Cat Fancy: Vikings vs. Panthers preview
The Panthers can run, but come late Sunday the Vikings will have their hide.
The Minnesota (11-2) vs. Carolina (5-8) game is the Purple's second Sunday eve matchup in the last three weeks. The Vikings' woeful effort against the Cardinals back in Week 13 did little to awe a national audience before the Purple rebounded with a playoff-clinching win over Cincy last week. Expect to be sent to slumber this Sunday night wrapped warm & content with another Viking victory.
With their two-headed backfield of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers own the league's fourth-ranked rush attack at nearly 150 yards per game, as the two have combined for 14 rush scores and nearly 1,800 yards. But said ground talent has led the Panthers to just five wins on the year, two of which have come over 1-12 Tampa Bay. Just one of their wins has come via a team that presently sports a winning record -- that lone victory was tallied in Carolina's Week 8 win over schizophrenic Arizona.
The Panthers chances to fell the Vikings dim further when considering that their strength plays directly into one of the Purple's name powers -- defending the run. The Vikings rank 4th in the NFL in rush D (86.9 per) and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season (although Cedric Benson went for 96 last week). The last time the Minnesota defense saw an opposing rusher hit the century mark was way the hell back in November of 2007 when Packer Ryan Grant went for 119 yards. With Carolina's offensive line in shambles, don't look for the streak to end this weekend.
What may prove of greater concern is the constant whereabouts of wideout Steve Smith. Despite being in different divisions, the Vikings vs. Panthers matchup on Sunday will mark the seventh time the two teams have played this decade. While the teams have split the previous six (with the Vikings having won the last two), Smith has played a prominent role in most of those contests. In Carolina's '01 win, Smith returned a 96-yard kickoff for a score. The next year, he caught five balls for 81 yards and a touchdown. In 2005, Smith went absolutely berserk in what Purple fans surely recall with horror, as dude torched the Vikings for 201 yards and a score. After missing the teams' 2006 matchup via suspension, Smith then caught four balls for 70 yards in the Vikings' 20-10 win last season.
But Smith's '09 has mirrored the Panthers' plight. Carolina ranks just 28th in the league in passing yards per (169.8) and Smith looks to have his lowest degree of production since 2002. His mere 51 catches rank 36th (tied) in the NFL while his 765 aerial yards chart a measured 28th. Look for the Purple to follow the league's book on Carolina, and double-team Smith throughout.
Attempting to get Smith the rock will be third-year backup quarterback Matt "Less Is" Moore, making his sixth career start and third-consecutive this season. Moore is a respectable 3-2 in his previous five outings, however he has broken the 200-yard air barrier just once and offers onlya lone two touchdown effort in his career.
The Panther's 6th-ranked pass defense has surrendered two 300-yard passing effort this season and should have some degree of success minimizing Brett Favre's effectiveness, especially if rook receiver Percy Harvin misses his second straight game with migraine issues. In the past, Favre has feasted on the Panthers, charting 23 touchdown throws in nine lifetime games against Carolina -- that's the most TD throws he owns versus any team against whom he's played fewer than 23 career games.
Should Favre indeed be held in check, look for the wealth of Purple prowess to come via backs Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. While gaining just 3.7 yards per carry in last week's win over a sound Bengals' run defense, A.P. did notch two scores and seemed to be running with renewed purpose. Taylor does everything short of taping guy's fingers, and his myriad of talents has been on furthered display over the past month with 9.4 touches per game and over six yards per carry.
It will be a greater showcase of our own dual backfield that ultimately dons Monday morning headlines as the Vikings take another step toward clinching the No. 2 seed in the NFC, and a first round bye in the playoffs.
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