WR Steve Smith (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY)
The Vikings are concentrating on stopping QB Cam Newton, but to do that they have to contain WR Steve Smith and that hasn’t happened often for them. Plus, an extensive look at the team and individual rankings for the Vikings and Panthers.
In the world of sports, there’s a phrase for a player who repeatedly seems to victimize a team. It’s called “having their number.”
As the Vikings prepare for the Carolina Panthers today at the Metrodome, most of the focus has been placed on quarterback Cam Newton. He’s a rare talent and, in his only career game against the Vikings, he threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns and ran six times for 53 more yards. But the player the Vikings should be concerned with is wide receiver Steve Smith.
Why? Because he has their number.
From the row boat celebration dance after a touchdown in 2005 – a rub-your-nose-in-it homage to the Love Boat scandal from that season – to his most recent meeting in 2011, Smith has consistently owned the Vikings secondary, posting some of his best days and having the most consistent production of his career.
In five career starts, Smith has caught 36 passes for 609 yards and four touchdowns. His production in those games has been impressive to say the least – 5-81-1 in 2003, 11-201-1 in 2005 (thank you, Fred Smoot), 4-70-0 in 2008, 9-157-1 in 2009 and 7-100-1 in 2011.
When the game begins Sunday, the main topic of conversation will be how the Vikings are going to stop Newton. The best way to do that is to blanket Smith, because over the course of his borderline Hall of Fame career he has the Vikings’ number.
VIKINGS-PANTHERS BY THE NUMBERS
(Note: For the next several weeks, many of the numbers for teams and individual players will be different because of the scattered bye week schedule. It doesn’t affect team numbers because they go be average per game, but individual numbers will be skewed somewhat).
The Vikings have the 25th-ranked offense (10th rushing, 23rd passing) and the 30th-ranked defense (15th rushing, 29th passing).
The Panthers have the 24th ranked offense (7th rushing, 30th passing) and the third-ranked defense (7th rushing, 8th passing).
The Vikings are averaging 351 yards a game (224 passing, 127 rushing. The Panthers are averaging 329 yards a game (192 passing, 137 rushing).
Defensively, the Vikings are allowing 431 yards a game (326 passing, 105 rushing). Carolina is allowing 302 yards a game (209 passing, 93 rushing).
Both teams have struggled with interceptions. The Panthers are 25th in interception-to-pass ratio, while the Vikings are 27th.
They have also struggled to protect their QBs. The Vikings are 22nd in sacks allowed per pass play, while Carolina is 30th – ahead of only Oakland and Miami.
Defensively, Carolina is consistently in the top 10 of the league in most statistical categories, while the Vikings are consistently 21st or worse in most of those statistical categories.
The Panthers defense leads the league in interception-per-pass percentage. The Vikings are eighth in that category.
The Vikings are tied for 11th in giveaway-takeaway ratio at plus-2 (12 takeaways, 10 giveaways). The Panthers are tied for 18 at even (nine giveaways, nine takeaways).
Only three teams entered play this week with more takeaways than the Vikings – Kansas City, Chicago and Seattle. All three of those teams have played five games.
The Vikings are 18th in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on seven of 13 opportunities (53.8 percent). Carolina is tied for 22nd at 50 percent (five touchdowns in 10 chances).
The Panthers are eighth in red zone defense, allowing just four touchdowns in 10 opportunities (40 percent). Minnesota is 17th at 57.9 percent, allowing touchdowns on 11 of 19 possessions.
Only three teams have allowed opponents into the red zone more often than the Vikings – Philadelphia (20), Denver (22) and Jacksonville (23). All three of those teams have played five games and the Vikings are last in that category when pro-rated.
The league average for third-down conversions is 37.7 percent. Both teams are above that average. Carolina is fourth at 47.2 percent (25 conversions in 53 opportunities). The Vikings are 11th at 38.9 percent (21 of 54).
Defensively, Carolina is 15th and right near the league average at 37.3 percent (19 of 51). The Vikings are a dismal 30th, allowing conversions on 47.3 of opponent third-down chances (26 of 55).
The Vikings have been at both ends of the spectrum when it comes to kickoff returns. The average starting point for drives after kickoffs is the 21-yard line. Offensively, the Vikings are second to only Chicago with an average starting point of the 24.6-yard line. Defensively, Minnesota is dead last, with an average starting point of the 25.7-yard line – 1.6 yards worse than the second-worst team in the league and almost five yards worse than the league average.
Cam Newton has had one 300-yard passing game. The Vikings have had none.
The Vikings have allowed three 300-yard passers in four games. Carolina has allowed one.
Jerome Simpson has both of Minnesota’s 100-yard receiving games. Carolina hasn’t had a 100-yard receiver this season.
The Vikings have allowed four 100-yard reception days. Carolina has allowed just one.
There have been only 21 100-yard rushing games in the NFL this season and three of those have been from quarterbacks. Of the 18 from running backs, three have been compiled by Sunday opponents – two from Adrian Peterson, one by DeAngelo Williams.
The Vikings haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher. The Panthers have allowed one.
With the Vikings’ switch at quarterback, their numbers are skewed in terms of individual statistics. Newton is 22nd or worse in most passing categories, but in the one that is used to measure QBs – passer rating – is 25th at 78.4.
Peterson is second in the NFL in rushing with 421 yards. He trails only LeSean McCoy (514), but, if pro-rated for an equal number of games, Peterson would have 526 yards and the league lead.
Peterson has converted six of seven third-and-1 rushes. Only one other player (Buffalo’s Fred Jackson) has attempted more than four third-and-1 runs and nobody other than Peterson and Jackson have converted more than three.
Because both the Vikings and Panthers have had their bye week, their leading receivers are down quite a ways on the reception charts. Tight end Greg Olsen leads Carolina with 21 receptions – tied for 49th place. Simpson leads the Vikings with 19 receptions, which is tied for 59th.
Simpson is tied for 24th in receiving yards with 342. Pro-rated over five games, that would put him currently in 11th place.
Peterson is tied for second in scoring among non-kickers with 36 points on six touchdowns. He trails only Wes Welker (42 points on seven touchdowns).
Blair Walsh is tied for17th place in scoring among kickers with 37 points. Graham Gano is 27th with 26 points.
If Walsh was to have his points pro-rated against those who have played five games, he would rank sixth in the league.
Gano has 16 kickoffs for touchbacks, which ties him for 12th in the league, while Walsh is tied for 17th with 14 touchbacks. Had they played five games, with their averages, Gano would be seventh and Walsh would be tied for 10th.
Peterson is tied for 13th in total yards from scrimmage with 473 (421 rushing, 52 receiving). At that average, through five games, he would have 601 total yards, which would put him in third place behind McCoy (700) and Jamaal Charles (647).
Jeff Locke is 16th in punting average at 45.9 yards a punt. He is eighth in net punting average at 41.7 yards.
Cordarrelle Patterson leads the league with a 33.8-yard return average. He is one of only four kick returners with more than 10 returns in the season’s first five weeks.
Jared Allen is tied for 18th place with 3.5 sacks.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.