Here's a key matchup to watch in Sunday's Vikings-Panthers game.
Vikings secondary vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith
Two weeks in a row, the Vikings have blown deep coverages that have resulted in touchdowns: a 48-yarder against Devin Hester and the Bears two weeks ago and a 79-yarder to Greg Jennings on Sunday. Safety Husain Abdullah was directly involved in both plays.
Just as the Vikings' secondary is playing its worst football of the season, they get to see the NFL's leading receiver in Carolina's Steve Smith.
In all but one game (and that one game was played in a monsoon against Jacksonville), Smith and rookie sensation Cam Newton have hooked up for at least one pass of 20-plus yards. In four games, they have hooked up for plays of at least 50 yards. For the season, Smith is averaging 21 yards-per-catch.
The Panthers' passing game has been predicated on the big play. Given the Vikings' struggles in that area of late, look for the Panthers to try to attack downfield.
Being a team that plays primarily cover-2, that shouldn't be happening to the Vikings, but breakdowns in positioning have led to the big plays. Last Sunday, Abdullah bit on a short route despite his deep responsibilities, allowing Jennings to be left completely wide open of an easy touchdown.
The Vikings have to do a better job of maintaining zone responsibilities and keeping things in front. Otherwise, Smith and Newton will continue to create the big plays they have consistently made this season.