This shakes up as a smash-mouth game. The Vikings got back to their bread-and-butter last weekend by utilizing the run in a victory over Cincinnati. It's unlikely that will change this week in Charlotte.
The Panthers are giving up 137.3 yards per game on the ground to rank 26th in the NFL. Running back Adrian Peterson hasn't had a 100-yard rushing performance in the past four games and the Vikings will be looking to put an end to that streak.
Peterson did run for 97 yards against the Bengals' highly ranked rushing defense. Carolina is sixth in the NFL against the pass, meaning Brett Favre and Co. might be better off giving the ball to Peterson no matter how you look at it.
The Vikings' fourth-ranked run defense will get a good test going against a Carolina rushing game that also is fourth in the NFL. Minnesota is giving up 86.9 yards per game on the ground and the Panthers are averaging 149.9 yards.
Minnesota hasn't been as successful in stopping the pass, although the return of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield last Sunday certainly helps. The Panthers are 28th in the league in passing the ball, meaning the Vikings shouldn't have too much trouble slowing that portion of the Carolina offense.
At 5-8 the Panthers are somehow mathematically alive in the playoff hunt, according to the NFL office, but they're likely to be eliminated before they take the field Sunday night.
That doesn't mean the Panthers won't give great effort on Sunday night. The problem is they simply don't have the talent to compete with the better teams in the league.
That means these last three weeks against Minnesota, the New York Giants and New Orleans could be a complete disaster.
Carolina's game plan will be to try to run the ball and control the clock. That's really the only chance they have.
If there's one thing the Panthers have working for them it's that they've created 21 turnovers in the past seven games. Perhaps they can create a few turnovers and get lucky.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, who is third in the NFL with 1,200 yards rushing, vs. Carolina MLB Jon Beason, who leads Carolina with 118 tackles. Peterson had 97 yards on the ground against a very good Bengals run defense last week and with the Vikings expected to continue emphasizing the run it's likely Beason will be plenty busy this week trying to help contain Peterson. Peterson will be extra dangerous because he will be looking to make amends for his last Sunday night performance two weeks ago when he rushed for 19 yards on 13 carries, the second-lowest single-game out of his career.
The Panthers allowed the Patriots to run for 185 yards last Sunday and there's no reason to think Peterson doesn't have a shot at reaching that number by himself on Sunday night. Carolina's run defense is weak and Peterson is the best in the game.
"He's got tremendous speed. He's a breakaway back," Fox said. "He can take any run to the house; he's got that kind of speed. They've got a big, physical offensive line, one of the better blocking tight-end tandems there are in the league, and they've got some pretty talented wide outs to go along with it. They've got good talent, and I think it starts with their run game. That's what they've believed in, and he's an outstanding back."
Vikings CB Antoine Winfield, who returned Sunday after a six-game absence with a foot injury, vs. Carolina WR Steve Smith, who leads the Panthers with 51 catches for 765 yards and five touchdowns. The Vikings last played in Carolina in 2005 and Smith torched the Vikings by catching 11 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings, who were then coached by Mike Tice, had attempted to get cornerback Fred Smoot matched up on Smith in all situations and it proved to be a disaster. Making matters worse was that this game came shortly after the Vikings' infamous Love Boat fiasco on Lake Minnetonka and after one catch Smith pretended to row a boat. Winfield found nothing funny about the fact that he wasn't trusted to match up with Smith and let his frustrations be known. The Vikings have played the Panthers twice at the Metrodome since but this will be the first trip back to Charlotte for Winfield. Odds are he will see plenty of Smith this time.
Panthers RT Geoff Schwartz vs. Vikings DE Ray Edwards. Schwartz will make his first NFL start in place of Jeff Otah, so Edwards has to be foaming at the mouth this week. Edwards has six sacks and will look to increase that total. Schwartz is a second-year guy and former seventh-round pick out of Oregon. How will Schwartz hold up? "Those are things we're getting ready to find out against a pretty salty defense, a pretty good defensive line," said coach John Fox. "He played a little bit last week against New England there at the end. We've got some other options. We'll weigh all our options and expect those guys to step up and play good."
Vikings-Panthers game plan
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