The Vikings’ second-ranked run defense faces a unique challenge Sunday in the Carolina Panthers’ fifth-ranked rushing offense: Cam Newton.
Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, is the first quarterback the Vikings need to account for this season while preparing to stop the opponent’s rushing threat. Newton leads all quarterbacks with 89 carries for 515 rushing yards, nearly edging Jonathan Stewart’s 531 rushing yards to lead Carolina.
“This is the first one that has designed runs for the quarterback,” Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson said. “They run lead draw with him. They run quarterback draw with him and then all their option principle stuff.”
The Vikings seem to have Newton figured out. Minnesota’s defense held Carolina to 10 and 13 points during victories last year and in 2014. They have grounded Newton’s arm in the past, holding him to one passing touchdown and four interceptions. Runs also didn’t come easily on the Vikings last year, as he gained 26 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.
Vikings defenders have been told not to let up on Newton when Carolina uses him as a running back.
“You still got to violently show up there the same way, just like if it’s a running back,” Patterson said. “Because of all the rules to protect [quarterbacks], it’s hard for the defense to not have those rules in their mind.
The Panthers’ option plays can also test the Vikings’ patience.
“You have to be real patient with this offense,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. You can’t see ghosts, because there’s going to be a lot of window dressing, a lot of misdirection.”
Morgan, Remmers out
The Vikings offense will be without two cogs Sunday in Charlotte as tight end David Morgan and right tackle Mike Remmers have been ruled out against the Panthers.
Remmers will miss his fifth consecutive game, his second because of a lower back injury suffered Nov. 29 at Winter Park. Rashod Hill will start again for Remmers. Morgan is in the concussion protocol. Blake Bell is expected to be tight end No. 2 again.
Center Pat Elflein is listed as questionable because of a shoulder injury that limited him in practice all week.
For Carolina, linebacker Shaq Thompson (foot) has been ruled out. Tight end Greg Olsen (foot) and center Ryan Kalil (neck) are questionable.
Big return wanted
The Vikings are still one of the league’s most efficient kick return teams, averaging more than 25 yards, even as coach Mike Zimmer calls for the group to produce more with returner Marcus Sherels.
What they have missed is the big return seen frequently from past Vikings. The team’s longest kick return of 39 yards this season would be the lowest of special teams coordinator Mike Priefer’s seven-year tenure — if it holds through the next four games.
“We’re just going to keep going and keep working at it,” Priefer said. “Most teams are kicking touchbacks now, so we’re not getting a lot of reps at it. It’s hard to get real good at something, but no excuses. We’re just going to keep working it and hopefully continue to have success.”
Local WR tryout
The Vikings worked out New London native and Edmonton Eskimos receiver Brandon Zylstra on Friday. His 1,687 receiving yards for the Eskimos led the Canadian Football League last season.
Zylstra is on a tour of NFL tryouts with stops scheduled in Detroit, Indianapolis and Arizona.
The 6-3, 220-pound receiver played college football for Concordia (Moorhead).