Exactly 24 hours from now, we should know whether the Vikings have bounced back to 2-2 or have fallen to 1-3 after their Week 4 meeting against the Cleveland Browns. But before our great elation or despair, let’s get to know a little more about the team that we only see once every four years.
Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature was kind enough to give us some insight on the Browns leading up to tomorrow’s kickoff. If you want to see his questions about the Vikings along with my answers, you can check them out here.
1. Hey, did you know that your Head Coach was on the Vikings coaching staff for a long time? You did? OK good. How has Kevin Stefanski been received since arriving in Cleveland? Does he have a universally positive approval rating so far, or are there some areas where fans would like to see him improve going forward?
Browns fans got so used to head coach after head coach coming through with a mix of bad playcalling, questionable usage of personnel, and poor game management. From the day Kevin Stefanski arrived in Cleveland, he has been great in all three categories. Cleveland has a clearly-identifiable offensive system that is smart and works effectively. I thought it would be a tough task for a coach to find the right utilization balance of two All-Pro type of backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but he has it down to a tee. And from a game-management perspective, Stefanski does a good job with the run-pass balance, especially running the ball late if he has a lead and going for it on fourth down in certain situations. The only thing that has been a bit frustrating during Stefanski’s tenure has been the performance of the defensive side of the ball, but I think everyone pins that on defensive coordinator Joe Woods. I would say that Stefanski definitely has a universally positive approval rating.
2. Myles Garrett is still picking pieces of Justin Fields out of his teeth after racking up a franchise-record 4.5 sacks last week. After the ugly incident that ended his 2019 season and dealing with the after-effects of COVID-19 last year, are we finally witnessing Garrett at the peak of his powers? Or can he (gulp) still get even better?
Garrett is always working to get better, but I wouldn’t take last week’s 4.5-sack performance as the peak of his powers. Bears head coach Matt Nagy had a dumb offensive gameplan, especially not choosing to chip Garrett when every other team does that. Garrett often tries to utilize a great jump off of the line to beat his man, but I’d like to see him mix it up a tad more and try to use his strength for a bull rush at times. I think Garrett as right with what he said two weeks ago, even though it may have seemed like he was calling out his teammates: if he’s getting double- and triple-teamed, he doesn’t mind it — but his teammates need to step up and make a play to take advantage of it. I expect the Vikings to chip him and for Kirk Cousins to get the ball out quick as usual, so let’s see if the rest of the defense can step up to a team besides the Bears.
3. The two-headed running back attack of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt usually get the most accolades in Cleveland’s offense, with good reason. Baker Mayfield hasn’t been asked to air it out a ton through the first three games, but he has been more efficient when he has thrown compared to his first three seasons. What have you liked from Mayfield’s play thus far in 2021? What parts of his game still need some work?
Although he had a couple of accuracy issues in last week’s game against the Bears, Baker Mayfield has been locked in at quarterback through three games. Don’t let the 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions fool you — Cleveland will throw the ball often, and the line protects him very well. But Mayfield is excelling in all areas this year — imagine in his first couple of seasons, he had to stare down his primary target forever and bail from the pocket too early, but now, he can sit and weave through the pocket with his eyes closed and still find the open receiver without breaking a sweat. He’s calm, finds his reads, and has worked so hard on his ballfakes that his playaction bootlegs to the left often lead to a wide open receiver 2-3 times per game. Mayfield has also gotten better at taking off for first-down yardage in the right situations. If you look at his body of work in 2021, I don’t know if there is any part of his game that needs work — I’ll go back to a weakness that he had last year, though, and say that he needs to work on his ball security in designed quarterback sneaks/runs.
4. Give us one player on offense and one player on defense that Browns fans may not be familiar with, but could have a big impact on Sunday’s matchup.
On offense, look out for running back/wide receiver Demetric Felton. A sixth-round pick in this year’s draft, he is seeing more playing time due to Jarvis Landry’s injury. Two weeks ago, he caught a wide receiver screen pass at the line of scrimmage and dodged his way through defenders for a 33-yard touchdown. Last week, in the first quarter, Mayfield motioned him from wide left to be beside him in the backfield in Shotgun. Felton then ran a wheel route and easily beat his man for what could’ve been another touchdown, but Mayfield overthrew him on the touch pass (an example of one of Mayfield’s accuracy issues from last week). Felton won’t play a ton of snaps, but when he’s in there, the play is often designed for him.
On defense, I have to go with another rookie: linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Vikings fans are probably a bit familiar with him, considering he was a second-round pick in this year’s draft with first-round potential. Even though he’s not an every-down defender yet, he is looking every bit like a first-round worthy pick, with great closing speed, defending of passes, and instincts.
5. The Browns and Vikings appear to be pretty evenly matched heading into the game. So fill in the blanks for us: the Browns will win on Sunday if __________. Conversely, the Vikings will win on Sunday if __________.
I was about to say the same thing — these teams are pretty even. Therefore, I’d say the Browns will win on Sunday if the offense finishes drives with touchdowns. The Vikings will win on Sunday if they can force a key turnover to an unsuspecting player — that’s what happened in Week 1 against the Chiefs, when Cleveland was rolling but then Nick Chubb put the ball on the ground, and then later on, our punter literally booted a clean snap for a turnover on downs. I didn’t mention the Browns’ defense in either scenario because I’m not being fooled by the Browns’ stout defensive effort last week — yes, they deserve credit for their consistency for all four quarters, but it really was just a shit effort by the Bears.
Thanks again to Chris for his excellent insight on the Browns. Stay tuned for more as we approach Sunday’s Noon kickoff from U.S. Bank Stadium.