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Vikings vs. Browns: Game Notes

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Browns Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings started slow, but dispensed with the still-winless Browns in workman-like fashion, slowly building a lead as the second half progressed in London.

In a game that didn’t seem to have a lot of drama or intensity, and in front of a crowd that wasn’t particularly loud or intense either, the Vikings were able to overcome some mishaps and wear down the Browns into submission by about mid-way through the fourth quarter.

What Went Well for the Vikings

Pass Defense: The Browns have one of the worst QBs in the league in DeShone Kizer, and a poor group of receivers for him to throw to, so it wasn’t particularly surprsing to see the Browns pass offense held in check throughout the game. The Vikings gave up only about 100 yards passing when the game was in doubt, and about another 60 in garbage time. The Vikings also picked up 3 sacks.

Field Goals: Kai Forbath hit all four of his field goal attempts (although one extra point was blocked), helping the Vikings to eclipse the 30-point mark for the second time this season.

Time of Possession: The Vikings had the ball for nearly 38 minutes, while the Browns had it for only 22. That’s about as lopsided as you’re likely to see in an NFL game.

Being the ‘Away’ Team in London: While it’s a long flight and players have to deal with jet lag, the ‘home’ team has to deal with it too, while pretty much losing their home field advantage, as the crowd is fairly neutral, and crowd noise is a non-issue. I found myself noticing a lot more PA announcements during the game, that normally you wouldn’t be able to hear on the other side of the Atlantic. That makes it a relatively easy road game for the ‘away’ team, while the ‘home’ team effectively loses a home game for the season.

What Didn’t Work Well for the Vikings

Running Game: The Vikings struggled to run the ball effectively throughout the game, ending up with only 88 yards on the ground, and averaging only 2.6 yards per rush. The offensive line struggled in run blocking most of the game, leading to early contact and losses on more than a few running plays. Mike Remmers was lost early in the game to a concussion, being replaced by Rashod Hill, so that may have account for some of the offensive line difficulties, in addition to starting rookie Danny Isidora in replacement of Nick Easton at left guard.

Special Teams: The Vikings gave up a 72-yard kick return to the Browns, and also allowed a blocked extra-point, while not generating much in the positive column, apart from capitalizing on an unforced error- a muffed punt by Bryce Treggs - which the Vikings recovered.

Still Making Plays

But what felt like a lackluster performance at times for the Vikings, particularly on offense, still proved productive. Case Keenum is a case in point.

One could point to a few passes that lacked accuracy/ball placement, leading to incompletions, or to missing an open Stefon Diggs down the field for what would have been a big play or touchdown, but on the other hand he was adept at stepping up in the pocket to avoid a sack and delivered some nice completions for big plays. He also was able to extend plays on occasion with his feet, rollling out and firing downfield with success. And apart from a tipped ball interception you couldn’t really blame him for, he took care of the ball and was able to sustain drives long enough to make them scoring drives.

Defensively, the Vikings were not quite as stout against the run in London as they have been so far this season, but Danielle Hunter was able to force a fumble in the first half that helped the Vikings when they needed a lift.

And, while Stefon Diggs didn’t have fabulous receiving numbers against the Browns (4/27), he did generate a big defensive pass interference penalty that led to a Vikings touchdown.

Similarly, while Jerick McKinnon only averaged 3.6 yards a carry, he managed to force 6 missed tackles and added 72 receiving yards to combine for 122 all-purpose yards on the day.

Adam Thielen continued his impressive performance as the Vikings go-to receiver this season, adding 5 receptions for 98 yards and his first TD on the season to his stat sheet.

Bottom Line

The Vikings did what they were so supposed to do: beat an inferior Browns team without much trouble. The Vikings also concluded the relatively soft part of their schedule winning four straight games heading into their bye-week. At 6-2, atop the NFC North and current 2nd seed with a first round bye in the NFC playoff tournament, the Vikings are in control of their destiny heading into the second half of the season.

The Vikings will have to step up their game to do as well in the second half as the first, but they’ll have a chance to get healthy and rest up over the bye-week, and hopefully get a QB or two back healthy. My hope is also that Pat Shurmur takes advantage of the bye-week to fine tune some things offensively, while adding a few wrinkles to hopefully get more production in the second half.

Side Note London: A Net Loss

As much as the NFL works to promote these London games, it’s hard to see them as anything more than a net loss. Players, coaches and fans see London games as an obstacle in the schedule. Making the trip adds difficulty to the preparation week for players and coaches, fans lose out on a home game and both team’s fans get a bummer of a early Sunday morning start time, which undoubtedly isn’t helpful to local establishments or convenient for local fans.

And while attendance at the London games averages around 75,000 this year, that’s not saying much when ultra-prime, lower level seats on the 50-yard line at Twickenham go for less than nose bleed seats in the corner of the upper deck at US Bank stadium. That being the case, I’m guessing ticket sale revenue per game for London games is probably last among all NFL stadium venues.

So what’s the point?

It’s been a number of years now since the NFL started the London experiment, which is clearly a negative for players, coaches and fans, and it has really yet to be anything more than a curiousity for most Britons. Sure, there are some NFL fans in the UK, but is it really worth the trouble to play there? I’m guessing a fair amount of tickets sold for the London games are to Americans living in the UK and fans from the US traveling to London for the game. That’s not really penetrating the local market. I lived in the UK for a year and Britons are pretty big sports fans. But if the NFL hasn’t been able to make any more headway than this after many years of London games, and NFL Europe, then you really have to question whether promoting London is like when Las Vegas tried to promote itself as family-friendly.

I’m not sure how TV revenue nets out overall for these games, but I’m sure they don’t do any favors for the local TV ratings for the teams involved. Nor for local establishments and sports bars that draw customers for the games. And even for fans that still watch on TV at home or at a sports bar, it’s a bummer of a start time.

Adding it all up, it’s not a good thing for the NFL, which these days probably needs to worry a little more about it’s home market than expanding abroad. Pulling the plug on the London experiment would help.


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