The Browns run defense had to play against Adrian Peterson, a player that can bring even the best teams to their knees at times. Peterson was able to get a solid amount of rushing yards, though it was his lowest output of the year to this point, but it never felt like he was a big time factor in the game. The Browns were able to do what every team wants to do; they forced Christian Ponder to be their big playmaker and although he came close, he was ultimately unable to make enough plays to lead the Vikings to the victory.
Peterson had 88 yards on 25 carries at an average of 3.5 per carry. While it was certainly not shut down, Peterson’s longest run was 9 yards and he never was able to really get going as a runner. He was able to get a touchdown on the first drive of the game, but D’Qwell Jackson was able to cause a fumble that was recovered by Jabaal Sheard.
Peterson was able to get to 115 yards of total offense as he had his biggest output of the year as a receiver with 6 catches for 27 yards. That adds up to a solid day of work overall, but there was never a feeling that Peterson was taking over the game or the Browns could not make a big stop on him when they needed one.
From the rushing defense’s standpoint, the more concerning issue was the rushing of Ponder. Between a combination of designed runs and scrambling, Ponder was able to get 46 yards on 5 carries and 2 touchdowns. It is a little concerning that for the most part, Ponder was completely unaccounted for by the defensive scheme.
For example, on the first touchdown Ponder scored, the Vikings called a draw. Bill Musgrave deserves credit on the call as the timing was perfect. Ponder could have walked into the end zone he was so wide open. The way the Browns defense was called on that play, no one was looking for Ponder. It is unclear if the Vikings coaching staff saw this in scouting the Browns leading up to the game or if this was something they noticed during the game. In either case, Musgrave made the perfect call and caught Ray Horton in a bad defense for the situation and it worked perfectly for the touchdown.
The other four carries were on scrambles as opposed to designed runs, but they had similar results. Ponder was able to score another touchdown that was more contested, but nevertheless, he was able to score relatively easily on the play. Ponder’s longest run of the day was 14 yards and it really never got solved.
To Horton’s credit, he made a perfect call given the timing when the Vikings were finding success on rollouts with Ponder where he was able to buy time to pass or run. On a third down play in the fourth quarter, Horton sent a couple guys off of the back side including Craig Robertson who got the most pressure on Ponder. Ponder had his back turned to Robertson so when he came out and Robertson was almost on him, Ponder just had to get rid of the ball and got the Vikings to fourth down.
Overall, the Browns did a solid job against Peterson. Certainly, it was not to the level they did against the Dolphins or Ravens but this was the best back in the league and the Browns were effective enough to force them to put the game in the hands of their quarterback. But because of the rushing by Ponder, the Browns run defense looked far more mortal. In all, the Vikings were able to run for 134 yards on the ground. It is not the end of the world and the Browns were able to get the win, but it will be interesting to see if the Browns get back to stronger run defense this week against the Cincinnati Bengals and going forward with Adrian Peterson behind them. The also aspect to keep an eye on going forward is if teams with more mobile quarterbacks will try to use them to gain yardage on the ground with them either on designed calls or encouraging them to scramble.