Preview of Browns @ Vikings – Game #3
For the final time, the Browns will play the Vikings at the HHH Metrodome (before the team moves to a new venue). Much like many series, the Browns are on the short end of the stick with a 3 – 11 record (including losing the past four meetings). Entering this year, this looked like a less-than-desirable quarterback matchup. Brandon Weeden’s sprained thumb further exacerbates this – it could be a quick contest with several running plays. Both teams head into this matchup at 0 – 2; someone’s got to come out with their first victory in 2013. (Note: my mood definitely changed in this blog after the Richardson trade, but it may not completely reflect that).
Offense: With Brian Hoyer starting at quarterback, the Browns must be smart in their passing attack. The opposition can be thrown upon – allowing nearly 300 yards through the air last week, but they also intercepted Jay Cutler twice. This opportunistic defense could be treacherous if a reserve quarterback makes a poor decision and/or misses his target. Fortunately, he will have Josh Gordon back this contest – perhaps we will see a deep pass or two to the previously suspended wide out. Weeden made a couple of nice throws in the preseason, where only the receiver could catch it – this must be replicated by Hoyer if the Browns want a chance to win on Sunday. Nonetheless, I foresee a very vanilla game plan but they can still find the end zone as well.
For his entire rookie season and both games this year, I (like many in the media and fans alike) have been clamoring for more touches for the running back. However, it appears both the previous and current coaching staffs feel the offense can be successful with other areas of the team. This is definitely true after Richardson was shipped out on Wednesday. The offensive line has been light years behind where they were last season, and it has been tough to find crevasses for the rushers. The Vikings surrendered 129 yards on the ground last week; however, there’s no way the Browns eclipse this total on Sunday. There’s no reason to believe the visiting team will have success on the ground; the Browns will likely have to rely on their defense and passing the ball.
Following a pair of contests that included underperforming starting wide outs, the number one target finally returns. Hopefully Greg Little (assuming he learned how to catch this week) and Travis Benjamin can take advantage of avoiding the top defensive back in Josh Robinson. However, the Vikings still have a solid starter on the opposite side with Chris Cook. The Bears were able to find their top two targets fourteen times for 189 yards against the home team; the Browns have an opportunity move the ball through the air. It appears the safeties (Harrison Smith and Jamaraca Sanford) are very active in stopping the run. They tallied sixteen tackles and only one pass defended. As a result, the matchup the visiting team will look to exploit is in the slot/tight end position. Jordan Cameron will have another big game, while Davone Bess will secure multiple catches.
Despite having one of the best sack artists in the game (Jared Allen), the Vikings had trouble getting to the quarterback last week. Hopefully the Browns study the game tape and duplicate their blocking techniques to keep their quarterback upright. Potentially getting back right guard Shawn Lauvao would certainly help the offensive line, but right tackle Mitch Schwartz has played poorly as well. If Joe Thomas walls off Allen regularly, I would not be surprised to see the home team move the defensive end to the other side to provide an easier path to the signal caller. The Browns will allow pressures and take a few sacks, but I see a steady improvement as well. When the pocket is clean, the offense must execute in all facets of the passing game. No matter how well the blockers play in rushing attempts, Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson will constantly be there to greet Trent Richardson.
Defense: This will be a great challenge for the defensive line of the visitors. Adrian Peterson remains one of the top backs in the NFL and is coming off a 100-yard game. If the offense can move the chains, the defense will actually get a rest and a have a good chance to slow down the University of Oklahoma product. Phil Taylor and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen have become one of the best nose tackle tandems in the league – I look forward to them winning the point of attack up the middle. That makes it imperative for Billy Winn and Desmond Bryant to plug holes on the edge. Peterson typically gets his better runs when he “bounces it outside”. If Rubin is held out of this contest, I think the ends will be fatigued and the opposition will break off a couple of nice runs around the corner. It will not be a monumental day, but one that will see at least one rushing touchdown.
The play of Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson really gives me faith that the middle of the defense can prevent long gains. The duo has been stout facing running backs but has been up-and-down against the pass. After scrutiny as a perceived “reach” in the NFL Draft, tight end Kyle Rudolph is one of the best in the league. Christian Ponder’s security blanket can catch and run in the open field, as well as be a primary touchdown target in the red zone. Another score for the former Notre Dame target should be expected on Sunday. The emergence of rookie Barkevious Mingo now gives the Browns four (assuming Quentin Groves is healthy) options at outside linebacker. Ray Horton must be salivating this week – Ponder is not an established signal caller and is susceptible to pressure. He does have a terrific ability to run, so if the Browns can not take him down, there must be another option nearby to finish the play.
Joe Haden will be lined up predominantly against veteran Greg Jennings; the former Packer is not anticipated to be the one to kill the defense. Jerome Simpson is a fast wide out that gets the opportunity to be covered by Buster Skrine or Chris Owens. One thing that gives me faith is that he is a smaller, quicker target. The cornerbacks should be able to keep up with Simpson, and they will not see a ball thrown where only the wide out has a chance at it. For once this year, I believe that the entire secondary will be able to limit the opponent. The wildcard is rookie Cordarrelle Patterson; he has only three catches in two games but is a first-round talent. Both safeties have been adequate but not great – there is no excuse for shoulder tackles, and the pair must wrap up runners and take them down. I want to see either Ward or Gipson have a breakout game in Minnesota and anticipate a Ponder interception coming their way.
Special Teams: For the first time this season, the Browns will be playing indoors. Although they are unaccustomed to this Spencer Lanning and Billy Cundiff should be unfazed – that being said, the Vikings have the edge in both the punting and kicking units (with Blair Walsh and Jeff Locke). The return games favor the home side as well; Patterson took a kickoff to the house last week. The only way the visitors can get an advantage is if Travis Benjamin can excel in returning punts. A close contest will doom the Browns, and they cannot let it come down to special teams.
Coaching: As stated, the Browns must put the offense in the best position to get yards. They do not have to throw it fifty times (nor down the field routinely) to succeed. Chud and Turner must get many guys involved, especially with Hoyer at the helm. We were promised aggression by the defense and it must be displayed at the Metrodome. Speed from the edge and power up the middle are what I want to see. The players now must make the plays – initiating contact early and not allowing broken tackles.
Prediction (My Record – 1 – 1): At the beginning of the season, this was a game I felt the Browns could win. With the quarterback situation up in the air, and the trade of Richardson, the odds are a little longer now. Considering their offense is in a little bit of a “funk” and the team has rarely wins when I attend, I’m going to pick the favorite. The Vikings win at home by the score of 24 – 10.