ReFo: Browns @ Vikings, Week 3
It wasn’t highlighted by many as an exciting game, but that’s exactly what Sunday’s duel between the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings became. In a game that had it all — turnovers, big plays and special teams trickery — it was the Browns who came out on top with a last-minute touchdown drive.
For the Vikings it was all to similar to last week’s loss to the Bears, with a tight end hauling in the winning touchdown as the final seconds ticked away. The loss drops them to 0-3 to start the season, leaving a repeat trip the postseason as little more than a pipe dream at this stage.
The game included notable performances from players on both sides, both good and bad, so with that in mind, let’s take a look at the key performers from Sunday’s game in Minnesota.
Cleveland – Three Performances of Note
The Josh Gordon Show
With the Browns trading away running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts midweek, the talk pregame surrounded the future of other members of the roster. Most notably, it was reported that the team would ideally like to trade away wide receiver Josh Gordon (+2.6). Perhaps understandable given his off-the-field issues and the fact that he has just returned from suspension, however, if Gordon wanted to show the Browns why they should keep him around, he couldn’t have done much more than he did here.
Clearly Brian Hoyer’s preferred target, with 17 passes thrown his way throughout the game, he lived up to his billing as a big-play receiver from early in the game. Beating cornerback A.J. Jefferson with a double move on 1st-and-10 with 4:50 remaining in the opening quarter, he found himself wide open for the Browns’ first touchdown of the game. He wasn’t done there, adding a 22-yard run on 1st-and-10 with just 43 second left in the first, highlighting his speed and all-around ability. He finished the game with 168 total yards and a touchdown, giving the Browns’ front office plenty to think about as they decide how build the team going forward.
Despite playing just 35 snaps and losing out to injury midway through the game, Jabaal Sheard (+7.8) still finished as the game’s most impressive defensive player, putting on something of a show as a pass rusher. His primary victim was right tackle Phil Loadholt, whom he beat to the tune of four quarterback hurries and a sack. He was impressive throughout the first half, but on the Vikings’ final drive of the second quarter he really stepped up.
Firstly, beating Loadholt inside on 2nd-and-7 with 20 seconds left in the half to get pressure on quarterback Christian Ponder, though he couldn’t get there in time to stop Ponder from finding running back Toby Gerhart for the first down. Just two plays later however, on 2nd-and-10 from the Browns 10-yard line, he beat Loadholt to the outside before knocking the ball from Ponder’s grasp as he got ready, ending the Vikings’ chance to tie the game going into to halftime.
Special Teams Trickery
It takes guts to call for a fake field goal or punt during a game, knowing that there’s a good chance it will blow up in your face and leave you looking foolish. But if it takes guts to run one fake during a game, what does that say about the Browns, who were able to turn a fake punt and a fake field goal into 10 points in the second quarter.
It started with Josh Aubrey on 4th-and-1 with 8:05 remaining in the second quarter. Taking the direct snap from his punt protector postition, Aubrey raced downfield, picking up 34 yards and forcing a missed tackle from Audie Cole in the process, before punt returner Marcus Sherels was able to bring him down. Clearly not satisfied with their efforts, on the following possession they were at it again, this time with punter Spencer Lanning finding tight end Jordan Cameron wide open for an easy touchdown on a fake field goal attempt on 4th-and-4 from the Vikings’ 11-yard line.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Sherels Steps Up
When he wasn’t busy being the last line of defense against a fake punt, cornerback Marcus Sherels (+2.9) found himself as part of the base defense as A.J. Jefferson was forced from the game early through injury. Given his lack of experience with the first team defense — he had yet to play a snap with them through the first two games of the season — you can’t blame the Browns for thinking it was a good idea to go after him.
When the game was complete, Sherels had seen 18 passes thrown into his coverage. Of those 18, however, he allowed just nine to be completed, going for a total of just 50 yards. Not a bad total when the opposing quarterback has went after you on 18 of his 54 drop backs. He added a pass breakup on 1st-and-10 with 5:12 left in the second quarter, but it was his ability to stay close to opposing receivers that really stood out.
Indeed, considering how good a day Josh Gordon had, it’s worth noting that on throws into Sherels coverage, and there were eight of them, he came away with just four receptions for nineteen yards. The one negative on his day was his fumble as a punt returner, which he recovered himself, but for a player who didn’t expect to see that much of a workload, it was a very impressive showing.
Jared Allen Shut Down
Meanwhile, one of the Vikings’ longest serving players, defensive end Jared Allen (-4.8) found himself kept very quiet by left tackle Joe Thomas. As has happened to many players before him, Allen just simply couldn’t find an answer to consistently get by the Browns’ most successful first-round draft pick. Finishing the game with just one quarterback hurry from 52 pass rushing opportunities, good for a horrendous Pass Rushing Productivity Rating of just 1.4, Allen simply failed to put Brian Hoyer under pressure.
It was the theme for the day for the Vikings’ defense, with rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd the team’s highest-graded pass rusher at just +0.8 and on a day when they put Hoyer under pressure on just 12 drop-backs, it goes a long way to explaining why the Vikings eventually fell to the Browns.
Though he was on the field for just 10 defensive plays, you couldn’t help but come away impressed by the play of linebacker Desmond Bishop (+2.8). Seeing just five snaps against the run, he recorded two tackles, with both resulting in defensive stops. That included two plays where he was far too much for Browns running back Chris Ogbonnaya to deal with as a lead blocker.
First, on 1st-and-10 with 5:50 remaining in the first quarter, he met Ogbonnaya at the point of attack, tossing him aside with ease and recording the tackle. As impressive as that play was, he topped it on 1st-and-10 with just 04:21 remaining in the third, when he spun free from the attempted block to bring down Willis McGahee for a 6-yard loss.
– Cleveland receiver Davone Bess had a perfect 100.0 Catch Rate from the slot on Sunday, but he dropped two of his four targets that came on the outside.
– The Vikings’ offensive line had a Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating of 72.5.
– Coming on such a limited snap count, Bishop’s Run Stop Percentage came in at an eye -popping 40%.
PFF Game Ball
Though he played just a little over half the game, it’s impossible to ignore just how much trouble outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard gave the Vikings. Were it not for his efforts at the end of the first half, the Browns may not have been in position to drive for the winning score at the end.
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