#1 - It All Starts With Adrian Peterson: The Vikings could be terrible at every other position on offense, but because they have Adrian Peterson at running back, they have a chance to win on any given Sunday. I don't think anyone will question just how good Peterson is -- he is, by far, the best running back in the game today. Fortunately for Cleveland, their run defense has looked pretty stout this year. Peterson is the type of back who can overcome a tough run defense on his own, though, even if just one defender slips up or misses a tackle on any given play.
I guess you could say that Peterson hasn't started the 2013 season off as hot as he was in 2013. Through two games, he is averaging about 97 yards rushing per game on a 4.4 yards per carry average. Last year, he miraculous averaged 131 yards rushing per game on a 6.0 yards per carry average. That is incredible. The dropoff could be indicative of the lack of talent around Peterson this year, but either way, with those numbers, you have to key in on him every snap he is in the game. Still, Peterson is aware of and acknowledged his "lesser" production:
I was worried about the things that I left out there on the field and how much better I could've performed," Peterson said. " ... I was just able to confirm that I was hesitant on some (runs). Even though I didn't realize it when I was out there, I could see on film that I was trying to do too much instead of taking what the defense gave me."
That article also says that per ESPN, "an NFL-leading 18 of his 44 runs have come with eight defenders in the box." Peterson has only faced the Browns once in his career, and that came during Week 1 of the 2009 season. How did he do? Oh, not much -- just 180 yards on 7.2 yards per carry and 3 touchdowns.
#2 - Fallout From Trading Percy Harvin: The Browns may have traded Trent Richardson for a first-round pick, but the blockbuster offensive deal prior to that came back in March when the Vikings dealt wide receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks for a first-round pick. The circumstances are obviously different -- Harvin was seeking a big-time contract, and the Vikings felt they needed too many other pieces -- but it did force them to hit the reset button at the wide receiver position.
The Vikings signed former Packers receiver Greg Jennings in the offseason, and they started playing the sometimes-explosive Jerome Simpson part-way through last season after he served a suspension. They took wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson with the 29th overall pick, their third first-round pick of the draft. Patterson has hardly played over the first two games, but is expected to see his workload increase a bit this week. Tight end Kyle Rudolph has also shown some potential in the past.
On paper, this unit is not too bad. In fact, I would say that the level of experience and talent at the receiving position is better than what the Browns faced against the Dolphins and Ravens. The difference is the incompetence of quarterback Christian Ponder, who seems to be a detriment to the offense. And, while Harvin could be an elite game-changed, the current receivers don't share that same quality.
#3 - Missing Antoine Winfield: I was trying to figure out what was wrong with the Vikings' defense this season, particularly the secondary, and Eric Thompson from Daily Norseman reminded me: Antoine Winfield is gone! Although his career didn't begin in Minnesota, he was there from 2004-2012 and was clearly endeared by the fan base. To a lesser degree, maybe you could compare him to Daylon McCutcheon and his status with the team back in the day. The Vikings parted ways with him this offseason, though, and after the Seahawks released him before the start of the season, Winfield seemed to indicate that he would retire.
The Vikings addressed the cornerback position by drafting cornerback Xavier Rhodes with one of their first-round picks. Last year, they took safety Harrison Smith in the first round, and he has been a solid, hard-hitting player thus far. Those are two core players the Vikings can rely on for years to come. The rest of the secondary isn't special, though, which sounds a little similar to Cleveland's situation. The Vikings rank 26th in pass defense through two games. Not being able to stop the run or get pressure on the opposing quarterback hasn't helped the secondary. It's also worth noting that last week, Bears tight end Martellus Bennett caught 7 passes for 76 yards and 2 touchdowns.
#4 - Dodging the Pass Rush? Given the Browns' pass protection issues, they need to be weary about pressure from any team. However, the Vikings have only given recorded one sack so far, and a rather mediocre six quarterback hits. Jared Allen is a pass-rushing threat, but continues to get up there in years and will likely be going up against Joe Thomas. The Vikings have Everson Griffin and Brian Robison as their other defensive ends, but neither guy is comparable to what Mitchell Schwartz had to go up against for the first two weeks of the season.
The key weakness on the Vikings' defense is between the tackles -- defensive tackle and inside linebacker. Although Kevin Williams is back, the level of impact he'll have in his second game remains to be seen. The Vikings' other first-round pick, Sharrif Floyd, is coming back from an injury and is seeing very few reps at this time. One interesting thing to note about the Vikings' defense so far is how much yardage they have given up to opposing running backs as receivers through two games:
Joique Bell: 5 catches, 67 yards.
Reggie Bush: 4 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD.
Matt Forte: 10 catches, 73 yards.
Obviously, the Vikings haven't covered running backs very well out of the backfield. The Browns just traded a good receiving back in Richardson, and Willis McGahee typically doesn't catch a lot of passes. I would be surprised to see Chris Ogbonnaya get a lot of dumpoff work this week.
#5 - Special Teams Overview: The Vikings appear to have one of the league's great young kickers in Blair Walsh, who is already off to a 4-of-4 start this year. He'll have no issues kicking in that dome. Minnesota features rookie fifth-round pick Jeff Locke as their punter, who statistically has been an average- to middle-of-the-road punter so far, compared to the first two weeks of the season, when the Browns faced two of the top punters in the NFL.
Cordarrelle Patterson is the Vikings' kick returner this year, and he returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown last week. Billy Cundiff's leg should be able to get the ball out of the end zone all game long to keep the ball out of his hands. Their punt returner is Marcus Sherels, a gig he's had since 2011. He has been one of the lower-ranked punt returners in terms of return average.