Prediction time: Need you ask?
One look at the statistics of the Browns and Minnesota Vikings tells you all you need to know about what will happen Sunday in Minneapolis.
The Vikings can at least move the football. The Browns can . . . not.
So when these two teams meet Sunday in the home opener for the Vikes, the mystery of which team is better will have already been decided.
Factor in the most recent loss of the team’s best player on offense and that both teams enter with a 0-2 record. But Minnesota lost in the final 10 seconds of its game in Chicago last week when Jay Cutler and Martellus Bennett hooked up on a scoring pass.
The Vikings’ offense has found the end zone four times in their two losses. The Browns are relative strangers there with just one TD – Jordan Cameron’s score late in the second quarter against Miami.
The last six quarters for the Browns have produced four Billy Cundiff field goals, which for Cleveland these days is tantamount to scoring four touchdowns. Get close, screw up and give Cundiff a nod.
The most interesting aspect of Sunday’s game will be how well the team, as a whole, performs in the wake of losing Trent Richardson. If there is a demoralizing effect, it should show up early.
The Browns were bad to begin with on offense prior to Richardson’s departure and Brandon Weeden’s thumb injury. In fact, Richardson was the only Cleveland running back who carried the ball this season. So it’s unfair to expect Willis McGahee and Brian Hoyer to perform any better.
McGahee has been on the street as a free agent for a few weeks and Hoyer has started just one game in his National Football League career. How well they play falls under the category of unrealistic expectations.
On trial will be the run defense for the Browns, who have held opposing runners to a meager 119 yards, or about two yards a pop. In the past few seasons, that total would have been a one-game stat.
But this week, they face the best in Adrian Peterson. And it will be an angry, frustrated and motivated Peterson, who has compiled just 193 yards infantry style, 78 of them on his first carry of the season in the opener in Detroit
Since then, he has run for just 115 yards in 43 attempts, a 2.67-yard average. Right now, he’s on a pace to gain 1,544 yards overall, a figure most NFL running backs would love to have at the end of the season. But he is coming off a near record-breaking 2,097-yard campaign.
So it could be a long afternoon for the Browns’ front seven if Peterson, who owns 38 100-yard games, gets loose. Then again, this might be the game where that run defense steps up and proves the first two weeks were not a fluke.
Where the Browns catch a break is the Vikings actually have a weak link on offense. If they can scheme quarterback Christian Ponder the way Cleveland opponents scheme Weeden, then this could be a closer game than some believe.
Miami and Baltimore practically flooded the box against Weeden in the first two games, taking away the Cleveland running game, daring him to throw. It’s possible defensive coordinator Ray Horton might do the same with Ponder and shove eight, sometimes nine, men in the box all afternoon and challenge the Minnesota quarterback to beat them with his arm.
He hasn’t so far this season with a completion percentage of just 58.6. His two scoring passes have been negated by four interceptions. The Browns, however, have only one pick, on a deflection by safety Tashaun Gipson, in the first two games,
The Cleveland pass rush has produced six sacks, but the offensive line has permitted 11. Throw in about 20 knockdowns and nearly 30 hurries and the concerns about the line grow by the game. But Hoyer’s mobility should help that stat Sunday.
The once-proud Vikings pass rush has been a non-factor this season with Jared Allen registering the only sack. His battle with Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas bears watching.
The Minnesota offensive line, meanwhile, protects Ponder much better with just four sacks. At least he has the time to pick out his targets. Unfortunately for him, they’re not a group to get excited about. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the Browns’ receivers.
Josh Gordon returns after serving his two-game suspension, but his favorite quarterback will be a spectator. Weeden and Gordon hooked up for more than 800 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Hoyer’s relatively weaker arm most likely will necessitate more of a possession game, which means Gordon’s ability to stretch the field probably will not come into play against the Vikings. Look for offensive coordinator Norv Turner to feature short- to intermediate-range passes to Jordan Cameron and Davone Bess.
Interest in how the Browns will fare the rest of this season was diminished severely when the front office decided to deal Richardson. The flag-of-surrender waving in week three has soured a lot of fans.
The next 14 weeks will seem like 14 months. The end of the season can’t come soon enough. Playing the games one at a time seems much more than a cliché now. But that’s all the players can do.
This Sunday, there is no question which team is better. But you know they say anything can happen on any given Sunday in the NFL. Just not this Sunday. Or most of the other 12 Sundays (don’t forget about the Thursday night game against Buffalo on Oct, 3). Make it:
Vikings 21, Browns 6