Why the Minnesota Vikings Have No Reason to Panic Heading into Week 3

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Why the Minnesota Vikings Have No Reason to Panic Heading into Week 3
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After suffering a deflating loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 2, the Minnesota Vikings are back home with an 0-2 record against divisional foes on the road.

It would be easy to overreact and call for starting quarterback Christian Ponder to be benched, coaches to be fired and a complete overhaul at other key positions.

Few players received the ire of fans more than cornerback Chris Cook following Jay Cutler's game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Martellus Bennett with 10 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's game.

Take a deep breath. There's light at the end of this tunnel.

The coaching staff and players have acknowledged the breakdowns on both offense and defense. Teams learn from their mistakes and move forward throughout the season.

When the Vikings host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Mall of America Field, there should be no reason to panic.

The news broke on Wednesday that Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer will be the starter in place of Brandon Weeden, who suffered a thumb injury the previous week.

While a starting quarterback landing on the bench generally translates to a huge advantage for opponents, Hoyer may give the Browns a much-needed spark in place of the struggling Weeden—healthy or not.

The bigger news on Wednesday for the Browns broke later in the evening, when it was reported that running back Trent Richardson was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for their 2014 first-round draft pick, via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:

The Vikings and Browns were connected in the 2012 draft. Cleveland traded up one spot from No. 4 to No. 3 to grab Richardson and consequently sent three additional picks to Minnesota.

It's quite the coincidence that Richardson was traded just prior to facing the same team that seemingly fleeced the front office in Cleveland. After all, the Vikings still drafted the player they were targeting in offensive tackle Matt Kalil.

The new regime for the Browns has continued a major overhaul of players drafted over the past few years.

For the Vikings, a home game against a team facing serious identity issues and looking to rebuild for future years could not come at a better time.

While the statistic sill rings true that no team since 2009 has started the season 0-2 and made the playoffs, the Vikings are in good company looking back to 2008.

That season, three teams lost their first two games and rebounded to make the postseason—the Miami Dolphins (11-5), Minnesota Vikings (10-6) and San Diego Chargers (8-8).

The 2013 Vikings are set up well to bounce back from their early-season setbacks and make a midseason push for playoff contention. Minnesota's schedule late in the season will test the club, but if it can close out a performance or two on the road, the Vikings could flip this season around.

On offense, the Vikings are still anchored by the best running back in football, Adrian Peterson. Through two games, the reigning MVP has racked up 193 rushing yards, which is currently third in the NFL behind Doug Martin (209) and LeSean McCoy (237).

While Ponder has struggled mightily in his first two games, throwing four interceptions compared with none at this point a year ago, his second-half performance in Chicago was gritty and should have been good enough to pull out a much-needed road win.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

That's not to say there isn't room for improvement. An overthrow to Kyle Rudolph on 2nd-and-goal would have resulted in a touchdown on the Vikings' final drive, most likely icing the game for Minnesota. But Ponder was accurate up to that point, completing a 22-yard pass to Greg Jennings to set things up.

Ponder and Jennings appear to be starting to click on offense, an encouraging sign for the former Green Bay Packers' veteran who the Vikings signed to be their No. 1 wide receiver.

On defense, the clear standout up to this point has been safety Harrison Smith. As other players such as converted middle linebacker Erin Henderson and rookie Xavier Rhodes have adjusted to their roles in Minnesota's defense, Smith continues to develop as a leader in the Vikings' secondary.

He recorded his first interception of the season in Week 2 against Cutler on a pass intended for Brandon Marshall. Smith should make an impact again this week against the Browns, a team that ranks 22nd in passing yardage.

One other highlight from the loss to the Bears to build upon for the rest of the season came from rookie Cordarrelle Patterson on a 105-yard kickoff return. The former Tennessee Volunteers' standout receiver demonstrated why he was worth trading back up into the first round of the NFL draft.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

With such explosiveness when the ball reaches his hands, Patterson should also see more playing time as a receiver. Through two games, he has only played 11 snaps—five in Detroit and six in Chicago. Head coach Leslie Frazier was clear on Monday that this setup will change, via Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

We're going to get that rectified. He definitely deserves to be on the field more. He's shown that in the few snaps he's gotten in these first two ball games.

Frazier likely means he will be having a serious discussion with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and his play selections. The game against Cleveland will be another test to see how much more hands-on Frazier will need to be with the offense.

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When the cannon smoke finally clears at Mall of America Field on Sunday, the Vikings should have a record of 1-2, as they prepare to head to London to play the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team also struggling with an 0-2 record.

The London game will lead Minnesota into a bye week followed by a home game against the Carolina Panthers. After two very difficult division games on the road, the Vikings have an opportunity to rebound to a 3-2 record over their next stretch of games.

But for now, the team's attention is squarely on the Cleveland Browns, a third-string quarterback and a game plan to address the void left by Richardson's departure. The 0-2 Vikings have no reason to panic at this stage of the season, something the Browns apparently considered differently after the first two weeks.

 

Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for the Minnesota Vikings. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.

 

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