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Notebook: Browns QB Change, WR Returns, Defense is Good

Posted Sep 18, 2013

The Vikings began their on-field preparations for Sunday’s home opener on Wednesday. We went over the top five storylines we’ll be chasing this week earlier on Wednesday, but here are three more talking points that emerged throughout the day on Wednesday.

Vikings

Browns front seven dominant through two weeks
Don’t let the Browns 0-2 record mask how good of a front seven they have on defense. This is a group that has been dominant in Cleveland’s first two games, but their stout play has been negated by some troubles the secondary has had, particularly on 3rd down.

Consider this: Against the Dolphins in Week 1, the Browns allowed just .9 yards per rush and one rushing 1st down, and they also sacked Ryan Tannehill four times. Against the Ravens in Week 2, the Browns were similarly dominant against the run. They allowed just 2.8 yards per rush and yielded only five rushing 1st downs while sacking Joe Flacco twice. All of that success, particularly against the run on early downs, was often times wasted, though. The Dolphins were eight of 16 on 3rd downs and picked up 15 of their 18 1st downs through the air, while the Ravens were also eight of 16 on 3rd downs and picked up 13 of their 19 1st downs through the air.

Cleveland’s front seven has played well early this season because they have a bunch of talent in that area of the defense. In the middle of the defensive line, nose tackle Phil Taylor anchors a stout run defense and he has next to him a pair of talented defensive ends in Desmond Bryant (good pass rusher) and Ahtyba Rubin (great run defender). On the edges, the Browns boast high 1st-round pick Barkevious Mingo, who had a sack on the first play of last week’s game, and free agent acquisition Paul Kruger (pictured), who is equally effective against the run and the pass. In the middle, inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson has been a pillar of the Browns defense for nine seasons and has four seasons with 100 tackles.

The Browns run a 3-4 scheme and their defensive coordinator is Ray Horton, who was most recently with the Arizona Cardinals but before that was a secondary coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2004-10. In Pittsburgh Horton coached under longtime Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who is known for running a 3-4 scheme that features plenty of blitzing and pressure.

You can expect the Browns, under Horton’s guidance, to be similarly aggressive against the Vikings on Sunday.

Weeden out, Hoyer in
We noted early Wednesday morning that Browns starting quarterback Brandon Weeden’s status for Sunday was uncertain following a thumb injury he sustained last week in Baltimore. Not long after that mention, the news broke that Weeden would in fact miss Sunday’s game because of the injury. Starting in his place will not be second-stringer Jason Campbell, who replaced Weeden last week. Instead it will be Brian Hoyer, a five-year veteran who spent three seasons with the New England Patriots and last season with Pittsburgh and Arizona.

Hoyer has just one career start to his credit, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the challenge of playing in the loud environment at Mall of America Field.  He played collegiately at Michigan State and is from Lakewood, Ohio.

Frazier: “You have to take care of your home field”
The Vikings are off to a 0-2 start, which is not the kind of start you want when your goal is to return to the playoffs. But the Vikings have been in this spot before, and they’ve made the playoffs from it. In 2008, the Vikings began the season with a 0-2 mark and still won the division.

That run to the playoffs began in Week 3 with a home win. Even though it’s just the third week of a season that spans 17 weeks, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier knows the gravity of this week’s game.

“Big, big week for us coming home and playing at Mall of America Field,” Frazier said. “I think we have the best fans in the National Football League and it’s going to be great to line up in front of our fans at home. It’s so early in the season, but at the same time this is a very important football game for us as we work as hard as we can to be a team that’s going to be a factor over the course of the year. We need to get off to a good start at home, all of our players realize that. We know the importance of practice this week in our preparation, and you have to take care of your home field.”

The Vikings have had a significant home-field advantage since moving into Mall of America Field, boasting a record of 164-89 in their home building. Last year the Vikings were 7-1 at home, including a win in the home opener and wins in their first four home games. A similar start in the 2013 home slate of games will go a long way toward helping the Vikings emerge from the 0-2 start to the season.