Final: Minnesota Vikings 22, Carolina Panthers 10
It was a smothering effort by the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon as the team went on to score 22 unanswered points en route to a dominant road win over the 2015 NFC Champs. There was not a ton to clap about on offense, however the defense swarmed and there were many standout players in this contest.
For the Vikings offense, the line was actually harassed by Carolina. A lot of the time it is due to a dominant defensive effort, but that was not necessarily the case this afternoon. Injuries and poor play really hampered the front and made it tough for Minnesota to do anything with the football in the first half. Once the team went into the half and made corrections, it became much easier for them to move down the field. Sam Bradford, after completing only four out of eleven passes in the first half, went a solid 14/17 in the second with a touchdown pass. He was getting rid of the ball in a hurry on the back end of three step drops. Credit Norv Turner for some fantastic in-game adjustments. Stefon Diggs looked very good with his route running in this game, twisting many of defenders around. Kyle Rudolph grabbed seven balls for 70 yards and a score. Sam Bradford loves his tight ends and is fixing to make a star out of Rudolph.
Defensively for the Vikings, there were a ton of stars in this game. Danielle Hunter sacked Cam Newton in the end zone for a safety in the first quarter, and that looked small compared to some of the efforts from other players. Everson Griffen pitched in with three out of the team’s eight total sacks as well as a couple of additional pressures and some help in the run game. He was a force. Xavier Rhodes did an amazing job locking down Kelvin Benjamin throughout this game in man coverage. The Panthers’ number one wide-out was shut out in this game and was only targeted one time; very late in the game. Harrison Smith played like a man on fire, flying all over the field and tackling everybody in frame. Erik Kendricks missed a couple of tackles to account for one of the only down performances in an otherwise dominant defensive effort for the Vikes.
Offensively for the Panthers, it got ugly in a hurry. They started out great, scoring ten points over the course of their first two drives, but their momentum was quickly stymied by the buzz-saw known as the Minnesota defense. For starters, Carolina ran a surprising amount of 12 and 11 personnel (meaning one back and two tight ends or one back and one tight end). This was likely to keep the Vikings in their base defense and force them into some rather vanilla looks. On paper, this was a good plan but unfortunately Minnesota wised to it and outplayed the Panthers. As stated above, Kelvin Benjamin was completely shut out, and the rest of the wide receivers looked very ordinary in this game. Philly Brown and Ted Ginn did chip in with some nice plays, but neither of them were able to get behind the defense after the first quarter. Cameron Artis-Payne was not bad in this game, and it would have benefited the Panthers to run the pall more with him. They got too aggressive with the offense and were looking for the big play down the field in the pass game. The Minnesota corners would not let the wide-outs shake loose and this forced Cam to hold the ball and take sacks. Poor play-calling was a big part of the twelve point loss. Also, the Panthers made many silly and sloppy mistakes. False starts, illegal formations, and holdings were among some of the terrible penalties that hampered drives for Carolina making it hard for them to move the ball. They may have gotten away with these errors had they been facing a more inferior team, but the Vikings are too good to goof up against.
On defense, the Panthers played a good game. Luke Keuchly, as he often is, was the best player in the game. He made quite a few run stops, had a QB rush and hit, and was flying sideline to sideline tackling everybody. Thomas Davis did his thing as well, reeling in a sack and making 10 tackles. The two lead the team in takedowns with a combined 23. Tre Boston was around the line of scrimmage a lot, and made a couple of nice stamps however he was out of position on a couple of plays which really cost the team late. James Bradberry, the rookie, was nice in man-to-man coverage but really struggled in zone when he was targeted on the afternoon. Shaq Thompson was a no-show in this game, being completely neutralized by the Vikings on the afternoon.
Simply put, the Vikings looked like the better team in Carolina today. Their defense was great after getting pushed around in the first quarter and they are the reason for the team’s 3-0 start. Sam Bradford played well again and had no trouble reading the defense and taking what they were giving him once he was actually protected. The offense made only eleven first downs in the game, but nine of them were in the second half and five of them came on the touchdown drive that gave them the lead out of the break. Also, the team racked up 211 yards in the game, but 177 of them did come in the third and fourth quarters. Marcus Sherels had a 54 yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter that contributed to the team’s win on the day. The Vikings fly back home to take on the once beaten Giants next Monday night, a team that Sam Bradford got to play twice last year when he was on the Eagles. The Panthers hit the road to face the Atlanta Falcons, the only team to defeat them in the regular season a year ago. Being 1-2 with some very sloppy play, Carolina needs to rally the troops and play some better football if they hope to maintain their status as an NFC powerhouse.
- The Minnesota defense was awesome in this game. They sacked Cam Newton eight times, three of them coming from Everson Griffen. They also picked Newton off three times and completely shut out Kelvin Benjamin.
- Marcus Sherels had a 54 yard punt return for a TD in the second quarter that helped the Vikings rally from what was once a ten point deficit.
- After going 4/11 in the first half, Sam Bradford finished the game 14/17 in the second half despite a poor showing from his offensive line. He looked good for the second week in a row and it is clear that the Vikings are no worse off at QB without Teddy Bridgewater.
- The Panthers now have 30 straight games with 100+ rushing yards, but they were barely able to do it in this game, racking up only 105 of them, many coming late on scrambles from Cam Newton.
- Carolina was flagged ten times for 65 yards. Many of these were pre-play fouls which could have been prevented with better preparation and more sound play. They also scored no points after jumping out to a 10 point lead after two drives.
- Cam Newton is holding the ball too long and is trying to hit too many big plays down the field this season. Teams that can run with their wide receivers stand a chance against Carolina if they can keep #1 in the pocket like Minnesota did today.