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Cleveland7170731
Minnesota7107327
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NFL Preview - Cleveland (0-2) at Minnesota (0-2)



By John McMullen, NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - It figures to be a bit of a "Desperation Bowl" in the Land of 10,000 Lakes this week when the 0-2 Cleveland Browns face off with the wildly disappointing and winless Minnesota Vikings

The Browns will welcome speedy wide receiver Josh Gordon back from suspension but will be without starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, who injured the thumb on his throwing hand in the team's 14-6 loss at Baltimore in Week 2, and running back Trent Richardson, who was dealt in a surprise blockbuster trade with the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday.

Browns coach Rob Chudzinski has already named Brian Hoyer, who leapfrogged veteran Jason Campbell on the depth chart, the starter at QB in Minneapolis.

Richardson, meanwhile, was selected by the Browns in the 2012 draft and was viewed as the centerpiece of a rebuilding process for a team that has not made the playoffs since 2002. But, that thought process came from the old regime in Cleveland not Chudzinski, CEO Joe Banner or first-year general manager Mike Lombardi.

Richardson did have injury issues in a rookie campaign that saw him total 1,317 yards and 12 touchdowns and he has struggled out of the gate this year with just 105 rushing yards in the first two games.

"Trent's a great player and we expect him to have success in this league," said Banner. "Right now, based on how we're building this team for sustainable success, we're going to be aggressive and do what it takes to assemble a team that consistently wins."

The Browns are expected to bring in veteran free agent Willis McGahee to fill their vacant starting running back spot. The 31-year-old McGahee ran for 731 yards with the Broncos last year. Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey are also available in the backfield.

Campbell took over for Weeden on Cleveland's final possession against the Ravens in Week 2 and threw three incompletions in a row. His fourth pass, an underhand scoop, left Jordan Cameron well short of a first down.

Reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, just hours after his wife gave birth to the couple's second child, passed for 211 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland while moving to 11-0 all-time as a starter against the Browns.

"He came up big. That's the player he's shown he is," said Chudzinski.

The Ravens scored 14 unanswered points in the second half on Bernard Pierce's 5-yard touchdown run and Marlon Brown's 5-yard catch to secure the victory.

Weeden threw for 227 yards for the Browns before being injured.

Things aren't going much better for the Vikings, who have been one of the NFL's worst teams in the early going due to the continued poor play from quarterback Christian Ponder as well as an extremely porous pass defense.

Martellus Bennett's touchdown catch with 10 seconds to play gave the Chicago Bears a 31-30 win over Minnesota on a rainy day at Soldier Field last week.

Jay Cutler was picked off twice and lost a fumble, but finished the game 28- for-39 with 290 yards and three touchdowns for the Bears.

Adrian Peterson rushed for 100 yards on 26 carries, while Ponder went 16- for-30 for 227 yards, one touchdown and one pick-six for the Vikings, who have lost two straight division games to open the season after falling in Detroit last week.

"This was a very difficult loss because I thought our guys played extremely hard," said Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier. "We just constantly battled in a tough place to play on the road. I told the players and staff after the game that I don't think I could have asked for better preparation and better fighting."

Chicago began the game-winning drive at its own 34 trailing by six with 3:15 to play.

On 3rd-and-4, Cutler got the ball to Brandon Marshall for a 12-yard gain, and the two got together for a 10-yard catch on 3rd-and-1 to again move the chains.

Facing a 1st-and-20 after a holding call, Bennett caught a pass for 23 yards to get the ball to the 16. After a spike and an incompletion, Cutler sent a pass to the left and Bennett reached out for it before crossing the goal line inside the left pylon. The extra-point was good and it was a 31-30 game with 10 seconds left.

A squib kick on the ensuing kickoff was fumbled by Minnesota's John Carlson, with Chicago recovering and Cutler taking a knee to run out the clock.

The Vikings hold a 11-3-0 advantage over the Browns in the all-time series between the two franchises. The last time Minnesota and Cleveland met was on Sept. 13, 2009, a 30-20 Vikings victory.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Hoyer played in two games (one start) with the Cardinals last season, passing for 330 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He's clearly not an NFL- ready quarterback at this stage but the Browns may be able to use "Joe Schmo" against a Vikings defense allowing 440 yards per game (28th in the NFL) and 32.5 points (30th).

Minnesota's reliance on the antiquated cover-2 as its base defense is really starting to be exploited in a league skewed toward offense. Rule changes and increased emphasis on flagging big hits in the secondary have made "playing coverage" in the NFL a non-starter but Frazier seems years behind the curve on the subject.

On paper the Vikings have two very good pass rushing ends in Jared Allen and Brian Robison along with plenty of talent in the back seven. Harrison Smith was a Pro Bowl-level safety as a rookie in 2012, and cornerbacks Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and first-round draft pick Xavier Rhodes have the talent and athleticism to excel in a more aggressive scheme.

"When you look at numbers, you have to sometimes look behind the numbers," Frazier said. "When you look at (Sunday's) situation, when it comes to points, and you never want to make excuses, but there are some factors that go into some of those numbers that you have to look at beyond just the raw data. Our defense, they're doing some good things. I really believe they're headed in the right direction. From my perspective, I have to be able to see the bigger picture and sometimes numbers can lie."

Refusing to admit you have a problem is hardly the way to go about solving it.

The biggest issue in pass coverage has been the zone drops from the nickel linebackers. It seems like Chad Greenway has lost a step and middle linebacker Erin Henderson doesn't have the natural instincts a cover-2 linebacker needs when in the zone so Minnesota has been exploited again and again by both Reggie Bush and Matt Forte on underneath stuff, passes in the flat and screens.

Right now Frazier is pounding the square peg in the round hold and even his effective players are starting to lose confidence as they watch the opposition move up and down the field with relative ease.

It's a shame for Cleveland that Weeden got hurt because this is the kind of a game which could have buoyed his confidence moving forward, an almost guaranteed 300-yard effort for a second-year player trying to find his way. Hoyer will make a few plays downfield but the consistency probably won't be there.

Offensively things may be even worse for the Vikings, who have inexplicably married themselves to a QB who simply can't play at the NFL level.

At some point this season you may see the first 11-man front in defensive football history as teams devise ways to stop Adrian Peterson with nary a worry over Ponder's ability to beat them with a downfield throw.

A mechanical mess, Ponder is still staring down receivers like a raw rookie 28 starts into his NFL career. He continues to slide out of the pocket at the first sign of trouble instead of stepping up into it and he needs receivers to run virtually perfect routes, otherwise he's always a threat to throw a pick-six as he did against Chicago when Jerome Simpson ran a poor pattern.

Despite all of that Frazier and general manager Rock Spielman fall on their swords week after week defending Ponder, hoping against hope that the light will finally go on for the Florida State product.

Instead of pointing at the obvious problem Frazier even threw his offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave under the bus a bit this week for not playing Cordarrelle Patterson.

"We're going to get that rectified," Frazier said. "(Patterson) definitely deserves to be on the field more. He's shown that in the few snaps he's gotten in the first two ball games. Hopefully, everything being equal, that should not be a part of the conversation next week. We want to get him on the field."

Problem is the explosive rookie receiver isn't a very skilled route runner at this stage. So, when playing him Musgrave is more jittery than a cat in a room filled with rocking chairs, taking the cautious approach to everything in an attempt to limit Ponder's game-changing mistakes.

And Musgrave's concerns are more than valid. He's already scaled things back to the point that the Vikings offense is more conservative than Jerry Falwell yet Ponder continues to give it away like he's Heidi Fleiss.

The one unit in this contest heading in a positive direction is the Browns' 3-4 attacking defense under coordinator Ray Horton, who is everything Frazier and Williams isn't.

The Browns allowed just 0.9 yards per rush in Week 1 against the Dolphins, and sacked Ryan Tannehill four times. Against the Ravens Cleveland gave up 2.8 yards per rush and got to Flacco twice.

The front seven has a chance to be special with nose tackle Phil Taylor anchoring things between free agent acquisition Desmond Bryant, a good 5- technique rusher, and Ahtyba Rubin, who is stout against the run. First-round pick Barkevious Mingo is back and teams with Paul Kruger on the edges while veteran D'Qwell Jackson is rock solid at inside linebacker.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

If the Vikings can't find a way to win their home opener against a team taking an NBA-tanking approach, it's time to raise the white flag and start thinking about Teddy Bridgewater or Jadeveon Clowney come April.

In fact this one comes down to the fact that Cleveland is actively trying to put itself in a position to get one of college football's top stars by inserting its third option at QB and giving Minnesota plenty of notice he would be under center, while also trading what was supposed to be its offensive bell cow in the middle of the week.

All that said, it still won't be all that easy for Ponder and Co.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 27, Browns 20

09/19 13:19:31 ET

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
CHA 104
LAL 103
Final
GT 49
UNC 81
Final
CLEM 61
NCSU 66
7:30pm Tonight
BRK
CHA
 
8:00pm Tonight
DUKE
WAKE
 
Final
DET 15
BAL 2
 
Final
MIA 7
MIAFLA 1
 
Final
PHI 5
NYY 5
 
Final
BOS 2
NEASTERN 1
 
Final
TOR 7
PIT 8
 
Final
CIN 10
CLE 0
 
Final
OAK 9
SFG 4
 
Final
BOS 1
BOSTONCOLL 0
 
Final
ARI 4
ASU 0
 
1:05pm Today
BAL
DET
 
1:05pm Today
ATL
NYM
 
1:05pm Today
NYY
PHI
 
1:05pm Today
PIT
TOR
 
3:05pm Today
LOS
CWS
 
3:05pm Today
CLE
CIN
 
3:05pm Today
TEX
KAN
 
3:05pm Today
SFG
OAK
 
3:05pm Today
SEA
SDP
 
3:05pm Today
MIL
WMIL
 
3:10pm Today
COL
ARI
 
7:05pm Tonight
MIN
UMIN
 
Final
CLE 110
BOS 79
Final
CHA 104
LAL 103
Final
NYK 86
SAC 124
Final
ATL 104
HOU 96
Final
MEM 82
UTA 93
Final
CHI 97
WAS 92
Final
DEN 106
MIL 95
7:00pm Tonight
ORL
PHO
 
7:30pm Tonight
BRK
CHA
 
7:30pm Tonight
TOR
CLE
 
7:30pm Tonight
BOS
UTA
 
8:00pm Tonight
MIN
DEN
 
8:00pm Tonight
NOP
DET
 
8:00pm Tonight
MIA
LAL
 
8:00pm Tonight
HOU
MEM
 
8:00pm Tonight
OKC
PHI
 
8:30pm Tonight
SAN
SAC
 
10:30pm Tonight
GSW
MIL
 
10:30pm Tonight
LAC
POR
 
Final
UMO 70
AKR 63
 
Final
NAVY 56
ARMY 52
 
Final
BST 60
EMICH 67
 
Final
BUT 54
GEOR 60
Final
IND 63
IOWA 77
Final
FLGC 81
JVU 63
 
Final
USCU 90
KNST 54
 
Final
BGU 80
KSU 81
 
Final
NKENTUCKY 73
LIP 76
 
Final
HC 62
GHND 45
 
Final
RUTG 50
MD 60
Final
GT 49
UNC 81
Final
BUF 93
OHIO 66
 
Final
ALA 74
MISS 82
Final
DAY 75
RIU 59
Final
CMICH 85
TOL 77
 
Final
DET 77
YOUNG 67
Final
UNF 81
STET 67
 
Final
ABCHRIST 83
HOUB 71
 
Final
NDAK 78
NEOM 80
 
Final
NILL 65
WMICH 63
 
Final
ILLCH 60
WRST 57
Final
MIZZ 63
AUB 61
Final
UGA 64
KENT 72
Final
NW 82
MICH 78
Final
CLEM 61
NCSU 66
Final
UF 66
TEXAM 62
Final
KU 76
WVU 69
Final
CREI 72
VILL 76
12:00pm Today
PBY
LONG
 
2:00pm Today
GWEBB
CAMP
 
6:00pm Tonight
UNCA
LIB
 
6:00pm Tonight
PSU
OSU
 
7:00pm Tonight
USB
BING
 
7:00pm Tonight
FORD
DUQ
 
7:00pm Tonight
GMAS
GWU
 
7:00pm Tonight
UNH
HART
 
7:00pm Tonight
STJOE
LAS
 
7:00pm Tonight
Terriers
LIU
 
7:00pm Tonight
GTDNS
MAINE
 
7:00pm Tonight
LOU
ND
 
7:00pm Tonight
SHU
PROV
 
7:00pm Tonight
BRY
SHU
 
7:00pm Tonight
MORE
SEMIZ
 
7:00pm Tonight
MNTER
RFLSH
 
7:00pm Tonight
LSU
TENN
 
7:00pm Tonight
SFLA
UCF
 
7:00pm Tonight
VERM
UMBC
 
7:00pm Tonight
RMU
WAGN
 
7:30pm Tonight
UMASS
RICH
 
8:00pm Tonight
TULA
HOU
 
8:00pm Tonight
YALE
HOW
 
8:00pm Tonight
PITT
MIAMI
 
8:00pm Tonight
TXPA
NMST
 
8:00pm Tonight
MSU
PURD
 
8:00pm Tonight
STLU
BONA
 
8:00pm Tonight
DUKE
WAKE
 
9:00pm Tonight
TULSA
CIN
 
9:00pm Tonight
VANDY
MSST
 
9:00pm Tonight
EILL
SIUE
 
9:00pm Tonight
MARQ
STJ
 
9:00pm Tonight
OKST
TCU
 
9:00pm Tonight
UCLA
USC
 
9:00pm Tonight
WYO
UTST
 
10:00pm Tonight
FRES
AFA
 
10:00pm Tonight
SJST
BSU
 
10:00pm Tonight
NEV
COLST
 
10:00pm Tonight
ILL
NEB
 
11:00pm Tonight
ORST
OREG
 
11:00pm Tonight
UNLV
SDST
 
11:59pm Tonight
HAW
UCSB
 
Final
PHI 2
CAL 3
Final
NJD 3
NAS 1
Final
CLB 3
WAS 5
Final
TAM 3
BUF 0
Final
FLA 2
TOR 3
Final
MIN 3
OTT 2
Final
DAL 3
NYI 2
Final
ARI 1
ANA 4
Final
VAN 2
SJS 6
Final
EDM 2
LOS 5
7:30pm Tonight
WIN
OTT
 
8:00pm Tonight
DET
NYR
 
10:00pm Tonight
ANA
MON
 
10:00pm Tonight
COL
PIT