Vikings-Panthers Game Plan

The Vikings will be looking to end two streaks Sunday in Carolina, one of their own and one of the Panthers'. Get the key matchups and injuries as Minnesota travels to Carolina.

VIKINGS

The Vikings will be attempting to not only end Carolina's three-game winning streak but also its two-game win streak against NFC North opponents. The Panthers beat the Packers at home and won their final game before last Sunday's bye, edging Detroit by one point at Ford Field.

Carolina has the NFL's 19th-ranked offense and 23rd-ranked defense so neither unit should strike fear into the heart of the Vikings.

What the Vikings really need to do is worry about their own performance, especially in the opening half. Minnesota has been outscored 98-34 in the opening two quarters this season, including 77-10 in the second quarter.

A tendency to panic when something goes wrong on the road must be overcome if the Vikings are going to win at Bank of America Stadium.

Quarterback Daunte Culpepper also must prove that his second-half performance last Sunday wasn't a fluke and is a sign of things to come. After completing six of eight passes for 52 yards with no interceptions, Culpepper came out of the locker room and directed five scoring drives.

Culpepper was helped by the blocking of an offensive line that appeared to come together and give him better protection over the final two quarters. The line will have to continue to be stout against a Carolina pass rush that is ranked third in the league. It also must avoid the penalties that plagued it in the Vikings' last road game, against Chicago.

Defensively, the Vikings must hope a 3-4 scheme that looked serviceable to good against the Bears and Packers is enough to contain Carolina. The Panthers' 24th-ranked rushing attack is averaging only 3.1 yards per carry and top backup running back DeShaun Foster continues to nurse a bruised knee. If Foster doesn't play the Vikings will have to stop veteran running back Stephen Davis.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

  • NT Pat Williams has been outstanding for two games in a row, meaning C Jeff Mitchell likely will have his work cut out for him in trying to stop the 6-3, 317-pound force. Williams has spent the past two games playing vertically, something he didn't do when the Vikings were using a 4-3 defense, and that could make for a long day for Mitchell.

  • CB Fred Smoot was moved to shadow Packers WR Donald Driver for the entire second half last Sunday, meaning wherever Driver went so did Smoot. The Vikings could stick with that Sunday against Steve Smith, who leads the Panthers with 39 receptions for 596 yards and seven touchdowns.

  • RT Mike Rosenthal and LT Bryant McKinnie will have their work cut out for them, facing LDE Julius Peppers and RDE Mike Rucker, respectively. McKinnie is having perhaps his best season and will get a real test protecting Daunte Culpepper's blind side. Rucker leads Carolina with 3.5 sacks and 18 quarterback pressures. Peppers has only one sack but is second on the team with 11 pressures.

    INJURY IMPACT

    The Vikings are just about healthy with defensive end Spencer Johnson (knee) expected back. LB Dontarrious Thomas, who plays in the nickel package, is hopeful after missing last week because of a shoulder injury. The Vikings do miss having the speedy Thomas as an option. RB Moe Williams has continued to play despite a knee injury. However, until he proves otherwise, Williams is being used only as a blocking back on third down and not to carry the ball in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

    PANTHERS

    Ideally, the Panthers like to use the run to set up the pass, but it has been pretty much the opposite this season. Carolina's leading back, Stephen Davis, is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, so the Panthers really haven't established much on the ground.

    If they're ever going to do it, it should be this week playing at home and against a Vikings defense that is 30th in the league against the run, allowing 142 yards per game. It would help too if backup DeShaun Foster is able to play after missing the last two weeks of practice because he would give the Panthers a good change of pace.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH

    Vikings TE Jermaine Wiggins vs. Panthers LBs Will Witherspoon and Brandon Short — Wiggins has become Duante Culpepper's favorite target this year and has 16 catches in the past two games. Wiggins played two seasons for the Panthers and would like nothing better than to prove to his old team that it should have used him more as a receiver. Witherspoon has struggled in recent weeks since injuring his knee. He gave up an 86-yard pass to tight end Marcus Pollard that could have cost his team the game had safety Mike Minter not run down Pollard before he got to the end zone and Carolina's defense forced a Lions field goal.

    INJURY IMPACT

    The bye week apparently did the Carolina Panthers a world of good.

    For the first time in recent memory, all 53 players on the active roster practiced for the Panthers on Wednesday.

    And while wide receiver Keary Colbert (ankle), running back DeShaun Foster (knee) and linebacker Dan Morgan (shoulder) are listed as questionable, they are expected to play.


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