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Browns vs. Vikings: NFL Week 8 Preview and Prediction

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Will the Browns continue playing like a winless team in London, or can they attract some new fans in their first overseas contest?

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NFL: International Series-Cleveland Browns Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation


Quarterback

  • Case Keenum is the ideal backup quarterback for an NFL team, as he’s now had stints with three teams (Houston, Los Angeles [Rams], and Minnesota) in which he’s helped his teams stay competitive. This year with the Vikings, protecting the football has been at a premium: he has just 2 interceptions in 190 pass attempts.
  • To compare, DeShone Kizer has 11 interceptions in 179 pass attempts. Keenum is completing 64.2% of his passes and is averaging about 1 touchdown pass per game. He won’t be the reason the Vikings pull off a victory, but he’ll manage the offense well enough to ensure he doesn’t lose it for them.
  • If you missed my film review sessions on the Browns’ offense under Kizer last week, check them out here and here. In Kizer’s past five starts, he’s only been sacked a total of five times. Not taking sacks is an area of his game he’s slowly improved at, but he may be in for a shock this Sunday without Joe Thomas. You’d hope that to compensate, Hue Jackson sticks with the same short passing game he used against the Titans to start last week’s game.

Running Back

  • The Vikings were off to a red-hot start with rookie Davin Cook, who was averaging 4.8 YPC in his first four games. He suffered a torn ACL, though, forcing the team to turn to backups Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray.
  • McKinnon is a home-grown, electrifying talent, while Murray was a free agent signing from Oakland who was expected to be the starter before the team drafted Cook. Murray is more of a straightline runner, but both backs have found success in sharing the load the past three weeks. McKinnon is averaging 4.3 YPC, while Murray is at 3.6 YPC. McKinnon will play a big role as a receiver too, where he has 14 catches for 91 yards in his past three games.
  • We're going to have to conduct a poll soon asking whether Isaiah Crowell will get more than 60 yards rushing in a game this season. He accomplished the feat seven times in 2016. The Browns utilized Crowell and Duke Johnson last week for a combined 10 catches for 81 yards. The Vikings only allow 26.9 receiving yards to running backs a game, which is one of the best marks in the NFL.

Wide Receiver / Tight End

  • After missing the past two weeks, the Vikings expect to have Stefon Diggs back for London. He has 4 touchdown grabs on the year and had one game this season where he logged 8 catches for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns. Adam Thielen has been Mr. Reliable for Minnesota, seeing nearly 10 targets a game. He's caught 43 passes for 529 yards, but doesn't have a touchdown yet.
  • Last year's first-round pick, Laquon Treadwell, is the team's third receiver. He has 11 catches for 121 yards. The belief is that fans still have faith in Treadwell, who is working his way up, but the team is already comfortable with their top two receivers, tight end Kyle Rudolph, and running the ball a lot. Speaking of Rudolph, he has 26 catches for 244 yards and 2 touchdowns.
  • Overall, the dropped passes have declined for Cleveland’s receivers over the past 2-3 weeks -- the problem has been solely on play from the quarterback position. Kenny Britt’s playing time will be something everyone watches each and every week. He’s one of the most vilified players I remember in a Browns uniform.
  • The Browns might not be able to afford many sets with both David Njoku and Seth DeValve running routes. They’ll need an extra tight end to help Spencer Drango against Everson Griffen. The team promoted blocking tight end Matt Lengel to the 53-man roster this week.

Offensive Line

  • The Vikings’ starting offensive line includes LT Riley Reiff, LG Nick Easton, C Pat Elflein, RG Joe Berger, and RT Mike Remmers. Reiff has been outstanding in pass protection for the Vikings and hasn’t been bad in run blocking either. Elflein, a rookie third-rounder, has played well at center, and the line has only yielded 9 sacks all season.
  • Per our Vikings affiliate, the weak link on the line is at left guard. Easton has graded very solid in pass protection by PFF, but isn’t regarded so well in run blocking.
  • The Browns would be graded evenly here is they had a slightly more proven player to step in at left tackle, as they still have solid investments at both guard positions. But the loss of Joe Thomas is a catastrophic one that’ll require a lot of adjustments, giving Minnesota the better unit because of stability. Spencer Drango will start at left tackle, but I expect Zach Banner to be active for the first time and rotate in if Drango gets off to a slow start.

Defensive Line

  • The Vikings run a 4-3 defense featuring DE Danielle Hunter, DT Tom Johnson, DT Linval Joseph, and DE Everson Griffen. A third defensive end, Brian Robison, will see just as much action as the starters. Griffen has been a defensive MVP candidate, logging at least one sack in every game and has 9 on the season. Even head coach Hue Jackson knows things could be grim without Joe Thomas there to block him:
  • Cleveland will find it really tough to run against Minnesota because of Joseph, who is regarded as perhaps the best run defender in the NFL. Hunter can also deliver a decent pass rush, having registered 3 sacks on the year.
  • The Browns allow 83.7 rushing yards (2.96 YPC) while the Vikings allow 76.6 rushing yards (3.23 YPC) per game. It’s probably what each team thrives at the most. Cleveland will be without DE Myles Garrett this week, but even when he hasn’t been available, the Browns’ run defense has been fine. Being without DT Larry Ogunjobi (doubtful with a groin injury) hurts, as he’s proven to be a skilled run defender.

Linebacker

  • The Vikings' starting linebackers are OLB Ben Gedeon, MLB Eric Kendricks, and OLB Anthony Barr. But really, this is going to be a two-man group featuring Kendricks and Barr as the team takes more of a nickel defense look. Barr has been excellent at finishing tackles this season, and Kendricks has had some good moments in coverage. When the defensive line plays so well — with a combination of a good pass rush and top-notch run defense -- it makes everyone else’s lives a lot easier.
  • Last week, OLB Christian Kirksey, MLB Joe Schobert, and OLB Jamie Collins collectively combined for their best game of the season, even making a few plays in coverage. They’ll need more of that the rest of the week, including in London against Kyle Rudolph. Some good news is that James Burgess could return to help provide depth on third downs.

Secondary

  • The Vikings’ starting cornerbacks include Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, with 39-year-old Terrence Newman still kicking as the nickelback. Rhodes is regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, while Waynes fairs well as a run defender (but is the weak link when it comes to coverage).
  • Minnesota's safeties include FS Harrison Smith and SS Andrew Sendejo. I am envious in what the Vikings have with Smith, who is graded as the team’s best defender. He has 3 interceptions, each coming in separate games -- and DeShone Kizer’s last two passes were picked off by a safety.
  • With Jason McCourty not practicing all week (ankle), he’s listed as doubtful. There is no way he’ll play; they’ll let him heal with the bye coming up. Jamar Taylor, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, and Mike Davis were great against the Titans last week, and they shouldn’t be torched by the Vikings’ receivers. But Minnesota also has a better group of skill players than Tennessee did.
  • At safety, Jabrill Peppers returned on a limited basis to practice on Friday. He’s listed as questionable with a toe injury, but if I were a betting man, I’d say he misses his second straight game too to heal heading into the bye week. Ibraheim Campbell filled in well as the deep safety last week and deserves another crack at it anyway.

Special Teams

  • Kai Forbath is the Vikings' kicker. Forbath was 15-of-15 in 7 games with Minnesota last year, and he's 17-of-18 for them through 7 games this year, including a clutch 6-of-6 last week against Baltimore. The odd thing is that he’s missed six extra points in each of the past two seasons (11-of-14 each year). He's had 19 kickoff returns attempted on kickoff, which is the second-most allowed in the NFL. Zane Gonzalez had a career game last week, including a clutch 50+ yard field goal to send the game to overtime.
  • Ryan Quigley is the Vikings' punter. He is second-worst in the NFL with an average of 42.1 yards per punt, far behind the 49.8 average of Britton Colquitt. What counts, though -- the net average -- isn't much different. Colquitt is at a 41.9 average, while Quigley is at 40.9. Quigley has most of his punts fair caught, with few of them returned.
  • RB Jerick McKinnon handles kickoffs the Vikings. He has 12 returns for 312 yards (26.0 average). CB Marcus Sherels handles punt return duties, and has been effective on 14 returns for 158 yards (11.3 yards per return). Cleveland will likely use RB Matthew Dayes on kickoffs and WR Bryce Treggs on punt returns for the second week in a row.

Predictions

Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.


Chris Pokorny: “I’ll still be a firm believer that ‘any given Sunday’ will get the Browns a win one of these weeks. From a football standpoint, this is a bad match-up for them because of how much Everson Griffen is thriving and Spencer Drango having to start at left tackle.

Cleveland’s conservative gameplan used against Tennessee last week only works with a good running game to back it up, but Minnesota defends the run very well. Cleveland can hang in this game with a solid defensive effort, but I think the lack of offense will wear on them a little more this week.” Vikings 23, Browns 13.


Matt Wood: “Vikings roll. The loss of Thomas finally shines a light on how good he is. The Vikes have one of the best DL in the league and they wreck the offense. Hue once again benches Kizer, this time in the 3rd quarter. Browns are shutout as the defense collapses without Garrett. Both Theilin and Diggs go for over 100. Hue is fired after the game.” Vikings 38, Browns 0.


Mike Hoag: “The Browns have zero chance to win this game unless quarterback DeShone Kizer has an epiphany, or the Vikes are jet-lagged, or both.” Vikings 35, Browns 9.


Andrea Hangst: “A trip to London, a quarterback whose job security is clearly malleable—to say the least—and who doesn't have Joe Thomas helping protect him from the the Minnesota Vikings' top-10 defense. The Cleveland Browns have a major challenge on their hands before heading into their Week 9 bye and it doesn't look like Sunday morning's game will end well for the winless Browns. Their defense is also depleted thanks to Myles Garrett's concussion keeping him out in Week 8 and it simply does not appear the Browns have either the ability to stymie Minnesota's offense nor keep pace, leading to an eighth straight loss.” Vikings 33, Browns 10.


Joshua Finney: “London is weird. This feels like the game where the Browns get a fluky score in the first half, and it looks better than it is at halftime. Expect to see a lot more of the offense Hue used in the first half of the Titans game. (Which, lets be honest, should have been the gameplan all season) Vikes roll in the second half. I kind of expect Kizer to make it 4 quarters through this one.” Vikings 27, Browns 10.


Robo Dawg: “Cleveland will be struggling to protect Kizer’s blind side, even as he’s been plagued by sacks through indecision with a fully healthy offensive line. The Browns will struggle to reach double digit points, and it would not be surprising to see a QB substitution at half time. Meanwhile, our defense will get to square up against Minnesota’s backup QB, Case Keenum. While Garrett, Ogunjobi and McCourty are all likely to be out, our defense still holds strong. Both teams will be jet lagged, playing at 9:30 AM EST, and this will drive the overall score down.” Vikings 17, Browns 6.


Ezweav: “Just see no way here. It's possible the defense is able to hold the Keenum-led attack at bay, and also that Kidzepplin' can settle down and come away with points instead of turnovers, but often times these London games have bizarre swings that typically affect one team more than the other. Not thinking we're going to be the ones that keep our cool and ride it out. Nobody's getting fired afterward, but we lose.” Vikings 19, Browns 10.


Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.

Poll

Who do you think will win, Browns or Vikings? Pick the one closest to your prediction.

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Browns by 7+
    (41 votes)
  • 7%
    Browns by 3
    (43 votes)
  • 2%
    Vikings by 3
    (15 votes)
  • 82%
    Vikings by 7+
    (458 votes)
557 votes total Vote Now