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What to watch: Panthers vs. Vikings

Posted Oct 29, 2011

A desperate team is a dangerous team, and the Panthers will face one that fits the bill when the Minnesota Vikings visit Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.

The Panthers aren't worried about that, though; they're worried about themselves.

"We haven't won that many games, either," defensive end Charles Johnson. "I know we're hungry, so I'm thinking they're going to be hungry."

The Vikings enter the game with a 1-6 record, but their performances and their personnel suggest they're better than that. They lost their first four games by a total of 19 points before blowing out Arizona, and they took unbeaten Green Bay to the wire last week.

The Panthers are 2-5. Their first four losses came by a total of 22 points. They lost to Arizona but like Minnesota took the Packers to the wire.

"We don't feel too good about our record, either," Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. "When you're 2-5, there's no such thing as overlooking someone."

Here are some key things to look for in the matchup.

RUN STUFF: Earlier in the season, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera compared Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew to former Lions great Barry Sanders.

This week, the Panthers face a running back that often is the basis for such comparisons.
Adrian Peterson leads the NFL with 712 rushing yards. The next three on the list – Jones-Drew, Matt Forte and Michael Turner – all have already topped 100 yards against the Panthers this season, with Forte actually topping 200 yards.

The Panthers rank 29th in stopping the run with 133.4 yards allowed per game. They've yielded nine rushing touchdowns, tied for the most.

"Our run defense has been tested," Rivera said. "We've got to continue to work on it, continue to improve and get better. A big point of emphasis is our run fits. We looked pretty good with that last week, and we'll continue to work it until we feel very comfortable."

SOMETHING TO PONDER: The Panthers' two victories have come against the two teams on their schedule with the least experienced quarterback, a list that Vikings rookie Christian Ponder will join Sunday.

"He is a rookie, so we'll try to confuse him and try to hit him as hard as we can, put him on the ground," said Johnson, who is tied for sixth in the NFL with six sacks. "But he's good. You can't go into it just thinking he's a rookie. Just look at Cam; he's a stud."

Johnson obviously was referring to Cam Newton, the Panthers' record-breaking rookie quarterback. Rivera said defenses have to be careful with their approach to rookie quarterbacks – his included.

"It's a lot like what people have tried to do against us," Rivera said. "What teams did early against us is say, 'Hey, here's a rookie quarterback,' and they try to do all these different things, give all these different looks with disguises, movements and pressures.

"You try to figure out what's going to give them trouble, but you can't ever forget the scheme that you're attacking. If you want to attack their quarterback, great, but you might put yourself in a bad position, and the next thing you know, you give up a cheap score."


END GAME: When the Panthers have the ball, they'll have another star to worry about in defensive end Jared Allen, whose 11.5 sacks are 3.5 more than anybody else in the league.

"Everybody knows about AP, but I think this is going to be the most talented defensive line we've played all season, staring Jared Allen," Newton said. "That name speaks volumes around this league."

Much of the responsibility for slowing Allen will be on Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross, though undrafted rookie Byron Bell at right tackle will be called upon at times.

"He's a real strong, physical guy that's quick off the edge," Bell said. "I've just got to learn his pass rushes and then go out and play my game."

Allen is the lynchpin, but he isn't the end-all: Fellow end Brian Robison has 4.5 sacks to help the Vikings tie for the NFL lead with 21.


OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: When the Panthers couldn't cash in with touchdowns on marches into the red zone last Sunday, they had to settle for a 9-6 halftime lead. When they consistently found the end zone after halftime, they cruised to a 33-20 victory.

Only two teams have more trips to the red zone than the Panthers (Saints, Patriots), but five teams have more touchdowns from the red zone than the Panthers.

Carolina has crept up to 17th in the NFL in red-zone efficiency, finding the end zone on 14 of 28 drives that have reached the opponent's 20. That upward trend must continue for the winning to continue.


BALL BATTLE: When it comes to turnover trends, the Panthers aren't much different than anybody. They've won both games where they had a positive turnover ratio and have lost both games where they had a negative turnover ratio.

The somewhat surprising stat is that they're 0-3 in games where they've had the same number of turnovers as their opponent.

That suggests that the Panthers, given their youth, need to win the turnover battle to have success. That will be a tall task against the Vikings, who are tied for second in the NFL in fewest turnovers with six, but it's a task the Panthers might just be up to in this matchup.