Sunday, November 30, 2014

Five Things to Watch For Against the Panthers

Photo Courtesy of USA Today Sports

The Vikings are looking to get back on track against a Panthers team who is still in the NFC South division race. Daniel House previews the game and tells you how the Vikings can pick up a win.

Updated: November 30th, 2014 9:27am

By: Daniel House

The Vikings will be looking to build upon their performance following a 24-21 loss against the Green Bay Packers. They have the chance to do this against a contending Carolina Panthers team that is coming off their bye week. The Panthers may be 3-7-1, but they are still very much in the hunt of the NFC South division. Minnesota may all be all but eliminated from postseason contention, but Carolina could still lose this game and have a chance a making the playoffs.

Under head coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers are 0-3 during games following their bye week. Carolina has really struggled on offense and it has contributed to their five-game losing streak. Their offensive line has allowed 33 sacks this season and it has resulted in Cam Newton struggling to lead the squad. The Panthers defense has struggled to stop the run and their defense was dealt a significant blow when Greg Hardy was suspended.

They are slowly improving in this area, but their offense hasn't been able to bridge the gap. If they can put together the pieces, they have a chance to finish the season strong and win their division. Nonetheless, the Vikings have the perfect opportunity to grow as a team in a home contest against a quality opponent.

Keep the pocket clean

The Vikings offensive line allowed just two sacks last week, but the countless amount of pressures they allowed are still unacceptable. Teddy Bridgewater needs time to make decisions and he can't move the ball down the field if he is standing on the back of his heels every snap. The Panthers are averaging just a shade below two sacks per game over their last three contests and they will be without Star Lotulelei in the interior of their defensive line. Minnesota needs to bounce back as an offensive line unit and with Phil Loadholt out, recently signed tackle J'Marcus Webb or Mike Harris will need to step up in a major way. Not to mention, Matt Kalil will need to eliminate his mistakes if the Vikings want to move the chains and have a chance to win this game.

Eliminate key penalties 

This season, the Vikings are ranked as the sixth-worst team in the league for total penalties. This is definitely not a category you want to be near the bottom of and it has played a role in the Vikings inability to win football games. This is the sign of a young and undisciplined squad. Three holding penalties and a hands-to-the-face flag turned the tide of the Green Bay game last week. That has been the story of the season and the infractions have come in all three phases of the game. With less on the line in these games, the younger players can focus more on technique and discipline, rather than on making mistakes. Of course, this growth won't come overnight and these types of pains are to be expected from a young team. However, these issues should improve as the season progresses, especially since the players will be receiving more experience.

Move the chains and control the clock

The Vikings need to be able to convert on third down and were able to move the chains just 38% of the time in those situations last week. In order to sustain drives, they will need to improve this statistic. To do so, they will need to establish the running game and be placed within short down situations. Matt Asiata is returning from a concussion, but Joe Banyard and recently signed running back Ben Tate are both expected to see some action in this contest. If they can run the ball in early down situations, the offense is placed in better situations to succeed. With all of that said, the Vikings will then be able to control time of possession and keep the ball out of the hands of the Panthers offense. These third down situations need to be manageable and that has been why the conversion rate has been so low.

Control and pressure Cam Newton

The Carolina protection group will be without Amini Silatolu and it means Brian Robison will be squaring off with Mike Remmers. Remmers was among the Vikings roster cuts in August, and with injuries piling up for the Panthers, he will see action. Robison has three sacks in the last four games and the Vikings will definitely be looking to take advantage of this weakness. The Vikings need to take advantage of one of the worst offensive line groups in the league. Pressure has resulted in much of the offensive woes for the Panthers and Carolina hasn't topped 21 points in any of their five consecutive losses. Sharrif Floyd will be returning for the Vikings in the interior and it will help both in run support and from a leverage standpoint in the pass rush. The Vikings can't allow Cam Newton to escape outside the pocket like they have with Jay Cuter and Aaron Rodgers the last two weeks, or it will be a very long day.

Bridgewater connections downfield

Teddy Bridgewater has continually overthrown passes that have been longer than 20 yards down the field. This is an area that needs improvement and he can't continue to overthrow two or three open pass catchers per game. His mechanics have been subject to some of this, but he needs to learn how to loft his balls at a better angle. In addition, he will need to handle the reads and progressions of the NFL. I just want to see him complete some of these passes to build his confidence and show that he has the abilities to make these types of throws in an NFL system. The poor performance from the receivers and offensive line has played a role in some of this, but missing open receivers that have cushion is an area that cannot continue down the stretch.

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