Grading the Game: Panthers

The Vikings got a win at home against a playoff team from 2005, but the Panthers did show some spark despite missing a number of key players. That led to good, but not great, overall grades for the Vikings on Sunday.

PASSING OFFENSE: C - This unit never really got rolling. Quarterback Brad Johnson completed 19 of 31 passes for 243 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Troy Williamson caught six passes for a career-high 102 yards and Johnson spread the ball around to six other receivers as well. Still, the only touchdown toss was by kicker Ryan Longwell on a fake field goal. A big part of the problem was the intense pressure Johnson was under all day. He was sacked five times and end Julius Peppers had three of those. For some reason, right tackle Marcus Johnson did not get more help against Peppers. It was an odd decision by coach Brad Childress not to have a tight end (Jim Kleinsasser) assist more with blocking Peppers; at least a running back could have chipped him on a consistent basis. Johnson might have had more time to find receivers if this had been part of the game plan.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus - After averaging only 2.5 yards per carry in the opener at Washington, the Vikings increased that number to 4.2 yards and Chester Taylor went over the 100-yard mark. Taylor finished with 113 yards on 24 carries, as opposed to 88 yards on 31 carries at Washington. Taylor also broke off a long run of 33 yards, 23 more than his long against the Redskins. Not surprisingly, that big gain came to a left side of a line that features Steve Hutchinson at guard and Bryant McKinnie at tackle. Backup running backs Mewelde Moore and Artose Pinner combined to get only two carries, another clear indication that the Chester Taylor show is only beginning. Taylor got some nice lead blocks from fullback Tony Richardson, who also carried four times for 10 yards.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus - Keyshawn Johnson caught five passes for 106 yards, but other than that the Vikings had little damage done to them in the passing game. They did not give up a touchdown, although Jake Delhomme's 40-yard pass to Johnson did put the ball at the Minnesota 8 and set up a second-quarter score. The Vikings' secondary got a scare when reliable cornerback Antoine Winfield was shaken up while covering the kickoff to open the second half but he was able to return. The Vikings didn't get a sack in their opener against Washington but were able to put some pressure on Delhomme. Carolina's banged-up offensive line gave up third-quarter sacks to defensive tackle Kevin Williams and middle linebacker Napoleon Harris, who might have been the Vikings' best player on defense. Harris a game-high 10 tackles and added a quarterback hurry. Veteran safety Dwight Smith, who returned after sitting out the opener for disciplinary reasons, had six tackles and provided energy.

RUSH DEFENSE: B - DeAngelo Williams split the carries with DeShaun Foster, but the rookie clearly gave the Vikings more problems. Williams carried 13 times for 74 yards and a touchdown, breaking off a long run of 23 yards. Defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin tried to keep his line fresh by using a regular rotation that saw reserves such as tackle Ross Kolodziej and Spencer Johnson and ends Darrion Scott and Ray Edwards get into the game. For the most part it seemed to work. Foster's longest run went for only 5 yards and he was held to 26 yards on 13 carries. The linebackers did a good job in run support.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus - This unit proved to be the key to the Vikings' victory as kicker Ryan Longwell threw the game-tying touchdown pass to tight end Richard Owens on a fake field goal. Longwell made three of four field-goal attempts -- he had a hand in all the Vikings' points - with his only miss coming on a 51-yard attempt that was blocked by Julius Peppers. His 19-yarder won the game in overtime. Troy Williamson averaged 25 yards on three kick returns; Mewelde Moore had only a 3.7 average on six returns. Punter Chris Kluwe was a bright spot, rebounding from a sub-par game in Washington to average 40.9 net yards on seven punts.

COACHING: B - Coach Brad Childress' decision not to give right tackle Marcus Johnson more help with Julius Peppers was a curious call, but his assistants make this an above average grade. Defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, knowing the Panthers expected him to play a pure Tampa-2 scheme, added plenty of blitzing to the mix, especially on third down. The Vikings blitzed about 60 percent of the time. Carolina is an NFC South rival of Tomlin's former team, Tampa Bay, and thought it could count on Monte Kiffin's former pupil sticking to his usual scheme. The other key move came from special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro, who was an assistant last season with Carolina. Ferraro knew the Panthers had holes in the way they attack and try to block field goals and he exploited those to set up the Ryan Longwell to Richard Owens touchdown pass. Owens was left wide open on the play in the right flat and just beat Peppers to the end zone to score.


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