Nov 18, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Vikings tackle Brian O’Neill (75) blocks Chicago Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd (94) in the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
We face another crucial game. Dropping the first two games gives your season a sense of urgency. Our Minnesota Vikings take on the Cleveland Browns, a team that has made significant improvements under the leadership of Kevin Stefanski. They finished last season with an 11-5 ‘record’. They started their 2021 season with a 2-1 record, including a dominant win over the Bears. We’ll start with the Zim vs. Stefanski matchup. From there, we look at the challenge of Cleveland’s hasty attack and their line of defense.
Key #1: Zim vs. Stefanskic
Stefanski spoke this week about his time in Minnesota. He always seems sincere in his appreciation of his time with the Vikings. He denied that he had to come up with anything too wild for this game: “They have really good football players. I know they have very good coaches. That’s where the challenge lies. We have to create a game plan that our boys can understand, execute and execute.” do not think too much.”
I think that’s nonsense. I think he has some tricks up his sleeve.
Stefanski knows how to exploit Zim’s defenses. I expect a lot of crossovers and some consistent effort to target our CB2. I would also expect them to try to make our DTs move sideways, creating creases for Chubb and Hunt to run through.
Zim, in turn, no doubt anticipates ways Stefanski will try to undermine his defensive efforts. It would be a huge help to have Anthony Barr back, as would some improved play in the secondary. The Browns will be out of Jarvis Landry, but they have enough offensive weapons to deal damage. Somewhat ironically, I think the key for Zim lies in simplifying the defense. You may wonder how much of the blown cover and long touchdowns have come from players not fully understanding their role and/or trying to do too much.
Simplicity allows a team to play quickly. Let’s play fast so we can slow down the Browns.
Key #2: The Cleveland RBs vs. Minnesota’s Front Seven
Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb are a great pair of backs. I can pretty much guarantee that a significant portion of Zim’s focus this week has been on how he might slow down this elite duo. View the statistics:
– Chubb: 48 carries, 262 yards, 5.5 Y/A, 3 TDs, 3 receptions, 21 receiving yards.
– Hunting: 29 carries, 165 yards, 5.7 Y/A, 2 TDs, 10 receptions, 104 receptions yards.
Minnesota’s run defense was less than great. We allow (on average) just under 120 yards of rushing per game. We have to end that in week 4. If we can make Cleveland one-dimensional, we’ll have a much better chance of winning this thing.
Both Cleveland backs are a true test. Hunt worries me the most, because he is just as dangerous on the ground as he is in the passing game. Chubb doesn’t do much in the passing game, so maybe the Vikings can take advantage of that reality. PFF also indicates that he is a below average pass blocker. When he is in play, the Browns will be more limited than when Hunt is there.
It is possible that injuries could limit Cleveland as several of their o-linemen have been ripped off. However, we cannot count on that. Our front seven will have to be really focused.
Key #3: Cleveland’s D-Line vs. Minnesota’s OL
Myles Garrett created all kinds of problems for the Bears:
Now Garrett partners with Jadeveon Clowney, Takk McKinley and Malik McDowell. Our offensive line will have another difficult day.
To their credit, the OL has performed admirably over the past two weeks. So much of that success can be traced back to what Lil’Kub and Kirk have done to help the line. The ball goes out very, very quickly, so the line doesn’t have to hold for long. However, what happens if Cleveland finds a way to neutralize the short/intermediate areas of the field? We might be in trouble.
At some point, our OL will have to come up with massive blocks to Cleveland’s talented d-linemen. I’m especially concerned about the left side. Christian Darrisaw may be in the blocks, but I don’t think he will start. Rashod Hill will have to show some rough resilience. If the OL can continue to operate even at an intermediate level, our offense is pretty well positioned to have a productive day.
The crystal ball
Maybe I’m just on Team Optimism because of the Seahawks win, but I actually like our chances against the Browns. Our attack was excellent, in large part because they showed they have the capacity to restrain elite edge rushers. The defense is certainly a work in progress; in their defense (see what I did there?), they did well in the second half against Seattle. Let’s hope this is a harbinger of how they will perform the rest of the way.
I’m rolling with the good guys in a close.
Off-Season Prediction: Vikings 35 – Browns 24
Updated Prediction: Vikings 27 – Browns 24
After the correct prediction from last week I am at a respectable 2-1. My hope is to climb to 3-1 as the purple climb to 2-2.
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