Wetmore: Vikings fail first test against a dual-threat quarterback
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Cam Newton was exceptional in a 35-10 road victory Sunday against the Vikings.
The Vikings defense - and specifically their secondary - left plenty to be desired.
Newton rushed nine times for 30 yards, including one scamper up the middle on a busted play for a touchdown. He also completed 20 of his 26 pass attempts for 242 yards and three touchdowns in the air.
All told, the Vikings defense permitted 373 yards, which included just one "home run" play. Brandon LaFell raced past cornerback Josh Robinson and caught a 79-yard strike for a touchdown early in the third quarter. Other than that, the Panthers racked up yards with sustained drives using methodical pass completions and well-executed run plays.
Carolina possessed the ball for nearly 13 more minutes than the Vikings in a 60-minute game. That was right in line with each team's average so far this season, but it was still a glaring blemish for the Vikings on the statistics recap sheet.
Sunday was a test of the Vikings' ability to contain a dual-threat quarterback.
They collectively failed that test.
"Seems like we come up with a new theory every week, but I don't know what to say," defensive end Brian Robison said. "We are missing tackles, they're finding the gaps and we've got to make sure that we don't allow those gaps to open up."
Jared Allen also was at a loss for explanations Sunday. He was noticeably agitated with the performance, and the defensive ineptitude seemed to surprise him.
It shouldn't be so surprising at this point when the Vikings defense fails to stop opponents from scoring. Through six weeks and five games, the team has given up an average of 31.6 points. (That's overstating the defense's futility slightly, because teams score points in other phases of the game, but it's a telling statistic: the Vikings don't win often because they allow the other team to score too many points.)
"It makes it tough," head coach Leslie Frazier said about stopping teams that have a mobile quarterback. "We had our hands on [Newton] a few times and he was able to elude the sack and extend plays and that makes it tough for your defense for sure."
Besides the three injuries the defense sustained, few excuses exist for allowing Newton and Co. such consistent marches down the field. There wasn't much of a pass rush for most of the afternoon, but the downfield coverage is more at issue. Assessing fault is difficult immediately after a game, but it was clear right away after Sunday's loss that the Vikings defense was outplayed and its offense didn't keep drives alive with the same regularity as Carolina.
The Panthers' opening drive was especially concerning, and it proved prophetic for how the rest of the game would unfold:
Carolina's first offensive play of the game saw Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford drop a sure interception. Then on the ensuing third down, with nine yards to go, Chad Greenway sacked Newton to seemingly force a three-and-out. But Chris Cook was called for holding. Later in the drive, the Panthers twice converted fourth-and-one opportunities, capped by Steve Smith's receiving touchdown with Josh Robinson in coverage.
The 15-play drive lasted nine minutes, 29 seconds and the Vikings never recovered.
Assuming starting quarterbacks around the league remain in their current spot, the Vikings will face three more dual-threat quarterbacks this season: Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Michael Vick.
Minnesota's playoff aspirations might already be shot, but if it wants to compete in any of those three games, its defense will have to get better at disrupting opponents' offensive rhythm.