Every Wednesday morning, beat writer Matt Vensel will share five Vikings stats that actually mean something heading into that weekend’s game.
127.9 — Sam Bradford’s QB rating when the Packers got pressure
I pointed out in this space two weeks ago that new Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford has struggled when under pressure throughout his career. In his Vikings debut, though, he fared very well when the Packers were able to penetrate the pocket, which happened too often. Bradford was pressured on 17 of his 35 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. On those plays, he completed nine of his 13 attempts for 89 yards and both of his touchdown passes came when he was getting hit. Bradford had a passer rating of 127.9 on under-pressure plays. It looks like he will be under pressure a lot, at least until the offensive line comes together, so it was certainly a good sign that he stood in there and made big throws.
plus-5 — turnover differential for the Vikings through two games
The biggest reason why the Vikings are undefeated? They rank second in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-5. Coach Mike Zimmer wanted to see his defense generate more takeaways. They had six in their first two games, second to only the Cardinals, and could have had a couple more had they just smothered fumbles Sunday night instead of trying to scoop them up and score. The only giveaway so far? That belonged to safety Andrew Sendejo, who fumbled right after recovering a Packers fumble in the first quarter. But hey, at least the offense is hanging onto the football. The Vikings are one of four NFL teams without a turnover on offense.
94.2 — percentage of offensive snaps played by Kyle Rudolph
The big tight end has been a focal point of the offense so far this season, averaging eight targets a game. Only stud wideout Stefon Diggs has been targeted more often. Rudolph has seven catches for 96 yards and one touchdown, which happened to be the first in U.S. Bank Stadium history. So why has he been so involved? One reason is that he has hardly left the field. He has played 114 of 126 offensive snaps, tops among the team’s skill position players. Once second-year tight end MyCole Pruitt, who has been out with a knee injury but returned to practice today, is back, Rudolph figures to play less. But right now, he is getting plenty of run.
44 — career rushing touchdowns for Cam Newton, a NFL record
At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds and with 4.5-type speed, Newton will present a unique challenge for the Vikings defense. The Panthers smartly use his entire skill set, designing option plays and quarterback keepers for the reigning MVP, especially when in the red zone. Now in his sixth NFL season, Newton has already scored 44 rushing touchdowns, the most by a QB in league history. He passed the previous record holder, Hall of Famer Steve Young, in Week 1. Newton did not barge into the end zone in a loss to the Vikings late in the 2014 season, but he did rush nine times for 49 yards.
22-3 — Carolina’s record since a loss in Minnesota late in 2014
Speaking of that win for the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium, the Panthers have been a force ever since losing 31-13 that afternoon. They finished 2014 with four straight wins, opened 2015 with 14 straight and went 17-2 overall, including their playoff run that ended in a Super Bowl loss to the Broncos. They are 1-1 this season. During that ridiculous 22-3 run, the Panthers have a point differential of plus-278, meaning they have been on average more than 10 points better than their opponents. The Vikings have been pretty good since November 2014, too, winning 15 of their 23 games. If they can upset the Panthers at home this weekend, it will be hard to argue that the Vikings aren’t the early team to beat in the NFC.