Carolina Panthers (2-6) vs. Minnesota Vikings (1-7)
Bank of America Stadium, November 30th 2011.
Overall Offense: B
The Panthers had a solid game plan under offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and managed to score 21 points through the air, however several key penalties and a string of 3 & outs in the 2nd, allowed the Vikings back in the game, rather than keeping Adrian Peterson on the sidelines which would have helped out a shotty defense. The Panthers offense did a good job holding the ball for 28 minutes, had a nice 50% 3rd down efficiency rate and were able to make some big plays at key moments. However, they didn’t quite score enough and made too many mistakes for the grade to be any better than a B.
Cam Newton had an outstanding game against a tough Vikings defense. He threw for 290 yards and 3 TDs with no interceptions for a QB rating of 117.6, including a nice pass to Brandon LaFell on 4th down, gaining 44 yards on the play as they drove to tie the game in the 4th quarter. He added 53 yards on 6 carries including a 24 yard scamper in the 3rd quarter. However amongst the good, Newton was sacked 3 times and lost the ball twice on fumbles.
Running Backs: C
Jonathan Stewart & DeAngelo Williams continue to be an efficient duo, capable of either having their own big day out or helping Newton move the chains. On this day, they were merely helping move the chains with Stew gaining 49 yards on 13 carries and DeAngelo rushing for 26 on 7 attempts. Combined, they only managed 3.8 ypc and although they look explosive at times, the offense needs more balance & Double Trouble need more carries. If they can do that, Cam will have less on his shoulders & the Panthers can control the clock and game more. Steve Smith also added a nice end around play for 12 yards, in which he owned Cedric Griffin via a nasty stiff arm.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B
3 passing TDs from Newton: 2 to TE’s and 1 to Steve Smith. What a day to be a Panthers receiver. Shockey finally got his 1st TD as a Panther vs. the Vikes on a 1 yard pass – his only reception for the day. Not wanting to have Greg Olsen feel left out, Newton hit Olsen on a streak, straight down the middle for a 39 yard TD catch, totaling 73 yards for the day on 4 receptions. Smith continues to be a threat every time he touches the ball, having another big day with big plays, catching 7 balls for 100 yards, including a nice catch and run 22 yard TD. However despite the good, Legedu Naanee and Smith had key holding calls that would’ve changed the game and apart from LaFell’s 44 yard 4th down catch, the supporting cast of receivers didn’t do much.
Offensive Linemen: D
The offensive line had a forgettable day out. While they kept Newton clean for most of the afternoon, they allowed 3 sacks including 2 key fumbles (that they were unable to recover both times) that allowed the Vikings back in the game. Tackle Jordan Gross, in All-Pro form, was beaten twice on one play by DE Jared Allen. First for the sack, then on the recovery of the ball. The Panthers line also failed to open up holes for the Panthers RB duo of Stewart and Williams, only averaging 3.8 ypc on the ground. Penalties also killed the Panthers, an area that the line and the team in general needs to clean up over the next few weeks.
Overall Defense: D
The Panthers scored a D, because they simply allowed the Vikings to run over them in the 2nd half. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had a good plan and in the 1st half, it was executed well, holding RB Adrian Peterson. But through the defenses and offenses fault, the D stayed on teh field too long as the game wore on and holes opened up for the Vikings offense, allowing Peterson and rookie QB Christian Ponder to control the game. Although the Panthers did a good job pressuring Ponder and forcing several mistakes, in the end they couldn’t stop the Vikes offense enough to keep the lead. Signs of improvement are little consolation for this D.
Defensive Linemen: B
The defensive line was one of the bright spots for the D, helping keep Ponder in check and helping to hold Peterson to only 86 yards on the ground, with a 15 yard TD run being the longest allowed. The combination of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy again gave the Vikes offensive line fits, with Johnson racking up another sack & 2 more QB pressures, along with rookie Terrell McClain. Hardy didn’t have a sack, but knocked the ball down once, almost picking off one of those. The front 4 disrupted Ponder enough into mistakes, and played lights out at times, forcing the Vikings to go 3 & out 7/14 times. Honorable mention to DE Antwan Applewhite, played a solid game and has been playing well for a while.
The Vikings had the Panthers linebackers running around all day and although they kept the Vikings offense in check in the 1st half, they eventually grew tired and cracks appeared. LB Omar Gaither had a solid game and had to play more once LB Thomas Williams went down with a neck injury early in the game. Gaither finished with 7 solo tackles and a sack, James Anderson added 7 tackles with 4 solo stops, and Dan Connor only made 2 stops. The group was out of position at times, especially when they were sucked up in blocks on Adrian Peterson’s screen pass TD in the 2nd quarter. The LBs also couldn’t stop Peterson at the goal line, allowing him to rumble in for a 9 yard run, and couldn’t stop Percy Harvin from scoring up the middle in the 1st. Toby Gerhart was also popping off nice runs (26 on 5 carries) until he went out with an injury – a relief for the defense at that point. The LBs (and safeties) had trouble containing Ponder’s safety valves of TE’s Visanthe Shiancoe & Kyle Rudolph who picked up some nice gains that helped the Vikings keep the ball moving. Overall, this group is hurting and more injuries are just wearing on this group and the defense.
The secondary didn’t have a bad day compared to the linebackers, especially Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn was everywhere, on special teams he was covering kicks like a demon and on D, he helped contain the Ponder passing attack. He had a key strip of Percy Harvin inside the 10, wrestling the ball from Harvin’s grip and showing the tenacity you know coach Ron Rivera loves. He also added a sack on a blitz, jumping Ponder from behind. Safety Sherrod Martin had a game to forget, all over the place and not in a good way. He couldn’t wrap Peterson up at the goal line, allowing him to spin out of the tackle and score. Charles Godfrey had 9 stops and several good ones on RB Peterson. Chris Gamble struggled against Percy Harvin at times, especially in the 4th when he missed a tackle on Harvin that kept the Vikes drive alive to get the game-winning FG. Overall, the unit held the key guys in Ponder 18/28 for 236 and Harvin to 58 yard on 4 catches, however the Vikes were efficient enough to get enough points to win. The Panthers could’ve done with defensive back Darius Butler, who had to miss the game to be with his daughter, who had open heart surgery. (She’s expected to make a full recovery.)
Overall Special Teams: F
When the game starts out with a 78 yard kickoff return by the Vikings and ends with a missed 31-yard FG attempt by Olindo Mare, the unit is headed for a F – no matter what they do in between. Panthers kick returner Kealoha Pilares fumbled twice, recovering both and didn’t do much else in returning the ball. Armanti Edwards fielded the ball well and picked up minimal yards on punt returns. The kick coverage team forced the ball inside the 10 a couple of times, helping out the D with field position and punter Jason Baker had a solid day, not making any glaring mistakes.
Overall Coaching: C
Coach Ron Rivera has this group in the right direction, no doubt. They’ve been competitive in every game, taken it to some of the better teams in the leagues and for a young group with several key injuries, they’re doing better than a lot of people originally thought. This game was winnable, as were a few earlier in the season. But that’s the mark of a young team. Penalties, errors.. things that good teams eliminate so in that same situation, they win rather than come away with an ‘almost win.’ Against the Vikings, the Panthers had a good gameplan on both sides and were able to execute for the most part. After the 2nd half, the Vikings controlled the game on both sides and without that lull in the 3rd, the Panthers probably would’ve won the game. Small things, finishing drives rather than go 3 & out – are marks of a young team. The D was on the field way too long in the 2nd half (another mark of a young team & a patchwork D) and no doubt the Panthers need some help at LB and possibly another DB, whether late this season or next season. The Panthers are yet to play a complete game, with special teams being the main problem this time around. Overall, hard to criticize the coaches except when Rivera decided to end the 1st half and let the clock run out, rather than try a FG (which in the end, would’ve tied the game & changed the outcome.) Execution is the main problem with this group, and the Panthers have the bye week to work that and any other kinks out before Tennessee in week 10.
Cam Newton: Played an almost mistake free game, was poised in the pocket, used his legs and helped move the chains and put points on the board. Leads from the front, helps Smith get his 100 and drove the team down the field in the final seconds, doing all he could to help get a win.
Stats: 22/35 for 290 yards, 3 TDs, O interceptions, 117.6 QB rating & 6 carries for 53 yards and 2 fumbles.
Goat of the Week: Olindo Mare: It should never come down to one play where the blame is laid upon just one guy, but it’s kind of his job. From 31 yards out, usually it’s a money kick. A chip shot. Almost an extra point attempt. One play is all the Panthers needed him to execute, and he choked – handing the Vikings a win rather than a chance to win in overtime, and dropping the Panthers to 2-6, heading into their bye week.
Stats: 0/1on field goals, 3/3 on extra points, 3 touchbacks.
Next up for Carolina: Bye week.
Sound FX: Ron Rivera and the Panthers:
Rivera loves him some Cam Newton. And when I say love, I mean l-o-v-e. Here