Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has never been much of a fan of rehashing past games – good, bad or ugly.
But Newton had plenty of reasons for not wanting to re-live last season’s 22-10 loss to Minnesota – eight of them, to be precise.
The Vikings sacked Newton eight times, hit him a total of 12 times in the pocket and dropped him for a safety in the Week 3 matchup in Charlotte.
Minnesota returns to Bank of America Stadium this week with its defensive personnel from that game still intact except one player. And that guy – former Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who re-signed with Carolina in March – says Newton should expect the same game plan.
“They’re definitely going to attack. The head coach (Mike Zimmer) calls the defensive plays. He’s going to be aggressive. He’s going to blitz you and throw everything at you,” Munnerlyn said. “They’re going to try to stop the run and make Cam beat ‘em.”
No one on the Panthers’ offense was up to the task last September.
An Observer film analysis after the game revealed that all five offensive linemen allowed either a sack or a hit on Newton, who was guilty of holding on to the ball too long on at least four of those plays.
“It’s a different year, two different teams. They’re still a great – a good team,” Newton said.
“They exploited some mismatches we had last year and got after the quarterback – myself – a lot,” he added. “I’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball out of my hands. I plan on doing that. Just having a better plan this year.”
Newton threw three interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 47.6, the sixth-worst mark of his career.
The Panthers led Minnesota 10-0 near the end of the first quarter last season before defensive end Danielle Hunter’s safety swung momentum and led to 22 unanswered points by the Vikings.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said falling behind and being forced to throw allowed the Vikings to get more aggressive with their pressures.
Hunter’s safety was one of three sacks allowed by former left tackle Michael Oher, who also was called for holding on one of those plays.
The following week Oher went in the concussion protocol for the rest of the season. The Observer reported he is believed to have played the Vikings’ game with a concussion, which right guard Trai Turner seemed to confirm this week.
“I don’t think he was himself that day, so I think that played a big part,” Turner said.
Everson Griffen, the Vikings’ other edge rusher, had a monster game last season when he tied his career high with three sacks.
Griffen will be lined up mostly opposite left tackle Matt Kalil, who should have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Kalil spent five seasons with the Vikings before signing a $55.5 million contract to join his brother in Carolina.
“I played against him a lot. But a lot of those practices I wasn’t 100 percent. I was injured,” said Kalil, who had hip surgery last year. “It’ll be a little different from my point of view and the things I can do. I’ll definitely get after it and probably be a different guy than they’re used to the past few years.”
Griffen began this season with a sack in eight consecutive games and is fourth in the league with 12. He said the Vikings have a pretty straightforward plan when it comes to Newton.
“Well, you just hit him. You keep on hitting him,” Griffen told reporters in Minnesota. “He’s a big guy.”
Griffen said that is particularly true on Newton’s zone-read plays and other designed runs.
“You’ve got to hit him like he’s a running back, and don’t hit him like he’s a quarterback because he’s not protected then,” Griffen said. “No cheap shots, you just hit him like he’s a running back. You just hit him.”
The Vikings have hit Newton a lot in recent seasons, with 12 sacks in the teams’ last two meetings.
It will fall largely on the Panthers’ offensive line to slow Minnesota’s hit parade Sunday.
Right guard Andrew Norwell said the Vikings like to bring a steady stream of stunts and pressures. Five of the dozen hits or sacks on Newton last year came on blitzes.
Turner said watching video of that game reinforced that the line has a lot of room for improvement.
“Not really bad memories, just lessons. You never want to make the same mistake twice,” Turner said. “This week we have an opportunity to go out and – I don’t really want to say rectify what happened last year – but a chance to put that behind us.”