Every game features important matchups that could play a huge role in determining the outcome of the game. Here are a few of the ones that jump out in this week’s matchup between the Browns and Vikings.
Browns OLBs Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger, and Barkevious Mingo vs. Vikings OTs Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt
Mingo got his first sack on the first snap of his career but only totaled 25 defensive snaps as he was eased into the rotation coming off of the lung issue. With Quentin Groves sidelined with a high ankle sprain, Mingo should see a significant amount of playing time in addition to Sheard and Kruger. Coming into this game, the Browns outside linebackers have 4 sacks as a group and have been part of a stellar run defense.
The Vikings have one of the best sets of tackles in football and they should only get better at Kalil matures. He provides fantastic pass protection on the blind side but is a nice run blocker as well while Loadholt is a battleship on the right side who powers their running game. He has tremendous ballast for pass blocking which helps him get out and seal off the edge. This is a big strength vs. strength matchup in this game.
Browns DT Phil Taylor vs. Vikings C John Sullivan
Sullivan has worked himself from sixth round pick ad fringe player to a productive NFL starter and a stabilizing force in the middle of the Viking line. Taylor is a huge task for anyone to block, let alone a player like Sullivan who is barely 300lbs. He has been extremely disruptive so far this year and does a tremendous job of keeping the linebackers behind him clean and able to make plays.
Browns ILBs D’Qwell Jackso, Craig Robertson and SS T.J. Ward vs. Vikings TEs Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson
This is the best tight end group the Browns have faced this year and is a warm up for when they play the Bengals next week. This is an area the Browns needs to prove they handle in order to continue to show the directions this defense is headed. Rudolph is a big target that can work in the middle of the field and can stretch the field vertically on occasion and if they have both on the field at the same time, that is a great deal of size and players who take up space the Browns have to try to counter.
Vikings DEs Jared Allen, Brian Robison, and Everson Griffen vs. Browns OTs Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz
Allen and Thomas will spend much of the game facing off on one side of the line but the more critical matchup is on the rig side. Schwartz came out struggling the first two weeks against fantastic competition in Cameron Wake and Elvis Dumervil. Robison and Griffen are not on that level but Schwartz needs to come out and have a good game. He will still be playing next to Oniel Cousins which does not make his life any easier but he just needs to stop the bleeding and get back to be form he showed last year.
Vikings CBs Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes vs. Browns WR Josh Gordon
Gordon comes back from his two-game suspension and will attempt to hit the ground running this week. He has the ability to stretch the field but since Brian Hoyer is the starting quarterback this week who does not drive the ball terribly well, it remains to be seen how they want to use him. Robinson has the speed to cover Gordon while Cook and Rhodes have more size if they want to match up that way, especially if they are not concerned about Hoyer going deep. Rhodes, their first round pick, excels as a press corner.
Vikings LBs Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson and SS Jamarca Sanford vs. Browns TE Jordan Cameron
Cameron has come out and played well in the first two games but the Vikings might be best equipped to play him. Greenway is as good a strong side linebacker as the NFL has right now. Cameron might benefit from having Gordon come back and might give him additional opportunities to make plays if the safeties feel pressed to help on. Gordon.
Vikings DTs Kevin Williams, LeTroy Guion and Sharrif Floyd vs. Browns RG Oniel Cousins
With Shawn Lauvao still not back yet, Cousins gets another game and another difficult matchup. Williams has been dealing with some injuries but having Guion as their nose guard as well as Floyd as their primary rotational defensive tackle gives them the ability to give him a ton of different looks. They may have a similar approach with their unit that the Dolphins did, which was an absolute disaster from start to finish for Cousins.
Browns CBs Joe Haden, Buster Skrine and Chris Owens vs. Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson
Presumably, when the Vikings are in their base offense, Haden will cover Greg Jennings. The question is how the Browns will shift their defense when Patterson comes into the game. If Haden stays on Jennings, either Skrine or Owens will have to try to cover Patterson. If they are concerned with Patterson and put Haden on him, one of them has to slide over to cover Jennings. From a physical standpoint, Patterson has it all but he is extremely raw and relies on natural instincts quite a bit while Jennings is the polished technical player.