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Week 8 Preview: Panthers look for their second straight victory against the Vikings

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Week 8 of the 2011 NFL schedule will find the Minnesota Vikings (1-6) traveling to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers (2-5). The Panthers are 2-2 at within the confines of Bank of America Stadium this season while the Vikings have yet to win a game on the road in their first three attempts. The Vikings have been one of the more disappointing teams of the 2011 season and have already seemingly bailed on their Donovan McNabb experiment. Carolina, on the other hand, has improved their play greatly from the 2010 season and the performance of rookie quarterback, Cam Newton has NFL fans and analysts buzzing. The Panthers have been much more competitive than their record indicates with four of their five losses being of a margin of seven points or fewer. To read about the keys of the game for both teams, continue to read.

Carolina’s Offensive Game Plan:

Believe it or not, but the Panthers’ 18 offensive touchdowns they have scored this season has already surpassed their 2010 total of 16. The 2011 number one draft selection, Cam Newton has personally accounted for 15 of Carolina’s 18 touchdowns; eight coming through the air while the other seven have been scored from the ground. Though Newton has looked impressive this year, he has also looked like a rookie. Currently, Newton is tied for second in the NFL with nine interceptions. However, Newton’s presence has rejuvenated the career of the talented veteran receiver Steve Smith whose 818 receiving yards leads the NFL and has already surpassed his 2010 total of 554 receiving yards. Thanks to the contribution of Newton, Smith, and the other Panther passing weapons, Carolina comes into Week 8 with the NFL’s 5th best passing offense. The key for Newton in tomorrow’s game is protection. Newton must make solid decisions against the Vikings and that all starts with solid protection from his offensive line. Newton must properly go through his reads and rely on his two solid veteran tight-ends, Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen, and try to not force passes in Smith’s direction.

The Carolina running attack has steadily picked up steam every week. The Panthers’ run game currently ranks 8th in the league averaging 128 rushing yards per game. Carolina must establish the run game early to help open up big plays down the field in the receiving game. The Panther backs cannot be intimidated by the Vikings’ 4th ranked rushing defense and hit the Minnesota front seven in the mouth early and often.

Carolina’s Defensive Game Plan:

The Panther defensive game plan is seemingly simple, yet impossible: stop Adrian Peterson. It is scary to consider the game Peterson could have against a Panthers’ run defense that currently ranks 29th in the league giving up an average of 133 yards a game. I would expect to see the Panthers use an extra safety in the box for most of the game to help support the run defense. Week 8 might be the first time we see Carolina begin experimenting with a 3-4 defense to help contain the success of Peterson.

Carolina’s 12th ranked pass defense has definitely been the bright spot for the defense this season. Cornerback Chris Gamble has rebounded from his disappointing 2010 season and has given the Panther pass defense the extra boost they have sorely needed. The corners must be on their game tomorrow as they may have to consistently commit an additional safety to aid in the run defense. I would expect to see a lot of man based defense in Carolina’s secondary tomorrow.

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