The Vikings kickoff their final season at Mall of America Field this Sunday by hosting the Cleveland Browns in the 2013 home opener. After a 0-2 start with losses at Detroit in Week 1 and at Chicago in Week 2, the Vikings are on the rebound and will look to get on the winning track by defeating a Browns squad that is also winless after losses to the Miami Dolphins in Week 1 and the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2.
Let’s take a look ahead at five things to watch this week as the Vikings prepare to face the Browns in Week 3...
Fans in the stands and those watching on television will be treated to a pair of special running backs on Sunday – reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson and Cleveland’s Trent Richardson. Both runners are known for their bruising and punishing running style, but both backs can also breakaway with their speed. It’s not often in today’s pass-happy NFL where you see a team that genuinely prioritizes establishing the run in a ball game, but in this matchup we have two offenses who do indeed have this priority.
Peterson’s career has been well-chronicled in Minnesota, and he enters Sunday’s game needing just 63 yards to surpass Jamal Lewis for 10th on the list of most rushing yards in a running back’s first seven seasons. Richardson had 950 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie last season, and after rushing for just 105 yards in his first two games this season you can bet he’s eager to get on the fast track. Both team’s defensive front sevens have a huge challenge this week in stopping these two powerful and determined runners.
2. Still pressure on Ponder, passing game to improve
One of last week’s headlines as the Vikings prepared to play the Bears referenced the pressure that was on quarterback
3. Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden may not play
The Browns drafted quarterback Brandon Weeden in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but it looks like Weeden will not make an appearance in his first matchup against the Vikings. Weeden injured his right thumb in last week’s loss at Baltimore; Weeden is a right-handed quarterback. There are conflicting reports about Weeden’s status, with one report saying the injury is severe and will cause Weeden to miss significant time while another report refutes that ominous outlook and simply states Weeden’s status is uncertain. We won’t know for sure until 90 minutes before kickoff, unless the Browns declare his status before then, but right now it seems likely will at least miss this weekend’s game. If he does, Cleveland will go with either Jason Campbell or Brian Hoyer as the starter on Sunday at Mall of America Field. Campbell has just one career start against the Vikings and Hoyer has never suited up against the Purple.
4. Can Vikings solve Cleveland’s odd-man front?
After facing a couple of even-man fronts to begin the season (both Detroit and Chicago run a 4-3 defensive scheme), the Vikings will be looking at an odd-man front when the Browns come to town. This is not a new challenge for the Vikings by any stretch of the imagination, but it does represent a new dynamic in preparing for an opponent this season. A few of the key personnel in the Browns defense include: nose tackle Phil Taylor, who tips the scales at 6-3, 335 pounds and anchors the defense in the middle; inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, an eight-year veteran with four seasons of 100+ tackles; and outside linebacker Paul Kruger, signed away from Super Bowl-champion Baltimore this offseason to provide pass rush and stout run defense off the edge. The Vikings offensive line, in combination with the fullbacks and tight ends, will enter Sunday with a good plan on how to handle the Browns defensive attack. The question is: Can they execute it?
5. More opportunities coming for
In Week 1 against Detroit, rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was on the field for just five offensive snaps. We noted last week leading up to the game in Chicago that the Vikings would likely get Patterson on the field for more snaps in Week 2. Patterson was indeed on the field for more, but it was just one more snap. That figures to change significantly this week, according to what Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday.
“We’re going to get that rectified,” Frazier said. “He definitely deserves to be on the field more. He’s shown that in the few snaps he’s gotten in the first two ball games. Hopefully, everything being equal, that should not be a part of the conversation next week. We want to get him on the field. He’s one of our explosive players for sure. We see what he does when he gets the ball in his hands so we have to get him on the field.”
That is music to the ears of Vikings fans everywhere, and it’s probably not something the Browns defense was happy to hear.