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Game Review: Browns Dig In To Bag of Tricks in 31-27 Victory Over Vikings

Chris Pokorny breaks down the Cleveland Browns' 31-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, including the play of QB Brian Hoyer.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
The Cleveland Browns triumphed in their 31-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, thanks to some clutch play in all three facets of the game -- offense, defense, and special teams. They reached in to their back of tricks to show, "we're not mailing this season in." Let's get to my complete game review.

Cleveland Browns vs. Minnesota Vikings

1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL


  1. Awarding the Game Ball: QB Brian Hoyer - There were a lot of people worthy of a game ball this week -- WR Josh Gordon, TE Jordan Cameron, P Spencer Lanning, OLB Jabaal Sheard, and a couple of other defenders -- but it seemed fitting to settle on Hoyer.

    Hoyer brought a much quicker delivery to the table than Brandon Weeden did, and while I do think the protection itself was better in Week 3, part of that has to be attributed with Hoyer letting it loose sooner. To lead a game-winning drive for Cleveland is almost unheard of these days, and Hoyer never looked flustered.

  2. Goat of the Game: WR Travis Benjamin - The Browns had all of the momentum late in the second quarter. The Browns had just pulled off a fake field goal to go up 24-14, and the defense forced an immediate three-and-out to give the ball right back to the red-hot offense...or so they thought.

    This is a dome, so there is no excuse for misjudging the punt. Benjamin had plenty of time to get under this -- it's not like he was racing backward the entire time because he was playing close up. He flat out misjudged it, and then retreated at the last second before muffing the punt and giving the Vikings a chance to get back in the game.

    If Benjamin just fields this cleanly, he has all of that space to work with. I love Benjamin on punt returns after the catch, but I'm nervous now when the ball is in the air. Last week, we saw him make a fair catch signal, but he failed to get out of the way and let the ball graze his arm as it came down.

    The Browns put Davone Bess in the game to fair catch one punt later on. We may see that again down the road if its a situation where the punt likely won't be returned, but the returner needs to be smart about fair catching vs. letting the ball go.

  3. Close Call Stopping Peterson: The Browns pretty much bottled up Adrian Peterson throughout the game, but there was one heart-stopping run that he had on the Vikings' first 3rd-down play of the game.

    This is the pre-snap formation on a 3rd-and-1 play.

    The arrow pointing down shows Adrian Peterson. The other small arrow points to No. 92, Desmond Bryant, as he is basically the last line of defense here. There is a ton of green pasture ahead of Peterson, and he has a head of steam that can probably beat No. 39 Tashaun Gipson.

    Fortunately, Bryant gets Peterson by the legs and doesn't let him get away. The Vikings still end up scoring an opening-drive touchdown, but making sure Peterson never got off to a high impact start was a priority, and perhaps if forced the Vikings to throw more with Christian Ponder than they should have.

  4. Swarming Defense: I was impressed with how well the defense had multiple defenders swarm to underneath receivers during the game to prevent a first down.

    In the case above, it is 3rd-and-9, and Adrian Peterson catches a pass in the flat. The first guy to go after Peterson is CB Joe Haden, and he doesn't wait around -- he darts right at him and dives at his legs.

    As Haden gets Peterson's legs, LB Craig Robertson is delivering a shoulder in to him. The always-shifty Peterson is spinning off of Robertson's tackle, but just as he turns around...
    Week1ap6_medium comes S Tashaun Gipson to finally finish him off. Just in case something else happened, Mr. Hustle himself, DE Ahtyba Rubin, made sure he was in the area as well.

  5. Getting Hoyer Comfortable: One of the things the Browns did a lot of was getting QB Brian Hoyer some available timing patterns after coming off of a playaction fake, which allowed him to use some of his mobility.

    Here is a diagram of the routes, and WR Davone Bess is at the bottom of the screen.

    The playaction rollout gives Hoyer a lot of space to see this half of the field without facing pressure. A strong throw is still required for a pass this long, though, and he is already starting to throw the ball as Bess is turning around.

  6. First TD Pass - Gordon Double Move: The previous pass got QB Brian Hoyer into a groove, but WR Josh Gordon was the guy who set the tone for the rest of the game.

    The receiver at the top of the screen is Gordon.

    Gordon does a little stop, and the cornerback bites on it just a tad. That is enough for Gordon to take off and burn his man easily for a touchdown. It's worth noting how well Gordon pulls this off -- we've tried this with other receivers, such as Greg Little, but he isn't anywhere near as successful at getting the separation Gordon gets.

    The Vikings didn't have a good pass rush in the first two games, and Cleveland's offensive line held up very well in the first half. Take a look at the protection Hoyer has when he makes this throw. This is what I thought we'd see for the Browns in 2013, which is why I had such high hopes for our offense.

  7. Mingo's Workload Increases: Even before OLB Jabaal Sheard went down with an injury, the Browns were working rookie OLB Barkevious Mingo into the game more. They even had some scenarios in which Mingo came in and lined up on the right, while Sheard shifted over to the left to replace OLB Paul Kruger.
    After the Browns tied the game up at 7-7, Mingo showed off his speed by quickly getting to Ponder around the edge.

    Ponder ended up having some successful scrambles later in the game, but this time, he stepped up right into the waiting arms of DE Billy Winn for a sack.

  8. WR Screen for 30 Yards: Gordon just turns this offense into gold, doesn't he? I think of Gordon as a good route runner, but I don't think about the fact that he can make some yards after the catch on plays that aren't deep balls, too.

    Here, the Browns are going to run a quick wide receiver screen to Gordon. WR Greg Little is in the slot next to him, and he'll be setting up for a block. The only other receiver who goes out is WR Davone Bess at the top of the screen.

    Gordon catches the ball, and here comes RT Mitchell Schwartz and WR Greg Little getting ready to clean out a pair of defenders. Also getting ready to assist with blocks are C Alex Mack and RG John Greco.

    The blocks are hit, and Gordon adjusts with a brief inside cut. You can see that down the field, he has an unblocked guy in his path.

    Showing his elusiveness, Gordon jukes out the defender quickly and then continues to accelerate as he also breaks a shoestring tackle. The other two offensive lineman try to help with a couple of blocks. With how far away the other defenders are, you know this is going for some good yardage now.

    Gordon also has some strength -- a couple of defenders are getting ready to make contact with him finally, but he doesn't get ridden out of bounds until the 48 yard line. Not a bad opening play for the drive. The Browns ran this same exact play later on, and it went for about 9 yards but was only stopped via a shoestring tackle.

  9. Getting Better on 3rd Down Conversions: The Browns were 6-of-15 (40%) on their third-down conversions on offense, which is a step in the right direction.

    Here is one of the early third-down conversions. Pre-snap, the Browns motioned WR Davone Bess from the right to the left, and saw the circled defender follow him. There is a good amount of room between the two at this point. TE Jordan Cameron is the outside receiver at the top. What's going to happen is Cameron, within the legal five yards and before the pass is thrown, is going to initiate contact with the defender in front of him, driving him backward. Bess then uses the pick to run off of and catch the first down.

    The ball placement from Hoyer in the first half was very good, so these don't become blown opportunities.

  10. Second TD Pass - Another Clean Pocket: Let's take a look at the Browns' second touchdown pass by QB Brian Hoyer, which gave them a 14-7 lead.

    I didn't show the running back going out, but he also does a little route over the middle. This isn't anything too fancy, but what you like to see is that TE Jordan Cameron avoids a jam with ease, with means the timing of this play isn't thrown off in the least.

    When you have the tall Cameron going up against defensive backs, he's going to win with all of that field to work with. Cameron's route actually aims more for the front pylon initially, but when he sees the ball in air, he makes the adjustment to it and catches the beautifully-thrown pass in stride.

    Again, look at that pretty pocket to throw from. That's a quarterback's dream, but Hoyer might not have it this easy against a tougher Bengals defense this Sunday.

  11. Fake Punt - Numbers Game: With the game tied 14-14, as soon as the Browns ran the fake punt, my juices really got going. I felt vindicated for feeling that the Browns had not thrown the towel in on the season. This play-call, to put it nicely, almost seemed like a big "FU" to anybody who felt a tank job was all that was desired.

    The Browns have the numbers to execute the fake. There are eight Browns and seven Vikings in the picture. That means, if necessary, every Viking can be blocked, and the ball carrier will be free to find the right lane. I diagrammed what happened in the photo above.

    At first, it looks like the Browns' defender next to No. 36 is letting him overpursue, so that S Josh Aubrey can just race through the drawn seam for a first down.

    Right here, though, our Browns guy pulls an Oniel Cousins and gets right in Aubrey's way.

    Somehow, it ends up working out. Aubrey puts his hand on his teammates back as if he's a fullback, high-steps through a missed tackle, and is now off for the races as he gains 32 yards. The Browns eventually settled for a field goal.

  12. Fake Field Goal - Spotting Cameron: Sadly, the All-22 doesn't capture TE Jordan Cameron selling the fact that he's walking off the field for the fake field goal.

    The above is a screenshot of the failed third down before the fake field goal. The pass to TE Davone Bess is incomplete, and TE Jordan Cameron is in the far part of the left end zone.
    The next time the All-22 shows something, you can see Cameron at the top of the screen, all by himself. If I had to guess, I'd say Cameron jogged toward our sideline, but through the end zone, and just hung out near the sideline. He actually stands right where the referee stands on the sideline, which could be a brilliant way of misleading defenders to thinking they just see a referee out of the corner of their eyes.

    Either way, the fact that this worked was so awesome. And, if it didn't work -- meaning if the Vikings saw Cameron and put a guy on him -- Cleveland could have just kicked a field goal and still had the lead.

  13. Taylor Continues to Dominate: With all of the effort our defense puts in, I have to showcase a couple of plays from them.

    Here is a play in the second quarter that puts NT Phil Taylor's dominance into perspective.

    Before QB Christian Ponder can even finish his dropback, Taylor has beaten the center and is getting ready to bear down on Ponder.

    Taylor is so strong that a one arm tackle brings him down for a sack. If Ponder had avoided it, OLB Barkevious Mingo is rushing through LT Matt Kalil. There are so many studs in this front seven, and each of them step up at various intervals of the game.

  14. Hoyer's First INT - Missing the Safety: Ah, so it can't all be fun with a bunch of touchdowns for QB Brian Hoyer, eh?

    Here is the formation leading up to Hoyer's first interception with under a minute to play in the second quarter. WR Josh Gordon is running about a 15-20 yard hook route. Pre-snap, safety Harrison Smith drifts back a little bit, but not too much.

    There weren't any routes on the other side of the field that really would have distracted Smith, so I'm surprised to see Hoyer throw this ball to Gordon, as the pass was angled to the middle of the field. If this had been a comeback to the outside, the interception likely would have been avoided. This wasn't very deceptive what the Vikings did, so I'll chalk it up to inexperience on Hoyer's part.

  15. Sheard With the Bailout: Thankfully, Hoyer's first interception didn't net any points for the Vikings.

    The arrow points to OLB Jabaal Sheard above. There is a tight end near him, but he goes out as a receiver. That means the right tackle is responsible for defending the pass rush of a guy starting very wide.

    The right tackle is no match for Sheard here, who strips QB Christian Ponder of the football and keeps it a seven-point halftime lead for Cleveland.

  16. Hoyer's Second INT - Missing the LB: The Browns got the ball to start the second half, and QB Brian Hoyer stayed with the mentality of making quick decisions.Week3off7a_medium

    The Vikings are really dropping back here with zone coverage, and Hoyer sees that. The problem is that he only sees the right side of the field, and doesn't recognize that a linebacker is shifting over with zone coverage toward the area in front of TE Jordan Cameron. When Hoyer fires the comeback route, he's surprised to see the color purple. This wasn't a case of him trying to force something.

  17. Hoyer's Third INT - Staying Aggressive: If there was something that QB Brian Hoyer tried to force, it came on his third and final interception of the game. Backed up in his own end zone, Hoyer shouted commands, perhaps calling an audible.
    There are only three defenders back deep; the rest of near the line of scrimmage.

    At the bottom of the screen, WR Greg Little fakes a quick slant in, and Hoyer does a little pump fake.

    Little puts on the breaks and gets ready to take this to the outside. Hoyer is already winding up for a touch pass, and based on where the defensive backs are located, a good throw looks promising that it'd lead to a big play at this point.

    Instead, Hoyer has to be surprised when his arm gets hit, resulting in a duck which the guy in the circle intercepts. Going back to what I said earlier about separation, it's interesting to watch how Little just turns his head around and appears to be looking for the ball inside vs. on the outside, which is where it was headed. WR Josh Gordon had a few miscommunications with Hoyer, but it seemed like Little and Hoyer really weren't in sync with each other.

  18. Game-Winning Touchdown: Third down. Game on the line. The punter is your kicker. What do you do? Throw it to TE Jordan Cameron.

    In live time, as soon as I saw this formation, I thought to myself, "WOW, please let Hoyer see what I am seeing." What I saw was no defender in the back of the end zone, and Cameron with a lot of room to work with against a smaller defender.

    The Vikings tried to bring the heat, but Hoyer's quick release continued. Just like I thought, he knew where to go all along too. Smart guy.

  19. Final Assessments: This was a great feel-good game for the offense. They executed better than they have all season, and that came without a running game to speak of still. The good news? Shawn Lauvao might be back this week, which could really help set a chain reaction that trickles down to better results on the ground.

    QB Brian Hoyer did an excellent job for his first start in a Browns uniform. He did have a lot better protection than Weeden had, and I felt the few times he did face pressure, he crumbled and took a sack or threw an interception (the third one). He also needs to watch out for the zone coverage a little better. Some of Hoyer's best throws came to the sideline, where an extra guy isn't going to be jumping a route.

    WR Josh Gordon is so valuable to this team. He was targeted 19 times, catching 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown. He was used on the stop-and-go, out routes, dig routes, screens, quick slants, and end around, and he was getting open on all of them. There were some things that were out of sync for him -- a couple of back shoulder throws in which he kept going down the sideline -- so hopefully that can be ironed out.

    The defense played better than what the final score of the game showed. They did give up two touchdown-scoring drives in the first four possessions, but there were a couple of pass plays the Vikings had that weren't your standard type of plays. The later scores were set up by turnovers via the offense or on special teams. CB Buster Skrine did another great job in coverage and appears to be well ahead of CB Chris Owens in that department now.

  20. Special Teams Tackles: There were five special teams tackles by the Browns. RB Chris Ogbonnaya and CB Johnson Bademosi had two tackles each, and there was one TEAM tackle.

  21. Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, Greg Little still played more than 75% of the game despite losing his starting role. On defense, Greg Little played a snap there too?

  22. Brownies: RB Chris Ogbonnaya broke a tackle and a big catch-and-run first down on the game-winning drive. ... RB Willis McGahee got blown up by a linebacker on one play, which led to a sack on QB Brian Hoyer. ... The next play, RB Bobby Rainey must have been confused, because he never went out for a screen pass, which resulted in an intentional grounding call. ... The Vikings were wrongly penalized 15 yards for challenging WR Travis Benjamin's muffed punt.

    Despite the Browns holding RB Adrian Peterson in check, I'm stunned the Vikings still didn't plug away at the ground game some more. ... Props to play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan, who immediately pointed out the Browns' trickery (with Reggie Hodges) on special teams from the Saints game several years ago, after the fake punt against Minnesota. ... The Vikings were 8-of-17 (47%) on 3rd downs, but were sacked a total of 6 times and turned the ball over 3 times. ... WR Greg Little returned kickoffs, which is another way to keep his head in the game.

Up next, the Browns are back home to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. Can Cleveland claim their stake in the AFC North?