The Vikings offense has produced two touchdowns in two games and must start getting into the end zone. The five field goals kicked by Ryan Longwell represented plenty of missed opportunities.
Minnesota got a 160-yard rushing effort out of Adrian Peterson against the Colts and there is no doubt that establishing the run again will be a primary objective. That is assuming Peterson isn't slowed by a hamstring injury that limited him in practice Wednesday. The Panthers defense is 19th in the NFL against the run so Peterson, or backup Chester Taylor, stands to have another productive day.
But that won't be enough. The Vikings need to establish a passing game and loosen things up for Peterson so the Panthers can't simply send a safety into the box in order to stop the run.
Veteran QB Gus Frerotte, named the starter on Wednesday, will be counted on to provide the type of spark that Tarvaris Jackson failed to. It won't help that Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice and Aundrae Allison are all nursing injuries. Rice is unlikely to play.
Defensively, the Vikings' biggest issue has been giving up explosive plays. Last Sunday, cornerback Cedric Griffin was beaten on a 58-yard pass to the Colts' Anthony Gonzalez that led to a touchdown and Reggie Wayne caught a 32-yard scoring pass against a Cover-2 scheme.
The Packers also got two big plays on the Vikings defense in Week 1 with running back Ryan Grant going 57 yards and Greg Jennings catching a 56-yard pass over cornerback Charles Gordon. Both led to touchdowns for the Packers.
The fact Panthers receiver Steve Smith is returning to the field after a two-game suspension will make the challenge that much greater for a Vikings pass defense that is ranked 24th in the NFL through two games.
The Vikings front four of Ray Edwards, Kevin and Pat Williams and Jared Allen applied consistent pressure against the Colts and will need to continue to do so against the Panthers so quarterback Jake Delhomme can't get comfortable in the pocket.
Although Steve Smith is back in the lineup, the Panthers still want to be a running football team. So expect more of the same from Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Although Stewart got the bulk of carries last week, this week it might be Williams getting the bulk of carries since he plays well on turf. But there's no way the Panthers will keep Stewart on the bench for long - not after last week's performance. If anything, having Smith in the lineup should help the running game since teams won't be so willing to stack the box.
Defensively, the Panthers defense had to change game plans earlier this week when coach Brad Childress announced that Gus Frerotte would get the start over Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.
"We knew early on there was going to be some question on that so we prepared for both Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson, and that's the way our mindset will be going into the game," coach John Fox said. "We're prepared for either one of them or both of them."
Fox admitted there are differences between the two quarterbacks.
"Everybody is different. Like I said before, we are going to be prepared for either one or both. We've got plenty of tape. Most of the looks we have are from the preseason and then the two regular season games have been exclusively with Tarvaris Jackson, so we're prepared either way," he said.
Cornerback Ken Lucas downplayed the significance of the change.
"I don't think it's much of a difference because they're going to do what they do anyway and that's try to run the ball," Lucas said. "They have one of the premier running backs in the game (Adrian Peterson) right now if not one of the best to ever play the game. They're going to try to run the ball regardless of who's the quarterback.
"Tarvaris was a little bit more versatile as far getting out of the pocket and running. Gus Frerotte is more of a pocket quarterback, so the only thing that really changes as far as the passing game is it might be a little different as far as how they try to get the ball down the field. Other than that, they're still going to try to run the ball."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings LT Artis Hicks vs. Panthers RE Julius Peppers — Last Sunday Hicks faced Colts DE Dwight Freeney while playing with a brace on his injured right elbow. This Sunday the job won't get any easier as Hicks gets set to go against Peppers. This will be Hicks' third start as he steps in for Bryant McKinnie, who has been suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. Hicks actually played pretty well against Freeney, although the Colts veteran did get a sack and forced a Tarvaris Jackson fumble in the third quarter.
Vikings CB Cedric Griffin vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith — Griffin struggled against the Colts and could face another tough test Sunday if the Panthers can get Smith matched up on him. Smith has yet to play this season after being suspended for two games by the team and undoubtedly will be ready to go. One has to think that another poor outing from Griffin will cause the coaching staff to take a long look at who starts at right cornerback.
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Panthers SS Chris Harris — Peterson almost certainly will face eight-men in the box against the Panthers, and it's likely the help could come from the hard-hitting safety Harris. Harris has 15 tackles in two games and is a master at causing fumbles. Peterson had four fumbles and lost three of them last season.
RB back Chester Taylor could see his first significant action Sunday if Adrian Peterson is slowed by a hamstring injury. Peterson was listed on the injury report for the first time this season as questionable.
The Vikings have issues at wide receiver. Starters Bernard Berrian (toe) and Sidney Rice (knee) are both hobbled, as is Aundrae Allison (foot). Rice is questionable and if he can't play, slot receiver Bobby Wade might have to move outside. Beside Peterson and Rice, all other Vikings are probable.
For the Panthers, QB Matt Moore and G Travelle Wharton are out, and WR Ryne Robinson is doubtful. DE Tyler Brayton, LB Na'il Diggs, CB Chris Gamble, S Chris Harris, DT Maake Kemeautu and CB Richard Marshall are questionable.
Vikings-Panthers game plan
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