Scouting ahead to look at the main factors going into the Cleveland Browns game against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4 of the 2021 NFL Season.
The Cleveland Browns are 2-1 after a smothering defensive performance against the Chicago Bears last Sunday. The win was a welcome sight amid worries about the defense under Joe Woods, but the impression was certainly given that things may be falling into place.
It’s fitting then that the Browns next opponents would be one to truly test that impression.
The Minnesota Vikings have the feel of a very strong 1-2 team. Tough losses in their first two weeks were pushed to the back of the mind by a big win over the Seattle Seahawks. Not only do the Vikings seem stronger than their early record would indicate, but they also seem to have grown even more around Kirk Cousins as their signal-caller and leader on offense. He’s off to a great start slinging the ball and has a great receiving corps to haul it in.
This game has all the makings of a great back-and-forth offensive battle. Football always has a funny way of playing out, and predicting outcomes is never a given, but the potential for entertainment is very high going into this one.
Kirk Cousins and the offense are in a groove
The consistent takeaway through each of the Vikings’ early games has been this: the offense is looking good. Kirk Cousins has just over 918 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions through the first 3 games of the season, and even the absence of star running back Dalvin Cook against the Seahawks didn’t interrupt proceedings.
They’ve been able to score at least 24 points in each game as well, and the playcalling has not missed a beat under first-year offensive coordinator, Klint Kubiak.
The absence of Dalvin Cook should not go unmentioned, though it appears he may be ready for Sunday’s matchup with the Browns. He was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday but has a very competent understudy in the form of Alexander Mattison.
Minnesota’s offense barely missed a beat in Cook’s absence, which is indicative of how well run and dangerous a unit they truly are. In fact, it should look familiar to Browns fans. The Kevin Stefanski connection to the Vikings and Mike Zimmer is obvious, and they love zone run schemes and play activities as much as the Browns do.
It’s almost certainly not in the team’s best interest to let this settle into an offensive showdown between the two teams. The Browns defense has to step up again and be disruptive.
An opportunity for the Cleveland Browns to click offensively
Last week, the defense came to life. This week, it should be the offense’s turn to do the same.
Head coach and veteran play-caller Kevin Stefanski is returning to his old franchise, where he rose through the ranks at a young age to earn a head coaching job. He comes back with a powerful offensive force that since the middle of last season has been able to methodically and efficiently drive down the field and score against nearly everyone they’ve faced.
Baker Mayfield has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL so far this season and has a chance now to really open things up against a defense that lets up points.
A solid performance last week against the Seahawks should be taken into account, but for the most part, this Vikings defense is still not trusted. They’ve averaged letting up just over 400 yards per game through the first 3 games, and seem particularly weak against the run.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will have plenty of opportunities to get involved, as always, and should open things up through the air for Mayfield to continue his impressive start to the season. As long as Stefanski doesn’t keep things one-dimensional, and there are no more communication errors like last week, moving the ball should not be a problem for this Browns offense, and that needs to be reflected on the scoreboard.
The Vikings can score points as well, and have big-play ability on the ground and through the air. The Browns can’t slip up. They need to take control and put the game away to get to 3-1.