovers this season. It won’t be easy but with a weak right tackle, the Panthers should be able to pressure Bridgewater from this side hopefully forcing mistakes.