The Browns have what looks like can be a tremendous run defense now and going into the future. They have been stifling through two games this year, but they go on the road to play perhaps the ultimate measuring stick in Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings. Peterson has been able to bring some of the best run defenses to their knees at times as easily the best running back of this generation. If the Browns can stop Peterson this week and force Christian Ponder to beat them, they go from being a pretty good run defense to being a great one almost overnight.
The Browns are tied for the fourth best run defense in terms of yards per game at 59.5, but that number is even more impressive when broken down into yards per carry where they are the top defense in the league giving up just 2 yards per carry. With Miami, they took the Dolphins running game apart and held them to 20 yards on 23 carries. They simply dominated them from start to finish and Ryan Tannehill and a bunch of turnovers helped the Dolphins finally edge out the Browns in the end. The Dolphins turned around and ran for 100 yards on 27 carries against the Indianapolis Colts in week two.
The Ravens had more success but it was largely through persistence. They were able to get 99 yards, but it took 36 carries as a team to get there. The Ravens used the running game more as a means to keep the Browns defense honest and force them to at least stop it which helped Joe Flacco get a few plays and helped them get their 14 points.
With the Vikings, the Browns are going to be even more focused on stopping the running game with Peterson combined with the fact that Ponder is an average quarterback at best. Not only is it a challenge the Browns defense will accept and a means to prove just how good they can be, but it is also the best game plan.
Because of the way teams tend to game plan against Peterson and the Vikings, it is all or nothing with him. There are definitely games where he can get chunks of yards and work to good total, but more often, Peterson gets stopped a lot but breaks a big run that breaks the back of the defense. Peterson enters this game with 193 yards rushing on 44 carries with a pair of touchdowns. 42 of those carries totaled 79 yards. The problem is those other two. The first was a 78 yard run for a touchdown against the Lions. The other was a 36 yard run against the Bears. So while the Browns defense may be able to contain Peterson quite a bit, it only takes that one run to make a big play and rack up a huge total and average.
While Peterson is obviously a running threat first and foremost, he has also caught 5 passes for 25 yards and another touchdown. Predominately used on screens and dump offs, it just comes as an extension of the running game and is one more area where the Browns need to account for him.
The Vikings offensive line is a talented group as well. With arguably as talented a group of tackles in the league with Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, the interior of the line with John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco and Charlie Johnson have a little less pressure on them. Not unlike the Browns, their biggest question marks are at the guard spots with Fusco an example of why Browns fans should be excited about a player like Garrett Gilkey. Fusco is a third year player out of Slippery Rock in Pennsylvania who really battled through some struggles last year and has appeared to come out on the other side. Sullivan has really worked his way up not unlike Athyba Rubin, going from a sixth round pick and working to own that spot since the departure of Matt Birk. Johnson was initially a tackle with the Colts before being brought in by the Vikings as a patchwork job. With the selection of Kalil, they were able to move him inside to guard and while he is not ideal, he does a solid enough of a job.
The early returns on the run defense are incredible considering where the Browns have been since coming back in 1999. Maybe those were just two great outings, but this week gives them an opportunity to really make a statement to the rest of the league about where this defense and especially the front seven are going. As frustrated as many fans are with the state of the Browns, this is a bright spot and should continue to be one going forward for the foreseeable future. This is the type of unit where fans are going to remember each one of their names ten and twenty years down the road and if they keep going the way they are, they are going to earn themselves a nickname. They are definitely worth watching even if little else is.