Luke Kuechly has miraculously become one of the NFL’s best middle linebackers in only 20 games, but this week may be the stiffest test of his young career. The Carolina Panthers are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Arizona Cardinals and may have a chance to turn it around against a struggling Vikings team, but they face the ever-daunting road block that is Adrian Peterson. The Panthers defense will have to turn it up a notch to stop the reigning NFL MVP, with Kuechly being the figurehead of that effort.
The strategy for stopping Peterson of course ends with Kuechly, but it begins with the defensive line. The D-line has been outstanding so far this season, but they came up flat in the second half Sunday. Peterson is a very powerful running back with great acceleration, so it is imperative that the Panthers get penetration early and force Peterson to alter his initial route and shift his momentum, making it difficult to break through tackles and allowing the defense to close in on him. Star Lotulelei will be especially important, as it will be his job to cause disruption in the middle and force double teams on himself, keeping the Vikings’ interior linemen off Kuechly and Thomas Davis.
Once Kuechly can run free and track down the ball-carrier, then the scales will be balanced. Peterson and Kuechly will be locked in an epic clash between two of the NFL’s premier players, and how each of the players’ skills match up will determine the winner. Kuechly has some of the best play recognition skills in the league and should figure to meet Peterson at the line multiple times during the game. Peterson’s outstanding power should give Kuechly a Jim Brown-like punch when he arrives, an apt match for Kuechly’s own power. How many extra yards Peterson can get when he hits Kuechly could be the difference between first downs and punts for the Vikings, and that could have a massive effect on the score.