Saturday, September 21, 2013

Vikings vs. Browns Preview

Daniel House previews the Vikings home opener versus the Browns and explains how the Vikings need to play in order to pick up a much needed win at Mall of America Field.

Tomorrow the Vikings open the 2013 home campaign versus a reeling Cleveland Browns team that will be without their starting quarterback and star running back Trent Richardson, who was traded to the Colts this week. The Vikings are looking to rebound after two divisional losses to start the 2013 season. Mistakes, poor decisions, and  misguided coaching moves have led the Vikings to start the season 0-2. The Browns will enter Mall of America Field Sunday with an 0-2 record after posting two losses to the Miami Dolphins (23-10) and the Baltimore Ravens (14-6). In both games, the Browns have carried a lead into the half only to burst in the third and fourth quarters and watch the game slip out of their hands. As I discussed, the Browns will be without starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, who suffered a thumb sprain last week against the Ravens. Third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer jumped over backup Jason Campbell and will make the start on Sunday. Hoyer has one career start which came in the 2012 season with the Arizona Cardinals. Hoyer registered 19-for-34 passing for 225 yards, one touchdown and one interception, during a loss to the 49ers last year. The Browns defense has played very well and is ranked 4th against the run and 12th in passing. The Browns defense allowed Ravens running back Ray Rice to rush for just 36 yards last week. In addition, they have reached the quarterback six times in two games and have played very well as a defensive unit. So how do we defeat the adversary?

Let's Gameplan.....

Broadcast Information:
Television: CBS (Channel 4 in Minneapolis)
Kevin Harlan Analyst: Solomon Wilcots

KFAN-FM 100.3/KTCN-AM 1130

 Paul Allen   Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline Reporter: Greg Coleman/Ben Leber 
Pre-Game Show: Mike Mussman -10:00 a.m. CT

The History:

The Vikings and Browns will meet for the 15th time in the history of the franchises and for the 8th time in Minnesota. The Vikings hold a 11-3 all-time series advantage and have won all 4 previous meetings in Minnesota. The Vikings and Browns last met in a regular-season game during the 2005 season at the Metrodome, a 24-11 Vikings win. The Vikings topped Cleveland 27-7 on 1/4/70 to win the NFL title and advance to the 1st Super Bowl in team history against AFL winner Kansas City. The last time the Vikings met the Browns was in the 2009 season opener at Cleveland. Adrian Peterson set the Vikings opening-day record with 180 yards and 3 TDs in the game.

The Primary Focus:

Vikings fans have been yearning for consistency from Christian Ponder and he has yet to provide a sense of security for believers. He played well in the second half of last Sunday's game vs. Chicago, but the first stanza was full of miscues. Ponder may be developing more continuity with the receivers, potentially explaining his early struggles and late progression last week. Now that we are finally seeing moderate improvement, I want to see consistent play from Christian Ponder. Granted the offensive line played better in the second half, Ponder still made horrible decisions, such as a telegraphed interception from Tim Jennings in the first half last week. These types of miscues can cause momentum to shift and ultimately put a large strain on the defense. If Ponder is going to remain at the helm of this team, he needs to show that he can lead this team and be more than a game manager. Tomorrow is the perfect opportunity against a Browns team that has struggled in the early portion of the season.

On the Defensive:

The Vikings defense recorded two forced fumbles, two interceptions, and a defensive touchdown last week versus the Bears. Teams who capture the turnover ratio win 75% of the time, but that failed to prove true last week. The offense had a chance to win the game on 3rd and goal, but settled for a field goal; putting the defense in a difficult situation. These are the moments that dictate the game, but ultimately the defense should have never been dealt those cards. The linebacker corps have been very disappointing over the first two weeks and have resulted in many of the issues among the Vikings defense. Chad Greenway has been a step slow, Erin Henderson has been out of position, and Marvin Mitchell continues to miss tackles and trail behind running backs. This group was anticipated to play well by many, but have easily been the biggest issue among the Vikings defensive plans. Chris Cook needs to redeem himself this week and show that last week was a learning experience for him. The Vikings need Cook to lead this group and make plays in the secondary.

Special Teams Primer:

Jeff Locke has rebounded nicely from a poor outing in week one and played extremely well in difficult Solider Field weather conditions last week. He increased his average to 56.4 yards on just three punts and booted a long of 65 yards. In addition he plopped two balls inside the twenty and was extremely effective. Furthermore, the bigger concern for me this week is to see improvement from the kickoff coverage team. Last week, they allowed Devin Hester to set a franchise record for return yards with 249. The Vikings can't allow teams to start at the 40-yard line and cut the field in half for the opposing offense. Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer has indicated on multiple occasions that this issue was resolved and won't be a problem again.

The Injury Report:

NamePositionInjuryPractice StatusGame Status
T.J. WardSShoulderFull Participation in PracticeProbable
Ahtyba RubinDECalfLimited Participation in PracticeQuestionable
Desmond BryantDEWristFull Participation in PracticeProbable
Shawn LauvaoGAnkleLimited Participation in PracticeDoubtful
Quentin GrovesLBAnkleOut (Definitely Will Not Play)Out
Brandon WeedenQBRight ThumbOut (Definitely Will Not Play)Out
Josh CooperWRShinFull Participation in PracticeProbable
Kevin WilliamsDTKneeLimited Participation in PracticeProbable
Harrison SmithSShoulderFull Participation in PracticeProbable
Phil LoadholtTKneeFull Participation in PracticeProbable
Fred EvansDTShoulderFull Participation in PracticeProbable
John SullivanCKneeLimited Participation in PracticeProbable
Brandon FuscoGShoulderFull Participation in PracticeProbable
Mistral RaymondSShoulderFull Participation in PracticeProbable
Rhett EllisonTEKneeDid Not Participate In PracticeOut
Erin HendersonLBHeelFull Participation in PracticeProbable
Greg JenningsWR--Did Not Participate In Practice--

The Browns will be without starting quarterback Brandon Weeden (thumb) and linebacker Quentin Groves (ankle) will miss the game. The rest of the injury report is rather nondescript and is a mirage.

From a Vikings standpoint, they will be without fullback Rhett Ellison this week, which means Zach Line has a week audition to prove he deserves a spot on the roster, when Jerome Felton returns next week. All indications point to the rest of the players on the report being ready for tomorrow's game versus Cleveland.

The Final Keys to Victory:

As I discussed, quarterback consistency, offensive line play, continued ability to create turnovers, improved linebacker play, and kick coverage work, will all need to improve this week. The Vikings are at home this week; where they posted a 7-1 record last season. It is important for this team to rebound against a reeling Cleveland team without their starting quarterback and star running back Trent Richardson, who was traded to the Colts this week. One thing is certain, the Vikings need a win to boost their confidence and get back on track before heading to London next week to play the Steelers.

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