Browns vs. Vikings: Takeaways from Cleveland's 31-27 Win at Minnesota
Head coach Rob Chudzinski rode the back of third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer to his first victory as a head coach. The Browns were exciting, unpredictable and even looked relevant.
The defense gave up a season-high 27 points but kept Adrian Peterson in check for most of the afternoon. On offense, wide receiver Josh Gordon continued his ascension toward the top tier of the league after returning from his two-game suspension.
Here are some takeaways from the Browns’ first victory of 2013.
Rob Chudzinski Isn’t Throwing in the Towel
While Cleveland's front office may be looking to the future, Chudzinski is trying to win right now. He pulled out all the stops against the Vikings, including calling for not one but two fakes on special teams.
Both trick plays worked to perfection as a fake punt got the Browns a first down and a fake field goal got them a touchdown.
He was wrong.
It actually seemed to energize the team and coaching staff. They played with a chip on their shoulders and attitude we had not seen this season.
Rob Chudzinski Can Handle Adversity as a Coach
I was extremely impressed with the way Chudzinski handled everything in the week leading up to the game against the Vikings. He was calm, collected and kept the team prepared amidst rare and turbulent circumstances.
When the entire world questioned the trade of running back Richardson, Chudzinksi made sure his team stayed focused. When the media took him to task for jumping Jason Campbell on the depth chart and starting Brian Hoyer at quarterback, he made sure the game plan fit Hoyer’s skill set.
Most importantly, when players were privately questioning the team’s desire to win now, he installed plays that energized his roster and made them believers again.
All his hard work and focus paid off in his first NFL victory as a head coach. If he continues to coach in this manner, there will be many more victories ahead.
Brian Hoyer Is a Gamer
Anyone who saw Hoyer during training camp could question the intention and possibly the sanity of the Browns for starting him against the Vikings.
Throughout training camp he struggled mightily and could not seize the backup quarterback job that the team seemed to be trying to hand him. He was wildly inconsistent and could not make the throws necessary in Norv Turner’s downfield passing offense.
He was also not in a real game.
Hoyer seems to be one of those players who needs the bright lights against real competition to shine. He was 30-of-54 for 321 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. All of that is secondary to his game-winning touchdown drive with just over three minutes remaining in the contest.
He did not waiver under pressure or adversity and proved he belongs on the field on Sundays.
Josh Gordon Allows Turner to Open Up the Offense
It didn’t take Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner long to utilize his new toy. Wide receiver Josh Gordon, who returned from a two-game suspension, was targeted 19 times in the passing game and carried the football once.
He finished with 10 catches for 146 yards and one touchdown as well as one rush for 22 yards. At one point in the first half, Gordon had 104 of the team’s 127 total yards.
There is no denying Gordon’s talent on the field. The question about him is off the field.
Any trade short of an early first-round pick for Gordon would be a huge mistake by the Browns front office.
Greg Little Has Lost the Trust of His QBs and Front Office
After leading the team with 22 targets but producing just three receptions in the first two weeks, Little was a nonfactor Sunday. He had just three receptions for 19 yards and didn’t seem to be a huge part of the game plan.
After yet another traffic violation and getting benched for Davone Bess, reports surfaced Sunday that the Browns were fielding offers for the third-year wide receiver, via Schefter.
I’m not sure what the Browns could get for him, if anything at this point. He seems to be a failed experiment on the field and nuisance off of it.
With or Without Richardson the Run Game Will Struggle
Last week, I illustrated some of the issues the Browns were having blocking for the run. This week, they had different running backs with the exact same result.
In fact, the team was led in rushing by backup safety Josh Aubrey who scampered 34 yards on a fake punt. That should illustrate just how dismal Cleveland's running back situation is right now.
Willis McGahee, who was signed midweek, led the team with eight rushes but managed to gain just nine yards. If you take away the fake punt and Josh Gordon’s one rush, the Browns rushed for just 47 yards on 15 carries.
That’s not good.
The Browns Front Seven Is Among the Best in the League
Peterson rushed for 28 yards and a touchdown on the first drive of the game. He gained just 60 yards the rest of the way.
This was a huge test for the Browns defense that entered the game ranked fifth in the NFL. While it allowed 27 points, 10 of those were on Browns turnovers that gave Minnesota a short field. It also created three turnovers of its own.
The unit once again rattled the opposing quarterback, sacking Christian Ponder six times and knocking him around all game long. It also logged five tackles for loss.
The Browns now have 12 sacks on the season which will land them among the league leaders when Week 3 is completed.
Buster Skrine Is Quietly Having a Good Year
Cleveland’s favorite punching bag isn’t giving the doubters much ammo this year. Buster Skrine is quietly having a very solid season across from Joe Haden.
He had two deflected passes on Sunday, both in the end zone, and at least three other plays where he had blanket coverage.
Fans have an unrealistic expectation that the second cornerback needs to be elite, but that just isn’t a reality in the NFL. Skrine is proving that when the defensive front can provide pressure, he is more than capable of handling the second cornerback duties.
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