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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up against the Carolina Panthers?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings (10-2) face off with the Carolina Panthers (8-4) with playoff implications abound. The Vikings are now in the driver’s seat to win the conference and clinch homefield throughout the playoffs, while the Panthers need a win to stick around in the race. Let’s have a look at how the two teams match up.

Quarterback

Carolina: Cam Newton

Zimmer preparing for the MVP version of Cam Newton

It’s been all or nothing this year from Cam Newton. He’s posted a 120 quarterback rating or higher in three games – including in a win over Tom Brady and the Patriots – but also had two three-interception games and four games with a rating under 60. The Vikings may have solved Newton in their last two contests, but at his best there are few players that are more difficult to stop than the 2015 MVP. Between passing and rushing, he’s combined for 3,053 yards and 21 touchdowns. If those numbers were just passing, they would rank 11th and seventh in the NFL. Likewise, if his runs were added to passer rating, he’d have a 91.3 rating instead of 83.0. To take it a step further: Only Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have more total TDs since Newton came into the league. Newton has a different offense this year that asks him to throw underneath more often, which will force the Vikings to take a different approach than in their wins in 2014 and 2016.

Minnesota: Case Keenum

After a slow first half against the Falcons, Pat Shurmur adjusted to a dink-and-dunk offense and Keenum executed it perfectly to control the clock and come away with a win in Atlanta. Last week marked the fourth time in a row in which Keenum registered a rating above 100 and it appears he’s grown more comfortable in the Vikings’ ultra-talented offense. The Panthers are likely to blitz Keenum more than other teams have (in part because of the success with screen passes). How he reacts may determine whether he adds another strong game to his resume.

Advantage: Panthers

Running back

Carolina: Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Stewart

Vikings have had success vs. receiving backs, but McCaffrey offers a different challenge

Christian McCaffrey is a unique talent. The Panthers line him up all over the field – from running back to slot receiver to the outside, even sometimes at fullback. He’s quick, has great hands and has become a better runner as the season has gone along, averaging over 5.0 yards per rush over the last four weeks. Jonathan Stewart is still grinding it out at age 30, but his limitations have been on display as he only averages 3.2 yards per attempt and has just seven receptions.

Minnesota: Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon

Latavius Murray has been on fire lately, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt since Week 7 and ranking third in total yards in the NFL during that timespan. He’s ripped off a plus-30 yard run in each of the past three weeks and ranked among the league’s best in yards after contact. Sufficed to say, the Vikings got the power back they were hoping for when they signed him this offseason. McKinnon has become the Vikings’ version of McCaffrey. He lines up at receiver at times and plays a huge role in the receiving game and at the goal line. The Vikings felt they could survive the loss of Dalvin Cook and they have because of their two talented backs.

Advantage: Slight edge to the Vikings

Wide receivers/tight ends

Carolina: Devin Funchess, Greg Olsen, Russell Shepard

Getting Greg Olsen back in the lineup could be huge for Cam Newton. Over the last three years, the Panthers’ tight end has averaged 80 catches and over 1,000 yards per season. This year he’s only

Minnesota: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph

Pat Shurmur has found an efficient role for Kyle Rudolph

Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have become the centerpiece(s) of the Vikings’ offense, averaging a combined 151 yards per game and a fantastic 9.5 yards per target. Each receiver has such a diverse skill set that opponents haven’t figured out a way to slow them down. Rudolph’s role has been changed by Shurmur, allowing him to be a more efficient player and make big plays on third down and in the red zone. The Vikings’ trio of No. 3 receivers, Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd and Jarius Wright, have largely come through when asked, but none have become a major threat. David Morgan’s absence could be significant because of his run blocking and role in play-action success.

Advantage: Vikings

Offensive line

Carolina: Matt Kalil, Andrew Norwell, Ryan Kalil, Trae Turner, Daryl Williams

At the left tackle position, the Panthers have had lots of trouble, but as the season has gone on they have found ways to work around some of Matt Kalil’s shortcomings. The rest of the line is very good. PFF grades Norwell as the seventh best guard this season, so the Vikings may see him pulling on run plays or making a difference in the short passing game. Ryan Kalil has been hurt, but when he’s in the lineup he’s one of the league’s top centers.

Minnesota: Riley Reiff, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger, Rashod Hill

The Vikings’ offensive line has been nothing terrific this year. They may not have the most impressive PFF rankings and have given up a fairly high number of pressures, but the Vikings’ offensive success – especially with short passes, third down runs and goal line – has come largely because of their versatility, smarts and mobility. Elflein is questionable for Sunday’s game. It would be a big blow if he weren’t in the lineup. Rashod Hill has done a great job filling in for Mike Remmers, especially in pass protection, but he faces a very difficult matchup in Mario Addison.

Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings

Defensive line

How good is the Carolina Panthers defense?

Carolina: Julius Peppers, Star Lotlulelei, Kawann Short, Mario Addison

The Panthers have a top-notch defensive line, starting with their superstar three-technique Kawann Short. PFF ranks him sixth in the NFL and at the very top as a run stuffer. He’s an incredibly strong and quick defensive tackle that will offer a huge challenge for Nick Easton. Julius Peppers has become a rotational pass rusher in his old age, but he’s a great one, picking up 8.5 sacks this year. Mario Addison is the player to watch as he has great quickness coming off the edge and also has 8.5 sacks.

Minnesota: Everson Griffen, Tom Johnson, Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter

The defensive line didn’t pick up sacks last week against Matt Ryan, but they sure made life uncomfortable for the 2016 MVP. Griffen has been an elite pass rusher this year, ranking fourth in the NFL in sacks, while Johnson has done a good job adapting to more playing time. Joseph is the centerpiece fo the Vikings’ elite run defense and Hunter has still created pressure despite down sack numbers.

Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings

Linebackers

Carolina: Luke Keuchly, Thomas Davis

Luke Keuchly is one of the best linebackers to ever put on a uniform and he’s still playing at an extremely high level. PFF rates him No.2 in the NFL and he’s been among the elitely graded players for four years in a row. Kuechly is incredibly instinctual, quick, smart, hard-hitting, good in coverage – he’s a dream linebacker. And despite his age, Davis is still playing at a high level, ranking 15th by PFF metrics.

Minnesota: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks

Barr’s resurgence has been a huge difference maker for the Vikings as he’s consistently made plays in the run game, pressured QBs on blitzes and slowed down opposing RBs in the pass game. Kendricks has suffered a higher number of missed tackles than usual this year, which has dragged down his run stopping grade, but he’s one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL, which could make for a great matchup with McCaffrey.

Advantage: Slight edge to Panthers

Defensive backs

Carolina: Daryl Worley, Captain Munnerlyn, James Bradberry, Kurt Coleman, Mike Adams

The secondary is the weakness of the Carolina defense. They have allowed a 94.6 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks. Worley and Bradberry will have their hands full with Diggs and Thielen. Neither ranks in the top 50 corners by PFF. Munnerlyn may also see a few of his old teammates as the Vikings move Diggs and Thielen to slot on occasion. Carolina likes to move its safeties to the line, but that might not be advantageous against the Vikings’ offense.

Minnesota: Xavier Rhodes, Terence Newman, Trae Waynes, Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo

Terence Newman will change your life

There can’t be a more confident cornerback in the NFL right now than Xavier Rhodes after shutting down Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Julio Jones this year. Harrison Smith also played a huge role in confusing Matt Ryan last week and making big plays in the run and passing game. He should get consideration for defensive player of the year. Waynes has taken big steps forward this year and Newman is only allowing 6.2 yards per attempt in his direction as the slot corner.

The post Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up against the Carolina Panthers? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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