This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns will take on the for their first game after the epic dealing of running back Trent Richardson. Many people feel the Browns will fall flat, but the defense should still hang tough, Josh Gordon is coming back, and we're facing an 0-2 team. Let's not write Cleveland off yet.
Anyway, to help preview this week's game, I reached out to Eric Thompson from Daily Norseman and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: "Browns fans haven't had much to cheer about in the way of quarterbacks, but my perception is that Christian Ponder is not the answer for the Vikings at quarterback either. Is that how the Vikings fan base feels, or is there still some faith in him?"
Eric: "Before the season started I did a Q&A with Niners Nation. When they asked me about Ponder, I said there were three main camps for Vikings fans: 1) those who have faith that Ponder will improve into the quarterback of the future, 2) those who are completely out on Ponder, and 3) those that know he needs to improve but are reserving their final judgement for now. After an 0-2 start, it's really difficult to find anyone who's still in that first group. The second group is growing exponentially.
Personally, I'm still in the third group -- for at least a couple more weeks. I think Ponder has the skills and personnel necessary to succeed this year. I also realize that he needs to be MUCH more consistent and mature as a decision maker to remain the starter. In my mind this season is make-or-break one for Ponder. If he doesn't produce better results in the next month or so, I think the Vikings' quarterback situation will once again be broken."
Chris: "Although he does have a kick return for a touchdown, first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson only has 3 catches through two games. Is this a byproduct of little playing time, a bad quarterback situation, or him just getting off to a slow start to his NFL career?"
Eric: "There's 'little' playing time and then there's 'barely any' playing time. Patterson has played a grand total of eleven offensive snaps through two games. Even Joe Webb has seen two more snaps than the dynamic rookie. He only has three catches because he only has three targets. I wouldn't say he got off to a slow start because he hasn't really got off to any start yet.
The Vikings coaching staff has promised the media that Patterson will see more action outside of kick returns this week. Then again, they were also singing that tune before the Bears game. The team's 0-2 start, combined with Patterson's very promising preseason performance, have dictated that the coaches give the rookie more reps against the Browns. If not, they'll face the torches and pitchforks from the Vikings faithful."
Chris: "What in the world has happened to the Vikings' defense? It seems like they've been shredded the first two weeks of the season, and aren't getting very much pressure. Besides Kevin Williams missing Week 1, do you have an explanation for the defensive issues? Is Sharrif Floyd not starting because he's still recovering from a knee injury?"
Eric: "I wouldn't say the departure of veteran cornerback Antione Winfield has hurt the defense, but...PLEASE ANTOINE! COME BACK! DON'T RETIRE! WE STILL NEED YOU!! THE SECONDARY IS AWFUL WITHOUT YOU!
In all seriousness, the secondary hasn't been the only scapegoat for the Vikings D. Rookie Xavier Rhodes has fared pretty well lining up against some of the very best the NFL has to offer (Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall). Harrison Smith is all over the field just like he was in his rookie campaign last year. The rest of the secondary has been mediocre, but not outright awful.
It definitely isn't the fault of Minesota's defensive ends. Believe it or not, the Vikings are actually getting plenty of pressure from their outside rushers. Jared Allen, Brian Robison, and Everson Griffen haven't racked up a ton of sacks but they're getting in the backfield very frequently through the first two games.
The interior D-line is another story. They definitely missed Williams in Week 1. Fred Evans and Letroy Guion are definitely a step below the 5-time All-Pro. It looks like Floyd is still working back from his knee injury -- he hasn't made any explosive plays during the regular season like he did before getting hurt. He'll probably be a rotational guy until he's 100% and earns his way to the top of the depth chart. I would bet that it happens sooner rather than later.
I believe that most of the defensive woes the Vikings have started are at linebacker. Erin Henderson is starting at MLB for the first time in his career and has looked lost on a lot of plays. His indecisiveness has caused the usually-dependable Chad Greenway to be a step late on a lot of runs and in pass coverage. (Or it could be that Greenway simply got a lot slower this year. Either way, it isn't good.) Marvin Mitchell is 'Just Another Guy' at this point in his career. Much like Patterson, fans have been clamoring for free agent pickup Desmond Bishop, to no avail. Bishop fought through injuries throughout the preseason but claims he's good to go. Hopefully he'll show why the Vikings signed him if he gets more than two snaps this week.
The Vikings need to improve on defense, especially up the middle, if they hope to turn around their slow start."
Chris: "The Vikings have lost two tight division games, which has to sting. What were the expectations for Vikings fans heading into the season, and has that expectation changed due to the 0-2 start?"
Eric: "The 0-2 start obviously doesn't help expectations, but all hope isn't quite lost yet. Before the season, Vikings fans' expectations were all over the map. Some thought they would take the next step and contend in the NFC, while others thought that Ponder would run the squad into the ground. (Guess which camp is currently much more vocal on Daily Norseman?)
I'm a Vikings homer through and through, but I thought the Vikes would have a tough time sneaking back into the postseason before they dropped their first two games. Their schedule looks a lot tougher this year, especially the last half of the season. (Six of the Vikings' last ten games are against 2012 playoff teams; four of those six games are on the road. Then again, with NFL parity, that fact could mean nothing this year.) Personally, I wouldn't be all that surprised with any record between 5-11 and 10-6. As of right now, I think an up-and-down 7-9 season is in the Vikings' future. I hope I'm just as wrong as I was last year when I pegged the Vikings to go 6-10."
Chris: "Tell us about a player on the Vikings who Browns fans might not be aware of but could play a big role in Sunday's game."
Eric: "Are you guys aware of the aforementioned Harrison Smith? Maybe, but since the Browns are an AFC team, I'll just go with it and assume some of your fans aren't familiar with him yet. The second-year safety is a real bright spot in an otherwise-dreary Vikings secondary.
Browns fans will likely notice him because he always seems to be sprinting towards the ball with a full head of steam. He already has four interceptions in his young NFL career, but the biggest strength of his game is probably his hitting. Smith is an absolute thumper who has a knack for making big hits at crucial times in the game. If you haven't seen much of Smith yet, keep an eye on him Sunday. I can guarantee you'll have fun doing it."
Thanks again to Eric for taking the time to answer my questions. You can read my answers to Eric's questions here.