The Minnesota Vikings finally get a break in the schedule, and the outcome of their Week 3 matchup with the Cleveland Browns will either salvage a slow start to the season or make for an incredibly long one.
This was supposed to be one of those games where something has to give and one team finally gets to win a game. Now that the Browns have decided to throw in the towel—and play for the right to draft Johnny Football—if the Vikings lose this game, we might as well implode the Metrodome on Monday.
First the Browns lost their starting quarterback, Brandon Weeden, to a thumb injury. Instead of going with backup Jason Campbell—who brings eight years of experience, an 78-71 record and a career passer rating of 82.4—they are going to start Brian Hoyer, who has been third on the depth chart.
Then they traded second-year running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts, via Adam Schefter of ESPN. Richardson finished third among rookies last season with 950 rushing yards, averaging only 63.3 yards per game. He also led the Browns with 12 touchdowns last season.
Perhaps the Vikings should think about playing with one less defensive lineman and add another cornerback—that just might even things up a little.
After their one-point loss to the Chicago Bears, the Vikings should feel pretty good about their chances in their home opener. While past performances have no bearing on future outcomes, it's still a good sign that the Vikings have dominated this series with Cleveland. They have won 11 of 14 meetings between the two teams since they first played in 1965 and are 8-1 when hosting the Browns.
Still, this is a scary game. It's one of those games that a team might take for granted and start looking past in anticipation of its Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in London.
While both teams are 0-2, they got there via different routes. The Vikings have lost their two games with poor defense, giving up an average of 33 points per game.
The Browns have struggled on offense, scoring only 16 points total in their two losses.
Their defense, however, has been a lot better yielding an average of 18 points per game. It will be interesting to see what side of the field struggles on Sunday.
Here's a look at what the Vikings need to game-plan for in this Week 3 matchup against the Browns.
When the Vikings Have the Ball...
Normally this would be a simple call—line up, snap the ball, give it to Adrian Peterson and repeat. However, Peterson has struggled to get on track this season averaging only 96.5 yards per game—right, only. For any other player not named Peterson this might be a very good average, considering it projects to 1,544 yards in the season.
As well, the Browns defense has been very stingy giving up running yards. It has yielded an average of 59.5 rushing yards per game—of course that is skewed badly by giving up only 20 yards to the Miami Dolphins in Week 1.
Peterson didn't hit full speed last season until the fourth week. That was when he first surpassed the 100-yard mark in a game. Like last season, he did not run the ball at all during the preseason, but this year he is completely healthy.
Look for his breakout game to come a little earlier this year. The game is on the fast surface of Mall of America Field, and the Browns have not faced the likes of Peterson yet this year.
The key is to not give up on Peterson—as the games wears on he gets stronger as the defense gets weaker. Peterson should have a nice blend of his first two games, with a good chunk of yardage and a couple of touchdowns.
Interestingly enough, the Vikings have averaged 226 passing yards per game and the Browns have given up 226 passing yards per game. So, of course, that means the Vikings should end up with 226 passing yards—expect more than that.
On Wednesday, in a report from Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN, head coach Leslie Frazier indicated that the Vikings need to "rectify" the lack of playing time for rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. If that happens, it could provide a boost to the passing game.
In the first two games, Ponder has had a different favorite receiver. Against the Detroit Lions it was Jerome Simpson with seven catches for 140 yards. In Week 2 against the Bears, Greg Jennings caught five balls for 84 yards—three of them converting third downs and gaining 62 yards.
Ponder showed good pocket presence in the second half of the Bears game when he led the team to three long scoring drives. With Peterson in the backfield the Vikings should use the play-action pass to keep the Cleveland defense off balance.
The Vikings should also run more out of a three-wide receiver formation than they have. It spreads out the defense, preventing them from putting more defenders in the box to stop the run. If the Browns focus on stopping the run, it could open up the passing game for Jennings, Patterson and Simpson.
One advantage with this formation is it spreads the defense out and prevents a team from putting eight, nine or 10 defenders right up on the line of scrimmage to stop the run.
When the Browns Have the Ball...
This one is almost as simple as giving Peterson the ball on offense—without their starting quarterback, and after trading their leading rusher, the Minnesota defense just needs to walk on the field.
All right, that might be an exaggeration. After all, this is the NFL, and on any given Sunday...
OK, forget that—just turn Jared Allen, Brian Robison and the rest of the defensive line loose on the pass rush. In the first two games, the Browns have given up 11 sacks. This should give a shot in the arm for the Vikings defense that only has one sack on the season.
The Browns offense is ranked 31st in points and 28th in overall yards—and that was with its No. 1 quarterback and its top running back. This game is exactly what the the Vikings defense needs to boost its poor statistical ranking through the first two weeks. It's currently ranked 30th in points allowed and 28th in yards allowed.
Look for the Vikings defense to have its ears pinned back all day long looking to pad the sack numbers.
Even with Richardson in the first two games, the Browns offense only averaged 56 yards per game. If the Browns have any type of running game, it will be surprising.
There is no way the Vikings should lose this game if they play anywhere close to how they have in their first two weeks. Of course, there was no way the Vikings could win in Chicago—and they came within 10 seconds of doing that.
That's why they play the games.