The Carolina Panthers are reeling right now, coming off of a crushing loss to the Arizona Cardinals after manhandling the New York Giants, spinning down the same hole they see seemingly travel every year. The Minnesota Vikings are reeling as well, 1-3 and floundering under the command of Christian Ponder, not to mention the recent tragedy involving Adrian Peterson‘s son (my condolences). Both teams need a win if they want to salvage their season, but they will only win if they can win the game’s key matchups. We already know Peterson vs. Luke Kuechly is going to be epic, that goes without saying, but we want to concentrate on the less visible matchups that will make the most difference.
Jared Allen vs. Jordan Gross
Keeping Cam Newton clean and composed is the only way the Panthers will win on Sunday, and Allen is one of the best at dirtying up quarterbacks. Gross is seasoned at the left tackle spot for the Panthers and excels as a pass protector, but he will certainly have his hands full with Allen. Allen is getting old, but he still has the speed and power to give Gross a run for his money, posting 3.5 sacks so far this year. If Gross can minimize the blindside shots to Newton then they can also minimize turnovers and hopefully make Newton less jittery.
Captain Munnerlyn vs. Greg Jennings
Jennings isn’t looking as good as he did in Green Bay, but he is still probably the Vikings’ best receiving threat. Munnerlyn isn’t a great corner, but he has good ball skills and isn’t afraid to be physical. He will need to consistently get a good jam on Jennings or he will get torched by Jennings’ speed. Munnerlyn will see safety help over the top to make sure Jennings doesn’t break free, but it will be up to Munnerlyn to contain him on the underneath routes.
Steve Smith vs. Josh Robinson
Smith hasn’t been himself this year, especially last Sunday against the Cardinals, uncharacteristically dropping passes, including a key touchdown. Robinson is a young player who will have a tough test against the savvy Smith. Smith will need a bounce back game to silence the critics and bring Cam Newton back up to speed, and he should be able to do so against the inexperienced Robinson. If Steve Smith fails to round back into form, however, then some may be calling for an early retirement.