1. The three ring circus otherwise known as our quarterback situation.
Head Coach Leslie Frazier says Christian Ponder is the team’s starter if he is healthy. But the rib injury he suffered against Cleveland has still left Ponder questionable. Matt Cassel stepped into the lineup and to the surprise of no one played well and led the Vikings to victory before the bye week.
But the addition of Josh Freeman this week has left more questions than answers. We know they won’t start Freeman, but who will be out starter? And what does this mean for Ponder long term? The Vikings have not given are a clear answer as to who our official starter is, but we should know by the end of the week.
2. Carolina’s front five
This Panthers may be 1-3, but don’t sleep on their defense. Carolina boasts the League’s top-ranked scoring defense, having allowed just 56 points, and their combination of four defensive linemen and their middle linebacker is pretty good.
The middle linebacker we speak of is Luke Kuechly and while this is his second season he’s already playing like a veteran. He can run from sideline-to-sideline, can cover in the passing game and he can fill a gap against the run.
In front of Kuechly is a talented group of four defensive linemen. Charles Johnson has 46.0 career sacks, including 3.0 this year, and plays left defensive end, Greg Hardy bookends Johnson as the right defensive end. In the middle, veteran Dwan Edwards and first-round pick Star Lotulelei at defensive tackle. Edwards is a lunch-pail guy who is solid and doesn’t take a play off, while Lotulelei has the look of a rising star. Behind those two, the Panthers have another veteran-rookie combo in Colin Cole and Kawann Short.
3. Contain Cam
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton definitely is not having his best season. He has just one more touchdown pass (six) than interceptions (five), he’s completed a career-low 57.5% of his passes and he’s already taken 15 sacks. But make no mistake, Newton is a threat and the Vikings must make containing him a priority.
Throughout his career, Newton is a strong-armed passer who can also break the pocket to make plays with his feet. In just two-plus seasons, Newton has 46 touchdown passes and an 84.5 passer rating, and he already has over 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground.
The good news is the Vikings pass rush came alive in the last game. Jared Allen had 2.5 sacks on Ben Roethlisberger, and Everson Griffen won the game when he got to Big Ben and registered a strip-sack that was recovered by Kevin Williams. The Vikings will need a similar effort from their pass rushers this week against Newton.
4. Vikings need to keep the running game alive
The Vikings offense begins and ends with the running game. Individually, Adrian Peterson is off to a great start – the second-fastest start of his career and the third-fastest start in team history with 421 yards through four games; he also leads the League with five rushing touchdowns. But as a whole, the Vikings running game got on track a couple weeks ago against Pittsburgh. It was the best game the offensive line has played, and fullback Jerome Felton made his 2013 debut after a three-game suspension at start the season.
5. Clawing their back to .500
The Vikings are not far off from .500 (just one game back in the loss column in the division) and a win on Sunday against Carolina will move them even closer. The Vikings can’t win two games and get back to .500 this week, but they that will be a big step closer. If they can take care of business at home against Carolina, then their sights will be set on getting to .500 by defeating the NY Giants at Met Life Stadium on Monday Night Football.