On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, or general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
A Potent Offense
- I would love to believe that the Browns’ defense found themselves last week against the Chicago Bears. At the NFL level, allowing around 50 yards of offense for an entire game is an incredible feat and deserves credit for the consistency — but I also believe that the primary reason for that success was that it was against the Bears. We need to gear up for a bit of a return to reality against the Vikings, much like we saw against the Chiefs and Texans in the first two weeks.
- The Vikings have a potent offense, as Kirk Cousins is completing 74% of his passes and has 8 touchdowns to 0 interceptions through three games. Dalvin Cook, the team’s star dual-threat running back, is expected to play today after missing last week’s game with an ankle injury. Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson combine as one of the better receiving duos in the NFL, and now you have to factor in the fact that Greedy Williams is being thrown into the starting lineup this week for Cleveland. I’d love to see Williams succeed, but we all know that teams have seemed to have a leg up any time they throw in his direction.
- The Vikings got off to a slower offensive start in Week 1, with 7 points against the Bengals. But the past two weeks, they’ve scored 23 and 21 points, respectively, against the Cardinals and Seahawks in the first half.
Forget the "Kevin Stefanski goes home" storyline. The Vikings are basically a mirror-image of the Browns. They run the same offense. They're going to attack in a similar manner. Neither defense has been particularly good against legit offenses. Result will say a lot about both.— Brent Sobleski (@brentsobleski) October 3, 2021
A Not-So-Potent Defense
- No, I’m not talking about the Browns’ defense, but rather the Vikings’ defense. Statistically, the Vikings’ defense ranks 28th in yards allowed. They are 28th in the NFL in rushing yards per play (4.77) allowed, and among the worst in pass defense. On the upside, they rank 15th in interceptions and 5th in sack rate. However, the season is still young, so statistics can be a bit skewed. For example, do the Browns really feel like the 3rd best defense (in yards allowed) with the 2nd best sack rate? Those numbers are almost entirely a result of one game against the Bears.
- Back to the Vikings, though. They made an effort to upgrade a lot of positions on defense this offseason, similar to the Browns, while keeping former Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith. They added Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland as their two starting cornerbacks, but as Daily Norseman pointed out to us, Breeland has been a disaster so far, and Peterson isn’t the All-Pro player he used to be (which makes sense, given that he’s in his 11th year). The Vikings upgraded their front to improve their run defense too, but it hasn’t quite hit on all cylinders yet either.
- I’d expect the Browns to utilize a mix of the run and pass this week, but being aggressive taking some shots downfield. Now, one thing to think about is that Kevin Stefanski came from the Vikings, so the coaching staff over there should be quite familiar with his tendencies and some of the things he times up well. Will Minnesota try to use Stefanski’s tendencies against him — for example, will they have their players be disciplined for when a bootleg to the left is called upon?
- Whether he plays or not remains to be seen, but the Vikings are expected to have their first-round pick, offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw, active for the first time today. If he plays, it would be a tough first test to go up against Myles Garrett.
#Vikings first-round draft pick Christian Darrisaw is expected to be active for the first time and make his NFL debut on the field-goal unit today against the #Browns, per source. Darrisaw had minor core muscle surgery Aug. 12 and they continue to ramp him up gradually.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) October 3, 2021
- Kirk Cousins gets rid of the ball quick and moves around, so it’ll be tough for Cleveland’s pass rush to get to him.
- Staying on the subject of Cousins, though, he is on a hot stretch, but there are many stretches during his career in which he runs hot, then cold. Here’s to hoping Cleveland can catch him in one of his funks.
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was great last week, and his pursuit of Dalvin Cook this week will be a big storyline. Cook catches a lot of passes in this offense.
- Former Browns kicker Greg Joseph is not the Vikings’ kicker. He is 6-of-7 on field goals and 9-of-10 on extra points.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “When both offenses and defenses are performing similar, and the coaching tree has roots tied to each other, could the difference come down to a field goal kicker? Maybe — and we’ve seen Minnesota’s first two games decided by just that. I don’t think it’ll come down to that, though — the Vikings will shoot themselves in the foot a bit offensively this week, as Cleveland’s offense continues to showcase its weapons for a multi-possession victory.” Browns 34, Vikings 21
Thomas Moore: “Cleveland’s defense began to find itself last week, but the game against Minnesota presents a different scenario. For all his faults as a quarterback, Kirk Cousins is no Justin Fields, and having Greedy Williams forced to start at cornerback with Greg Newsome out is less than ideal as he will have to deal with wide receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson at various points in the game. Cousins will likely target Williams as much as possible in coverage, so it will fall on Cleveland’s front seven to make life difficult for Cousins to help take some of the pressure off Williams.
On offense, the Browns can score with anyone, so I’m not too worried about Cleveland being able to score on a Vikings defense that is allowing 26 points per game. One area that is concerning is Jedrick Wills’ ankle, which is obviously causing him a lot of discomfort. Wills probably should not be out there, but with Chris Hubbard still injured the alternatives are not that inviting. The Browns might need to keep a tight end or fullback Andy Janovich near Wills to lend a hand, because one slip-up could be the deciding factor in what looks to be a close game.
Still, the Browns is the Browns - and we mean that in a good way - and we all know by now the formula for a win: have the defense make just enough plays, get the lead, and then ride Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to another Victory Monday.” Browns 31, Vikings 28
rufio: “The Browns’ offense gets back on track this week, as the Vikings’ front is not as formidable as the Bears’. We are an offensive line-driven system, and we saw what happens when we just can’t match up against a team last week. This week, the run game will click and we’ll get back to scoring at will. We’ll need the offense, because...
...the defense is going to struggle. We confused Justin Fields in his first start, but Kirk Cousins is almost the inverse of fields: pretty ok from a physical standpoint, but a veteran who understands defenses and is used to the speed of the NFL game. If I may disagree respectfully with Ez here, I expect a significant dropoff from Newsome to Greedy, and while our front 4 are very good, we will need the mix of gameplan and talent to cover long enough for the rushers to hit home. Add in a heavy dose of the zone run game and play action off of it, and this is a bad scheme matchup for us.
The Browns find an extra possession either on a turnover or on a “double dip” and that ends up the difference.” Browns 31, Vikings 28
Ezweav: “Looks like the easy part of the schedule is over, and we won’t be getting anymore layups until we play Pittsburgh (LOLOLOL). It’s a pretty huge game for both squads; the Vikings definitely are in trouble if they fall to 1-3, and we simply need to keep pace with literally everyone in the AFC…except Pittsburgh (jejejejeje)
Kirk Cousins is a good, smart quarterback who will be able to do things that Justin Fields is still years away from. If Dalvin Cook doesn’t play that could be a big deal, but they are still very stout at the WR position, and we’ll be down a starting CB (albeit with not much of an expected drop off from Newsome to Greedz). I expect them to give our defense some problems.
Offensively, we move the ball on everyone. The Bears were able to make a few plays in big moments that made their overall performance seem better than it was, but we pretty much moved the ball at will against them - even with Baker having an off day and them (successfully) keying on Nick Chubb. They definitely came to play, we just had way more than they could handle.
Which figures to the story here in this one. It’ll be nip-and-tuck for most of it but towards the end Cleveland should pull away.” Vikings 29, Browns 25
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.