The Vikings lost what turned into something of an old-school defensive battle that resembled an NFC Central division game from the 1970s. The Vikings lost the game in the trenches, as the offense struggled to get their run game going, while Kirk Cousins was under pressure nearly every drop back after the first drive. Meanwhile, while the Vikings defense held the Browns to just 14 points, they also allowed them to possess the ball for over 35 minutes. And, if not for a truly awful performance from Baker Mayfield, the Browns may have won by a bigger margin. As it was, the game came down to the last play, on which the Vikings fell short, as did the officiating crew, who missed an obvious defensive pass interference penalty.
Be that as it may, it was a hard fought but fairly dull game against a Browns team that has a pretty solid roster, with few weak spots outside of quarterback. The Vikings defense, with some assistance from Baker Mayfield, did a good job of keeping the Browns out of the end zone. If not for a questionable holding call on Eric Kendricks, on a 4th and goal stop, the Browns may not have gotten in all afternoon.
Offensively, this was easily the best overall defense the Vikings have faced, and may face the rest of the season. The offensive line wasn’t quite up to the task, and after the first drive, were getting pushed back consistently the rest of the afternoon. And with the offensive line struggling, so too did Kirk Cousins and the rest of the Vikings offense.
With that, let’s look at individual performances. Not a lot that stood out today, but here goes.
Blue Chip Stocks
Justin Jefferson. While it was a tough day for the Vikings passing game, JJ still managed 6 receptions on 7 targets for 84 yards and a TD- most of those receptions were tough catches too.
Patrick Peterson. Peterson has had a better start to his Vikings career than he gets credit for, and against the Browns Peterson allowed just a 52.1 passer rating when targeted.
Danielle Hunter. Hunter led the team with 7 pressures including a sack, facing a tough matchup in Jack Conklin most of the time.
Everson Griffen. Griffen had 5 pressures including a sack on about two-thirds of the pass rush snaps as Hunter. Griffen has done well the past couple games, which is good because D.J. Wonnum has not.
Solid Secondary Offering
Cam Dantzler. He didn’t get the start, but he played most of the game in relief of Bashaud Breeland, who was sick. He had been listed as questionable with an illness earlier in the week. Dantzler did pretty well in coverage and also had some good plays in run support. There’s been some drama with Dantzler stemming from what seems to be his dissatisfaction with Breeland being brought in and displacing him as a starter after a very good second half to his rookie year. Dantzler appears to be working back into Zimmer’s good graces, and hopefully his performance against the Browns will lead to his regaining his starting job over Breeland, who has yet to have a good game.
Offensive Line. The OL went backwards, literally and figuratively, against the Browns. It was a tough matchup, but the Browns defensive line won it convincingly. Kirk Cousins was under pressure just about every drop back after their first drive, and that pressure weighed heavily on the offensive performance. Equally, they weren’t able to open many holes in the running game, creating a good number of unfavorable down and distance situations.
D.J. Wonnum. Wonnum hasn’t really been effective against the run or pass, not only in this game, but so far this season. I’m not sure what happened to Wonnum playing outside linebacker- the Vikings experimented with him in that role in preseason, but haven’t noticed him much in that role since the season started. In any case, Wonnum is t pulling his weight.
Thoughts on 1-3
The Vikings are now 1-3 and two games behind the Packers at 3-1 in the division. Looking back at the Vikings early schedule, the Vikings have faced the most explosive offense in the 4-0 Cardinals on the road, and played them closer than the Rams did at home. The Browns were a top AFC team as advertised, and again the Vikings played them close. Even the Bengals are 3-1 and have a top defense. And the 2-2 Seahawks had the 2nd ranked offense in DVOA. Bottom line, this wasn’t as easy an early schedule as expected preseason. It may also be that a couple games later in the schedule won’t be quite as tough- SF and Pittsburgh for example, and maybe even Baltimore due to injuries. The problem is that the Panthers, Chargers, and Cowboys look like tougher matchups now too.
Mike Zimmer remained as confident as ever that he has a good team this year in his post-game press conference, saying he’s been doing this for 27 years and knows when he has a good team. The issue at 1-3 is that they don’t have much time to get the kinks out and start stacking wins. Apart from this Browns game, the offense has been one of the best in the league. The defense, after taking some time to get things together- and facing the most explosive offense in the league, has held two top ten offenses in Seattle and Cleveland to 17 points or less.
But they need to put it all together and also win the close games. Hosting Detroit next week should help right the ship. But after that they’ve got a six game stretch of tough opponents, beginning with Carolina on the road, followed by five in a row after their bye-week. That stretch is where we’ll find out just how good this Vikings team is.