Win or lose, the game he played against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday was just plain excellent. He was 22 of 35 for 290 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Newton’s Quaterback Rating was 117.6. Those are veteran numbers, the kind Peyton Manning or Tom Brady puts up; Cam Newton did that.
But Newton and his team lost. And they did so because the Carolina Panthers’ Defense could not stop the powerful Vikings running game when it mattered most: in the 4th Quarter.
The Vikings rushing stats are misleading, because they only total 132 yards for the game. But what they don’t show is that Minnesota did most of its damage on the ground in the 4th Quarter. Of the 65 plays for the Vikings, 33 were runs. But if you look at the runs by quarter, a different story emerges.
The Vikings ran 13 times and passed 10 times in the 4th Quarter, versus 7 passes and 6 runs in the 1st Quarter, and 9 passes to 6 runs in the 2nd Quarter, and 8 passes and 8 runs in the 3rd Quarter. So, of all the quarters, the Vikings ran more than they threw only in the 4th Quarter.
And when they weren’t running with Adrian Petersen, they were throwing screen passes to Adrian Petersen. Adrian Petersen, that name again, caught five passes for 76 yards, bringing his offensive total to 162 yards, or about 44.8 percent of the Vikings’ total offense.
And the Panthers couldn’t stop him when it mattered. While the Vikings 4 yards per rush was less than the Panthers 5.2 yards per rush, the yards came when it mattered and helped the Norsemen capitalize on Panthers turnovers.
When a game is that close, because of a porous defense, turnovers, sacks, and penalties mean the difference between winning and losing. The Panthers had two fumbles and six penalties for 60 yards, and were sacked three times by the Vikings.
If the Panthers had a defense like that of any one in the top 10 as currently ranked in the league, they would have a 6 and 2 record. The Panthers Offense is fifth-ranked, but the Panthers “D” is 17th ranked, giving up an average of 358 yards per game, or almost what the Vikings totaled for Sunday (361). If you add the 60 yards in penalties for the Vikings game, and the Panthers are in an up hill battle against themselves each game. Indeed, Carolina went into that game ranked second in the NFL in penalties.
Ok, we see the problem, what’s the solution?
The Panthers currently don’t use any exotic defensive fronts. They line up with a four-man front, but don’t pinch their tackles, or employ any kind of special alignment that’s different than anything in the NFL. This is the problem. The Panthers “bend-but-don’t-break” approach is not right for their personnel. They don’t have any one who’s a big defensive play maker, so the Panthers have to create defenses to make up for that. So far, they haven’t done so.
Stopping the run and pressing the passer with a 4-6 style defense would be a great start. The Panthers needs to do something because right now, its defense is Cam Newton’s biggest problem.
Stay tuned for part two.