EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings (1-2) will host the Browns (2-1) for the first time at U.S. Bank Stadium and aim to continue momentum during the second game of a three-game homestand.
Minnesota picked up its first victory of 2021 last Sunday in a 30-17 win over Seattle, exorcising a few demons in the Seahawks first appearance in a regular-season game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Browns took the defending AFC Champion Chiefs to the wire in Week 1 but lost. Cleveland handled Houston in Week 2 and trounced Chicago 26-6 on Sunday.
Kickoff is scheduled for noon (CT).
Vikings uniform combination: Purple jerseys and white pants
Matchup to watch: Vikings running defense vs. Browns running offense
Cleveland has run the ball 102 times, compared to attempting 80 passes. Part of that is playing with leads, but a considerable factor is personal preference and the way the Browns are built.
Nick Chubb has rushed 48 times for 262 yards (5.5 per carry) with three touchdowns, and Kareem Hunt has carried the ball 29 times for 165 yards (5.7 per carry) and two scores.
Eight of Cleveland's 10 touchdowns this season have been scored on the ground.
Minnesota's run defense has been reinforced this offseason, but it also still seems to be taking shape.
The Vikings allowed 134.4 rushing yards a game in 2020, ranking 27th in the category, and enter Week 4 with an allowance of 119.3 per game, which is tied for 20th. That surface improvement is encouraging, but Minnesota's average yardage allowed per run play has increased from 4.56 yards a year ago to 4.77 so far this season.
Opponents have three rushing touchdowns so far, including a 30-yarder last week by Chris Carson. Seattle had 82 yards on the ground on its first 13 runs (includes two QB scrambles). The Seahawks finished the game with 106 rushing yards on 18 carries.
The Vikings defense found its footing with help of a possession offense by the Vikings but will need to be ready from the first snap on Sunday.
Keep an eye out this week for features on defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce.
The newcomers have been big on learning Vikings history, including that of "The Williams Wall." Kevin Williams will be formally inducted to the Vikings Ring of Honor at halftime, so it would be a good day to do well against the run for multiple reasons.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Browns.
Here are five Vikings-Seahawks storylines to follow in Week 3.
1. Hello 'big mo'
A win one week in the NFL never guarantees duplication of success the following week, but momentum — "big mo" — can impact outcomes within a series, a game or a season.
The Vikings felt they improved from Week 1 to Week 2 but didn't get results. They did so again in Week 3 in multiple aspects of the game.
It will be important for Minnesota to retain momentum as it continues to climb out of its 0-2 start on the road.
Fans returned for a regular-season game for the first time in more than 630 days and "were LIT!" as Adam Thielen said after the game. Protecting home-field advantage is more critical than ever before this season since NFC teams have a ninth road game and only eight contests under the expanded schedule.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Oct. 19, 2021.
2. I know that you know what I know
A week after facing a long-ago Vikings assistant and the NFL's oldest active head coach (Seattle's Pete Carroll), the Vikings will face a much more recent former assistant in Kevin Stefanski, who is among the league's youngest coaches.
Stefanski's climb from a Dwight Schrute-ian assistant to the head coach to Minnesota's offensive coordinator over the course of 14 seasons was impressive and authentic. He handled every different role with aplomb, earning respect from players and coaches in the building and beyond.
His familiarity with getting to call practices against Minnesota's defense in 2019 should help, and that can work both ways, possibly benefiting the Vikings.
It could be quite the chess match of adjustments or approaches intended to throw one group of coaches off the other's scent.
3. Cousins continuing streak
Kirk Cousins has now attempted 200 consecutive passes without an interception, a streak that began with his first pass on Christmas Day 2020 in New Orleans. It is one away from tying the franchise record he set in 2019.
He's playing much faster than he did a year ago and continuing his own momentum that has been several games in the making.
Cousins ranks second in the NFL with 3,036 passing yards and third with 26 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 70.5 in Minnesota's past 10 games.
One builder of confidence? After penalties undercut Minnesota's opening drive of the season in Cincinnati, the Vikings have scored touchdowns on the following two first drives of games.
Cousins credited Minnesota's offensive staff, including first-year Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak, for scheming up points to start the past two contests.
Can the Vikings score an opening drive touchdown a third week in a row?
4. Pass protection plan
Cousins talked this offseason about getting on the bus in Detroit after the 2020 season finale and immediately creating a goal to take fewer sacks in 2021 than the 39 times he was tackled for losses in his third season with Minnesota.
So far, so good. Minnesota's sacks rate in 2020 was 2.43 per game (39 over 16 games). This season, it is 1.67 (five in three games). One was erased by penalty Sunday, but the protection has shown encouraging signs.
Another tall task is on the way. Cleveland recorded nine sacks of Chicago rookie Justin Fields in his first NFL start. Myles Garrett accounted for 4.5 against the Bears and has surged to the NFL lead with 5.5 on the season.
The Vikings in Week 2 faced Chandler Jones after he posted 5.0 in Week 1 at Tennessee and kept him and fellow former first-round pick J.J. Watt from sacking Cousins in Arizona.
Now it's Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, and his new teammate Jadeveon Clowney, who was selected No. 1 overall in 2014 by Houston.
Minnesota's defense will try to adversely affect another top overall pick, QB Baker Mayfield, whom Cleveland selected to open the 2018 NFL Draft. Mayfield will be the third No. 1 overall QB the Vikings have played in four games.
5. Sharing the load
Alexander Mattison filled in nicely for Dalvin Cook with career bests of 26 carries, six receptions and 59 receiving yards. He also matched his career best with 112 yards on the ground.
While we don't know the status of Cook's ankle, the Vikings can feel pretty confident in what Mattison was able to do, whether he's asked to take that big of a load again without Cook or he receives a few more from the lion's share of touches that Cook has taken.
The Vikings also elevated in the passing game with four players totaling 50 or more receiving yards.