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Vikings-Panthers matchup of the day: Friday

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By Christian West

Here's a key matchup to watch in Sunday's Vikings-Panthers game.

Panthers QB Cam Newton vs. Vikings defense

It will take a strong effort from the entire defense to slow Cam Newton, whose combination of elusive running and accurate passing have made him one of the most dangerous weapons in the league this season.

Newton has been excellent connecting on the deep ball with a rejuvenated Steve Smith, but he also has done an excellent job of keeping his tight ends, especially Greg Olsen, involved in the offense. He has a strong arm and can fit the ball in tight windows, so the Vikings' cover-2 defense will need to squeeze the holes even tighter and eliminate his security blankets.

The defensive line will have to rush with discipline, whether Newton is passing from the pocket or utilizing his legs in designed QB draws and zone-reads. DEs Jared Allen and Brian Robison love to sprint up the field using the speed rush, but that will create natural running angles. The goal needs to be keeping Newton in the pocket by using simplified pass-rushing angles and slowly collapsing the pocket around him, creating limited opportunities for escape. On draws and zone-reads, maintaining gap discipline and gang-tackling Newton is the best opportunity to limit his outstanding running ability.

When he does get in the open field, LBs Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson and Erin Henderson will need to tackle well and not allow Newton to turn three-yard gains into 25-yard gains, like he did in the first quarter Sunday against the Redskins, making multiple defenders miss on an electrifying run.

Newton has been turnover-prone (nine interceptions), so preventing the big plays in the running and passing games and forcing him to make rookie mistakes is the best way to stop him.

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