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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Position-by-position: How the Vikings match up against the Browns

By Matthew Coller

Oe ScThe Minnesota Vikings (5-2) and Cleveland Browns (0-7) are set to match up in London on Sunday. A win for the Vikings would put them in the driver’s seat to win the NFC North. A loss would be crushing. Could the Browns pull off an upset? Let’s have a look at how the two teams match up…

Quarterback

Case Keenum has another chance to play hero vs. Browns

The Cleveland Browns have added to their robust history of botching their quarterback situation this season. In camp, they named DeShone Kizer the starter, but have since benched him, then started him again, then benched him again and now are set to start him again vs. the Vikings. Starting a struggling rookie, who has the league’s worst quarterback rating, against the league’s best defensive line seems unwise, but the Browns will throw Kizer to the wolves without his star left tackle. Kizer’s biggest issue has been a complete inability to work the ball downfield. He’s 13-for-41 on throws between 11-20 yards and 5-for-21 beyond 20. It wouldn’t be a surprise if we see Cody Kessler at some point.

The Vikings are hoping that Case Keenum can continue to manage the game without mistakes. Last year he threw 11 interceptions in 10 games. This season he’s only been picked off twice, which is a credit to Pat Shurmur for setting up Keenum with a number of short-pass situations and play-action passes. According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings are third in the NFL in yards per attempt on play-action throws. While Keenum’s numbers overall are very good, the offense does lack an explosive quality that it might have with Sam Bradford. Since the Tampa Bay game, Keenum averages only 6.6 yards per attempt. He certainly has an opportunity for big plays against the league’s second worst pass defense, which will likely be without its best DB Jason McCourtey.

Advantage: Vikings

Running back

Cleveland’s most dangerous offensive weapons are in the backfield. Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell rank No. 1 and 2 in yards from scrimmage, respectively. Johnson has been strong in the passing game, leading the team 32 receptions. He also averages 5.1 yards per carry. Crowell hasn’t broken out a huge run yet so far this year – his long is just 17 yards – but he averaged 4.8 yards per carry last year and can be dangerous on the ground.

In the first two games after the Vikings lost Dalvin Cook to an ACL tear, Jerick McKinnon took over the RB1 role with 164 yards and 11 catches in two games. Last week it was Latavius Murray’s turn as he rushed for 113 yards on just 18 carries. Murray showed the speed and burst that caught the Vikings’ eye in free agency. The Vikings can adapt to whatever scheme is working against their opponent by using both RBs. McKinnon and Murray can also pass protect and catch out of the backfield when called upon.

Advantage: Draw

Wide receiver/tight end

As poor as DeShone Kizer has played, he’s working with the worst group of receivers in the NFL. The highest ranked Browns receiver by Pro Football Focus metrics is Kasen Williams at 76th in the league and he only has nine catches. Kenny Britt, a free agent signing by Cleveland, has been a major bust, catching only 10 passes on 28 targets this year. The Browns’ top receiver, 6-foot-2, 215-pound Ricardo Louis, has 21 receptions. His size/speed (4.43 40-yard dash) and athleticism can be difficult on opponents. Rookie tight end David Njoku was a top prospect coming out but hasn’t yet broken through, catching just 16 passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns.

If Stefon Diggs is back for the Vikings (he’s officially questionable), the passing attack is significantly more explosive. Last week, the Ravens loaded up one side of the field and left Laquon Treadwell 1-on-1. When Diggs went out, he was leading the NFL in yards. He also averages an impressive 17.2 yards per catch. With the Ravens’ focus on one side, Adam Thielen only grabbed five passes on 12 targets last week. He will certainly benefit from having Diggs back. We may see Michael Floyd back – he was limited in practice this week – but if not, Jarius Wright should see more playing time after a strong game against Baltimore. He continually proves himself to be a reliable professional receiver. Kyle Rudolph has become one of Keenum’s favorite targets with 16 catches in the last three weeks. Key Rudolph stat: Eight of 12 passes in his direction on third down have resulted in first downs.

Advantage: Vikings

Offensive line

Joe Thomas’s absence robs fans of the best Vikings-Browns matchup

The Cleveland Browns beefed up their offensive line in the offseason by signing former Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler and ex-Packers center JC Tretter. Added with Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio, Cleveland expected to have very few weaknesses on the O-line, but a season-ending triceps injury for Thomas will make Sunday’s matchup with the dominant Vikings D-line much more challenging for the Browns. Filling in will be second-year tackle Spencer Drango, who Griffen said is much slower than Thomas and should probably be a guard.

The Vikings’ offensive line could be dinged up this week with starting tackle Riley Reiff and guard Nick Easton listed as questionable and Jeremiah Sirles out for the game. When fully healthy, the Vikings’ line has been the key to their offensive success. They are smart and athletic, which gives offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur numerous scheme options in the run and pass game. The Vikings’ front office did a terrific job rebuilding a line that was among the worst in the NFL last year.

Advantage: Vikings

Defensive line

Just when it appeared Browns fans would have something exciting to watch over the final nine weeks of the season, No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett suffered a concussion. He will not play against the Vikings on Sunday. Garrett got off to a great start with 4.0 sacks in his first three career games. The rest of the Browns’ D-line has been solid against the run but rarely made noise in pass rush. They allow the fewest yards per carry in the NFL at 3.0 per rush, but have only 11 sacks that did not come from Garrett. The matchup inside to watch will be against run-stuffing DT Danny Shelton.

Another week, another monster performance by Everson Griffen, who has 9.0 sacks in seven games. Danielle Hunter hasn’t posted the same numbers he did last year, but has continued to pressure and hit opposing quarterbacks. Pro Football Focus ranks Hunter as the 16the best edge rusher in the NFL this year. In the middle, Linval Joseph is playing the best of his career. He is stuffing the middle to eliminate opponents’ running game and doing his part in the pass rush as well. The much-discussed three-technique position has turned out to be a strong point for the Vikings as both Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen have played well.

Advantage: Vikings

Linebacker

The Browns’ linebacking group has been a disaster. For some reason, teams still make trades with New England, but that might not be very smart considering Jamie Collins has struggled mightily since coming over to Cleveland from the Patriots. He has 3.0 sacks in 12 games as a Brown. Christian Kirksey, who signed a four-year, $38 million contract extension in the offseason, has been good against the run, but struggled in coverage. Joe Schobert is the highest ranked Cleveland LB by PFF measures at 47th in the NFL.

Anthony Barr came out of concussion protocol on Friday, then played another dominant game on Sunday. Barr has been one of the NFL’s best all-around linebackers, blowing up run plays, tracking running backs in coverage and pressuring the QB. He picked up his first sack last week, but has routinely been in the backfield when asked to blitz. His resurgence has been the difference between the Vikings having a good and great defense. Eric Kendricks does not have a very good PFF rating thus far, but it’s mostly his run grade that has been scrutinized. He’s 21st of 73 in coverage. A few missed tackles against Detroit may be dragging him down in a small sample. Skill wise, Kendricks’ quickness and instincts

Advantage: Vikings

Defensive backs

Vikings’ opponents are attacking Trae Waynes – how is he holding up?

Cleveland has two very good cornerbacks. Of course, one of them is hurt. Veteran Jason McCourty has been playing well this season, allowing 5.6 yards per attempt in his direction. But he is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game. Former Gopher Briean Boddy-Coleman ranks seventh by PFF rankings and has allowed just 3.8 yards per attempt into his coverage. The rest of the Cleveland DB group is suspect. Jamar Taylor is giving up 10.5 yards per attempt against and Jabrill Peppers is yet to find the right role as a safety.

The Vikings’ secondary will be weakened by the absence of Andrew Sendejo (suspension), but if there was ever a game to be without a starter, it would be against the Browns’ struggling passing game. Anthony Harris filled in admirably against the Packers. You might already know that Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith are playing at an All-Pro Level, but it should be mentioned that Trae Waynes’ play has improved significantly since Week 2. He’s given up just a 68.2 passer rating against since then. And give Terence Newman credit. He’s taken on a new position and big load of snaps and been up to the challenge at age 39.

Advantage: Vikings

The post Position-by-position: How the Vikings match up against the Browns appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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