I know it’s awful early to hear anything about a “must win” game, but I would say that’s exactly what the Vikings have on their hands as the beleaguered Cleveland Browns squad stumble into Mall Of America Field tomorrow. One team will have an 0-3 record after it’s all said and done, but even though it’s only week 3 the Browns already seem to be playing for next year. Starting QB Brandon Weeden is out with a hand injury, and instead of starting 2nd stringer Jason Campbell, the Browns have announced they have someone named Brian Hoyer on their roster, and plan to give him the start at QB. Also, instead of seeing Pro-Bowler Trent Richardson, the Viking defense will have the daunting task of facing… Bobby Rainey? Perhaps Willis McGahee as well, I’ve heard conflicting reports as to weather or not they will play him this week or not.
While this Cleveland team may be expected by most to have a terrible showing I believe this is just the type of adversity that will light a fire under them, and they certainly have the capability of being a dangerous underdog. They will see improvement at the WR position with Josh Gordon returning from suspension, and they bring with them a defensive front seven that’s quietly one of the tops in the league and looking to add to their total of 6 sacks.
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s front seven have amassed only a single sack thus far, but i expect a good performance from Allen & Co. this week as they take on a QB making only his 2nd career start behind an offensive line that has allowed a league high 11 sacks. I also look for Ponder to have his best game of the season as he continues on the improvements he showed last week against the bears, a performance that prompted Bears All-Pro DB Charles Tillman to say “My respect level has gone up tremendously for Ponder. He did some great things out there. He made some plays with his feet”. Ponder will also benefit greatly from rookie WR Cordarrelle Patterson having an increased role this week.
The thing that has me most concerned going into this game is still the playcalling of both Bill Musgrave and Alan Williams. Musgrave has shown no creativity in drawing up plays, and has made some VERY questionable personnel decisions so far this season. I can see it. You can see it. My 6 year old daughter can see it, and even the players seem to be getting fed up with it judging by recent remarks. Musgrave has had a lot of heat this week, but I believe Alan Williams has been just as bad, and i hope thats the last time we EVER see him call a “Prevent” play. These two will have to open things up this week against a team the players should be able to execute almost any play against.
If the Vikings can pull off the win tomorrow, I think that will be just the confidence builder they need as they go into a stretch of very winnable games before things get pretty rough in mid-season. Everything on paper says they should be able to win fairly easily but if they get caught sleeping on this team this game has all the makings of a trap.