NFL Preview - Cleveland (0-2) at Minnesota (0-2)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It figures to be a bit of a "Desperation Bowl" in the Land
of 10,000 Lakes this week when the 0-2 Cleveland Browns face off with the
wildly disappointing and winless Minnesota Vikings
The Browns will welcome speedy wide receiver Josh Gordon back from suspension
but will be without starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, who injured the thumb
on his throwing hand in the team's 14-6 loss at Baltimore in Week 2, and
running back Trent Richardson, who was dealt in a surprise blockbuster trade
with the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski has already named Brian Hoyer, who leapfrogged
Campbell on the depth chart, the starter at QB in Minneapolis.
Richardson, meanwhile, was selected by the Browns in the 2012 draft and was
viewed as the centerpiece of a rebuilding process for a team that has not made
the playoffs since 2002.
But, that thought process came from the old regime in Cleveland not
Chudzinski, CEO Joe Banner or first-year general manager Mike Lombardi.
Richardson did have injury issues in a rookie campaign that saw him total
1,317 yards and 12 touchdowns and he has struggled out of the gate this year
with just 105 rushing yards in the first two games.
"Trent's a great player and we expect him to have success in this league,"
said Banner. "Right now, based on how we're building this team for sustainable
success, we're going to be aggressive and do what it takes to assemble a team
that consistently wins."
The Browns are expected to bring in veteran free agent Willis McGahee to fill
their vacant starting running back spot. The 31-year-old McGahee ran for 731
yards with the Broncos last year. Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey are also
available in the backfield.
Campbell took over for Weeden on Cleveland's final possession against the
Ravens in Week 2 and threw three incompletions in a row. His fourth pass, an
underhand scoop, left Jordan Cameron well short of a first down.
Reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, just hours after his wife gave birth to
the couple's second child, passed for 211 yards and a touchdown against
Cleveland while moving to 11-0 all-time as a starter against the Browns.
"He came up big. That's the player he's shown he is," said Chudzinski.
The Ravens scored 14 unanswered points in the second half on Bernard Pierce's
5-yard touchdown run and Marlon Brown's 5-yard catch to secure the victory.
Weeden threw for 227 yards for the Browns before being injured.
Things aren't going much better for the Vikings, who have been one of the
NFL's worst teams in the early going due to the continued poor play from
quarterback Christian Ponder as well as an extremely porous pass defense.
Martellus Bennett's touchdown catch with 10 seconds to play gave the Chicago
Bears a 31-30 win over Minnesota on a rainy day at Soldier Field last week.
Jay Cutler was picked off twice and lost a fumble, but finished the game 28-
for-39 with 290 yards and three touchdowns for the Bears.
Adrian Peterson rushed for 100 yards on 26 carries, while Ponder went 16-
for-30 for 227 yards, one touchdown and one pick-six for the Vikings, who
have lost two straight division games to open the season after falling in
Detroit last week.
"This was a very difficult loss because I thought our guys played extremely
hard," said Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier. "We just constantly battled
in a tough place to play on the road. I told the players and staff after the
game that I don't think I could have asked for better preparation and better
Chicago began the game-winning drive at its own 34 trailing by six with 3:15
On 3rd-and-4, Cutler got the ball to Brandon Marshall for a 12-yard gain, and
the two got together for a 10-yard catch on 3rd-and-1 to again move the
Facing a 1st-and-20 after a holding call, Bennett caught a pass for 23 yards
to get the ball to the 16. After a spike and an incompletion, Cutler sent a
pass to the left and Bennett reached out for it before crossing the goal line
inside the left pylon. The extra-point was good and it was a 31-30 game with
10 seconds left.
A squib kick on the ensuing kickoff was fumbled by Minnesota's John Carlson,
with Chicago recovering and Cutler taking a knee to run out the clock.
The Vikings hold a 11-3-0 advantage over the Browns in the all-time series
between the two franchises. The last time Minnesota and Cleveland met was on
Sept. 13, 2009, a 30-20 Vikings victory.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Hoyer played in two games (one start) with the Cardinals last season, passing
for 330 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He's clearly not an NFL-
ready quarterback at this stage but the Browns may be able to use "Joe Schmo"
against a Vikings defense allowing 440 yards per game (28th in the NFL) and
32.5 points (30th).
Minnesota's reliance on the antiquated cover-2 as its base defense is really
starting to be exploited in a league skewed toward offense. Rule changes and
increased emphasis on flagging big hits in the secondary have made "playing
coverage" in the NFL a non-starter but Frazier seems years behind the curve on
On paper the Vikings have two very good pass rushing ends in Jared Allen and
Brian Robison along with plenty of talent in the back seven. Harrison Smith
was a Pro Bowl-level safety as a rookie in 2012, and cornerbacks Chris Cook,
Josh Robinson and first-round draft pick Xavier Rhodes have the talent and
athleticism to excel in a more aggressive scheme.
"When you look at numbers, you have to sometimes look behind the numbers,"
Frazier said. "When you look at (Sunday's) situation, when it comes to points,
and you never want to make excuses, but there are some factors that go into
some of those numbers that you have to look at beyond just the raw data. Our
defense, they're doing some good things. I really believe they're headed in
the right direction. From my perspective, I have to be able to see the bigger
picture and sometimes numbers can lie."
Refusing to admit you have a problem is hardly the way to go about solving it.
The biggest issue in pass coverage has been the zone drops from the nickel
linebackers. It seems like Chad Greenway has lost a step and middle linebacker
Erin Henderson doesn't have the natural instincts a cover-2 linebacker needs
when in the zone so Minnesota has been exploited again and again by both
Reggie Bush and Matt
Forte on underneath stuff, passes in the flat and screens.
Right now Frazier is pounding the square peg in the round hold and even his
effective players are starting to lose confidence as they watch the opposition
move up and down the field with relative ease.
It's a shame for Cleveland that Weeden got hurt because this is the kind of a
game which could have buoyed his confidence moving forward, an almost
guaranteed 300-yard effort for a second-year player trying to find his way.
Hoyer will make a few plays downfield but the consistency probably won't be
Offensively things may be even worse for the Vikings, who have inexplicably
married themselves to a QB who simply can't play at the NFL level.
At some point this season you may see the first 11-man front in defensive
football history as teams devise ways to stop Adrian Peterson with nary a
worry over Ponder's ability to beat them with a downfield throw.
A mechanical mess, Ponder is still staring down receivers like a raw rookie 28
starts into his NFL career. He continues to slide out of the pocket at the
first sign of trouble instead of stepping up into it and he needs receivers
to run virtually perfect routes, otherwise he's always a threat to throw a
pick-six as he did against Chicago when Jerome Simpson ran a poor pattern.
Despite all of that Frazier and general manager Rock Spielman fall on their
swords week after week defending Ponder, hoping against hope that the light
will finally go on for the Florida State product.
Instead of pointing at the obvious problem Frazier even threw his offensive
coordinator Bill Musgrave under the bus a bit this week for not playing
"We're going to get that rectified," Frazier said. "(Patterson) definitely
deserves to be on the field more. He's shown that in the few snaps he's gotten
in the first two ball games. Hopefully, everything being equal, that should
not be a part of the conversation next week. We want to get him on the field."
Problem is the explosive rookie receiver isn't a very skilled route runner at
this stage. So, when playing him Musgrave is more jittery than a cat in a room
filled with rocking chairs, taking the cautious approach to everything in an
attempt to limit Ponder's game-changing mistakes.
And Musgrave's concerns are more than valid. He's already scaled things back
to the point that the Vikings offense is more conservative than Jerry Falwell
yet Ponder continues to give it away like he's Heidi Fleiss.
The one unit in this contest heading in a positive direction is the Browns'
3-4 attacking defense under coordinator Ray Horton, who is everything Frazier
The Browns allowed just 0.9 yards per rush in Week 1 against the Dolphins, and
sacked Ryan Tannehill four times. Against the Ravens Cleveland gave up 2.8
yards per rush and got to Flacco twice.
The front seven has a chance to be special with nose tackle Phil Taylor
anchoring things between free agent acquisition Desmond Bryant, a good 5-
technique rusher, and Ahtyba Rubin, who is stout against the run. First-round
pick Barkevious Mingo is back and teams with Paul Kruger on the edges while
veteran D'Qwell Jackson is rock solid at inside linebacker.
If the Vikings can't find a way to win their home opener against a team taking
an NBA-tanking approach, it's time to raise the white flag and start thinking
about Teddy Bridgewater or Jadeveon Clowney come April.
In fact this one comes down to the fact that Cleveland is actively trying to
put itself in a position to get one of college football's top stars by
inserting its third option at QB and giving Minnesota plenty of notice he
would be under center, while also trading what was supposed to be its
offensive bell cow in the middle of the week.
All that said, it still won't be all that easy for Ponder and Co.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 27, Browns 20
09/19 13:19:31 ET