The Vikings have won four out of their last five games and are currently on a three game win streak. Their turnaround is due to an "us against the world" type of mentality that has developed over the course of the season. They are winning as a team. The running game has picked up the slack. Special teams are making plays. The defense is scoring touchdowns.
The Vikings offense is vastly different with Brad Johnson at the helm. Brad is a veteran that has been around the league, seemingly forever. He is not the same difficult to sack quarterback that Daunte Culpepper was but he can show some mobility within the pocket. He does not have that great arm strength but his strength is touch, timing and experience. This has vastly changed the offense. The receivers have been forced to somewhat abandon the deep game and refine the short to midrange routes. I believe this change at quarterback will improve the Vikings offense for the long term, as Culpepper will have better route runners thanks to Johnson's style at quarterback.
Johnson does not give opposing defenses many opportunities to make plays but quick reaction by the safeties can result in turnovers. He will float the occasional pass, especially with the mid range, curl routes down the sideline thus giving the safeties time to roll their coverage underneath the route and pick off the pass but if the safety bites too early, Johnson will come back over the middle and find the tight end or running back.
The Vikings running game is recovering from injury and lack of discipline off the field but this has given second year running back Mewelde Moore opportunity to display his talent. Moore is very similar in style to that of the Browns' Lee Suggs. He attacks the inside while looking for a way to bounce out and take the play around the tackles. He prefers to follow the big tackle Bryant McKinnie and once he gets around the tackle, he has that afterburner speed to get down the sideline in a hurry. The Vikings will focus their attack from center to right tackle.
When the Vikings look to pound the ball up the middle in those short yardage situations, they depend on the rookie running back, Ciatrick Fason. Fason is only 6ft. and 207lbs but he has deceptively powerful legs. He makes his body a very small target in this situation, making it hard for defenders to hit him at pad level.
The Vikings are loaded with talent, when it comes to receiving the ball but their biggest threat both literally and figuratively is tight end Jermaine Wiggins. Jermaine provides that sure handed target that is willing to go over the middle. He is the safety valve for Brad Johnson. Jermaine is listed, at 260lbs but he looks like an offensive linemen rumbling down the field. For most players his size, they are usually very good blockers that can catch the occasional pass. Jermaine however, possesses tremendous athleticism and once he gets up a head of steam, he is a nightmare to bring down in the open field.
The Vikings receivers all bring a different element to the game. They have five men that compliment each other rather well. Travis Taylor is a very physical receiver. He has a knack of using his shoulders and hips to rub off defenders and gain separation. Travis has improved his route running and now has learned how to find the soft part of zones.
The deep threats are rookie Troy Williamson and veteran Marcus Robinson. The Vikings like to double up on their crossing routes as the two receivers mimic each other with one running about 10 yards farther up field before making the same move. This is forcing the safety to decide which to double. This can allow for the deep pass or the short route with a blocker out in front.
The Vikings line has been an issue all season. The center position remains a work in progress. Browns fans are very familiar with center Melvin Fowler. Fowler was a solid player for the Browns but he was never able to be claim the position on a full time basis. Melvin will struggle with the shotgun snap and he does have trouble with the shorter defensive tackles that can go underneath is pads and stand him up.
At right tackle, Marcus Johnson is receiving a great deal of playing time due to various injuries to veteran Mike Rosenthal. Marcus is only a rookie but he is getting better with every snap he takes. Marcus is the future at right tackle for the Vikings. This is the weakest point of the line and look for the Browns to test the rookie early and often.
The left side is set with Bryant McKinnie. He is a big tackle that can dominate when he is clicking on all cylinders but when he struggles early, it is usually a long day for Bryant and for the quarterback.
The guards are a big powerful group led by Toniu Fonoti. Fonoti remains questionable for Sunday's game. If he is not able to go, this definitely hurts the Vikings running game as McKinnie and Fonoti are starting to develop that continuity along the left side of the line. Adam Goldberg maintains the right guard position. He is a very good pass blocker but run blocking is where he is truly beginning to excel.
The Vikings defense is built upon the philosophy of contained penetration. They will rarely pull the trigger with multiple blitzers but often use stunts and fakes to rush the quarterback into quickening his throw into perceived isolation. The Vikings confuse by showing the quarterback solo coverage and then dropping back into the cover 2 or cover three zones. To beat this defense, the quarterback must be extremely patient by allowing the defensive commitment before pulling the trigger.
The Vikings have invested heavily in this group and are just now starting to see some of that investment pay off. The one player that this defense depends upon is Pat Williams. Pat has the ability to not only make plays but also create opportunity for everyone else. He penetrates the gap with ease and redirects plays into the lap of the line-backing core. This unit is not putting up big numbers but they are being productive especially in creating disruption that is allowing the secondary to make plays.
The linebackers stay fresh by rotation. This is preventing their legs from tiring and giving everyone a chance to make plays. They like to spread out their blitz and never come from the same area twice in a row. They will also fake the blitz and rotate back into the passing lanes, which have resulted in several tipped passes over the last few weeks.
The loss of cornerback Fred Smoot is a major blow to the Vikings secondary but Brian Williams is better than advertised. He will have his hands full with Antonio Bryant as Williams has struggled with the more physical receivers. This will likely force the Vikings to double up on Bryant with either safety Chris Chavous or Darren Sharper.
Antoine Winfield will not have an easy day at the office. He will often be forced to cover Braylon Edwards one on one anytime the Vikings blitz. Winfield is a sure tackler that will take risks. He likes to keep one eye on the quarterback and one the receiver looking to jump the short curl. Expect Trent to use a shoulder fake to lure Antoine up onto the hip of Edwards and then go deep down the sidelines as Braylon fakes the curl and shoots deep.
The Vikings are elite when it comes to special teams. Kicker Paul Edinger is clutch with a knack for kicking in the dome. Punter Chris Kluwe has cannon for a leg but he will sometimes out kick the coverage leading and when he does, the Browns must take advantage. The Vikings show tremendous discipline on kick returns. They like to fan out with their wedge containing the right side of the field. This allows the left side blockers to simply shield and run with the play. It is very effective in creating opportunity for the returner. This will be a game of field position and it all starts with special teams.
Browns Battle Plan
The Browns will look to use Reuben Droughns early and often in this game. They will attempt to disrupt the penetration of Pat Williams by running right at him with Cosey Coleman sealing the inside gap as Ryan Tucker seals the defensive end to the outside. This will put a great deal of pressure upon full backs Terrelle Smith and Corey McIntyre as they must locate the inside backer and remove him from the play. If they can effectively maintain this block, it could result in huge yardage.
The running game will set up the play action pass. If the safeties and corners are forced to come up and make plays consistently in run support, Edwards and Bryant will find themselves open for the big play downfield. In order for success, Trent must improve at dropping the ball in front of the receiver instead of trying to gun it through the defender. These are route-jumping corners and you beat them by throwing over them.
The noise level in Minnesota is legendary. This will make it difficult for the Browns offense especially in goal line situations. Run the ball four times if need be but avoid the pass and the penalties.
Defensively the Browns must have a huge day from Chaun Thompson and Ben Taylor. The Vikings will attack their side of the field relentlessly. Whether it is Moore on a cutback run or the quick slant, these two must step it up a notch and make plays. The Vikings desire to own from the center of the field to the left sideline and the right side of the defense has to be prepared, while the left side will be asked to slide over a bit, they cant loose their own containment.
The Browns will continue their bend do not break approach to. The scheme should work well over the course of the game.
The team that capitalizes on mistakes will win this game. The Browns will need to control the tempo and bore the Viking fans to sleep. By avoiding a shootout, the Browns can play their physical brand of football and impose their will during the 4th quarter.