By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Browns vs. Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, 1 p.m., at Mall of America Field in the Metrodome.
Last game: Lost to Chicago Bears, 31-30, Sept. 15, in Soldier Field.
Coach: Leslie Frazier, 16-25, third year.
Series record: Vikings lead, 11-3, counting postseason.
Last meeting: Vikings won, 34-20, Sept., 13, 2009, in Cleveland.
League rankings: Offense is 20th overall (10th rushing, 20th passing), defense is 28th (26th rushing, 25th passing) and turnover differential is minus-1.
Offensive overview: Coordinator Bill Musgrave was schooled in the West Coast offense, but has fallen off that tree. He now runs something similar in philosophy to the Browns’ offense. He wants to run Adrian Peterson and throw off play-action. Peterson is one of the few NFL backs who can carry his team to victory even when the passing game is ineffective. He constantly beats eight- and nine-man fronts. A good quarterback would make this offense difficult to stop, but Christian Ponder is still an inconsistent enigma. They supported him with the signing of ex-Packers receiver Greg Jennings and drafting of receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, but so far Ponder is still a work in progress. He often relies on short passes on the rollout to tight end Kyle Rudolph. Ponder’s arm is questionable, but it is less a factor indoors. The offense will be without Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton, who is serving the last of a three-game NFL suspension.
Defensive overview: Frazier, a former NFL defensive back, runs the Tampa Cover-2 defense he learned under Tony Dungy with the Colts. Essentially, he relies entirely on his front four to provide pass pressure and uses the back seven in coverage. The pressure comes primarily from ends Jared Allen, one of the league’s premier sack artists, and ends Brian Robison and Everson Griffen. Tackle Kevin Williams is a load against the run. They run into problems when QBs quick-pass them and nibble away in dink-and-dunk mode. If the rush doesn’t get to the quarterback, there is tremendous pressure on the secondary. The secondary really misses Antoine Winfield, who was one of the premier cornerbacks for a long time and still a capable nickel back in his mid-30s, and the surest tackler at the position. Winfield announced his retirement, but hasn’t filed papers yet. First-round pick Xavier Rhodes comes off the bench in the nickel. Second-year free safety Harrison Smith looks like an emerging star and makes his presence felt in both the run and pass game.
Special teams overview: Kicker Blair Walsh is off to one of the greatest starts in NFL history. In his second season, he is 39 of 42 in field goals and 11 of 11 on kicks of 50 or more yards. His kickoffs in domes are never returned. Punter Jeff Locke was a fifth-round draft pick. He is 10th in gross average (47.6 yards) and 17th in net (40.5). Cordarrelle Patterson had a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and is averaging 40.6 on five returns. Punt returner Marcus Sherels is a dependable catcher, not explosive. The coverage units were shredded for a record 249 yards in kickoff returns by Chicago’s Devin Hester.
Players to watch:
1. RB Adrian Peterson: The league’s premier running back followed up his 2,097-yard season in 2012 with a 78-yard TD run on his first carry of 2013. But since then, he has been limited to 2.5 yards a carry by gang defense not respecting the team’s passing game.
2. DE Jared Allen: Injuries limited him to 12 sacks last season – good for most, but an off year for him. Still, his 118 sacks are the most in the NFL since 2004. He never moves from his right end position, meaning he will match up against Joe Thomas the whole game.
3. WR Greg Jennings: He had consistent numbers catching passes from Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers for seven seasons in Green Bay. Signed as a free agent, he’s learning life on the other side now that Christian Ponder is his quarterback. He has eight catches in two games and is looking for his first TD.
Injury report: FB Rhett Ellison (knee) may be limited.
Small world: Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is a Cleveland native who coached at Youngstown State (1997-98) … Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson was born in Akron, played at Ohio State and was Browns offensive line coach (2005-06) … Linebacker coach Fred Pagac played at Ohio State (1971-73) and coached there in various positions (1982-2000) … Defensive backs coach Joe Woods coached at Muskingum College (1992) and Kent State (1997) … College scout Pat Roberts was in the Browns’ personnel department in various capacities (2005-12) … Personnel consultant Paul Wiggin played with the Browns (1957-67) and in 2008 was inducted in the Browns Legends club.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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