KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Bill Macatee, Rich Gannon
SERIES: 12th meeting. The Vikings lead the series 8-3, but this will be the first time the two teams have met since the Browns joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1999. The Vikings are the only team the Browns have not played in the expansion era.
2005 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 20th (19th rush, 18th pass); defense
24th (28th rush, 13th pass). Vikings: offense 25th (24th rush, 22nd pass);
defense 28th (21st rush, 25th pass)
PREDICTION: Vikings 24-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: Vikings QB Brad Johnson is 3-0 since taking over for injured starter Daunte Culpepper. That's certainly not to say Johnson is Culpepper's equal as a playmaker -- he has just three touchdown passes. But he also has just one interception. Johnson must get help from his running game to set up the pass protection, and RB Mewelde Moore's ankle injury bears watching. Defensively, the Vikings have not allowed more than 21 points during their three-game winning streak. On the road the Browns desperately need RB Reuben Droughns to get off to a strong start because QB Trent Dilfer has led the Browns to just three offensive touchdowns in the team's past four road games. However, in what figures to be a low-scoring game, Dilfer must step up and take advantage of a secondary that has been guilty of allowing big plays this season.
FAST FACTS: Browns: Droughns needs just 20 rushing yards to break William Green's team record of 887 since the Browns re-entered the league in 1999. ... Dilfer's .400 winning percentage (4-6) is the best since '99. Vikings: Their 105 victories in November is a franchise best for any month.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
- Browns LB Matt Stewart vs. Vikings TE Jermaine Wiggins. Covering the
tight end has been a problem for the Browns all season. Matt Stewart is
quicker and more experienced covering tight ends than Kenard Lang, whom
Stewart replaced in the starting lineup. Wiggins has 49 catches but no
- Browns WR Braylon Edwards vs. Vikings CB Antoine Winfield. Edwards caught six passes last week. He is versatile enough to cross the middle and fast enough to run go routes down the sideline. Trent Dilfer has to be wary of free safety Darren Sharper, the Vikings' leader with five interceptions.
GAME PLAN: The Browns will continue to hand Reuben Droughns the ball until the Vikings show they can stop him. There was concern when left guard Joe Andruzzi went down with a knee injury two weeks ago, but Mike Pucillo has stepped in and played well in Andruzzi's place.
If the Browns can run the ball when they want to, they won't have to rely on
Trent Dilfer to win the game. Dilfer has not played well on the road since the
Browns beat Green Bay the second week of the season. The Browns have scored just
three offensive touchdowns in the past four road games.
S Brodney Pool is a steady special teams player, and he was improving as a defensive back before spraining his ankle last week. Sean Jones will replace him in some situations, and that's a big drop-off, because Jones is not as fast as Pool.
Browns: Coach Romeo Crennel is determined to make the Browns better against the run, and to that end he has made Ethan Kelly the starting nose tackle over Jason Fisk. Neither player is anything special, but Crennel said Kelly played better than Fisk last week against the Dolphins.
At 6-foot-2, 310 pounds, Kelly is an inch shorter and 10 pounds heavier than Fisk. He is strong and difficult for an offensive guard or center to move out of the way.
The Browns' problems against the run begin with the defensive line and specifically nose tackle. Crennel wants the nose tackle to tie up two blockers, not necessarily make a lot of tackles. Still, despite much less playing time, Kelly has 22 tackles to Fisk's 23.
- QB Trent Dilfer did not take back his complaints about Charlie Frye
replacing him for a few series against Miami, but his words had a different
feel. Dilfer said part of his job is to go along with things, indicating he
may have just had a bad day when he complained.
- G Joe Andruzzi probably will miss his second game in a row due to knee
and calf injuries. Andruzzi's knee has bothered him since training camp.
- G Mike Pucillo replaced injured Joe Andruzzi and did well. Pucillo has
now played both guard spots the last two weeks.
- G Cosey Coleman is listed as questionable on the weekly injury report
because his sprained MCL is still sore. Coleman gutted it out against Miami
and probably will do the same in Minnesota.
- WR Braylon Edwards now seems to be a regular part of the offense.
Edwards' six catches for 90 yards led the Browns against Miami, and his role
seems to grow each week.
- S Brodney Pool is listed as doubtful with a sprained ankle. He was
injured in practice last week when he came down on his ankle wrong. He
cannot run full speed.
- RB William Green, inactive the last three weeks because of a sprained
ankle, has been upgraded to questionable. He ran and cut in practice
- LB Matt Stewart will start in place of Kenard Lang for the second
straight week. Stewart is considered a better run defender.
- LB Ben Taylor will get some work at safety in dime packages against the
Vikings. He is second on the team with 92 tackles.
- WR Koren Robinson has been named the Vikings' winner of the Ed Block
Courage Award, which goes to a player on each team who represents commitment
to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. The award is voted on by
- WR Nate Burleson, who sat out Monday night because of a variety of
injuries, has been taken off the injury report and is practicing.
- C Melvin Fowler appears to be ready to go after sitting out Monday
because of a strained oblique muscle.
- G Toniu Fonoti suffered a strained left groin in the third quarter at
Green Bay and isn't expected to play Sunday against Cleveland. That would
mean Anthony Herrera would get the start and Chris Liwienski, inactive last
week after being demoted, would be the backup.
- DL Spencer Johnson, inactive for five of six games because of an MCL injury in his right knee, is attempting to practice. The Vikings should know this week whether Johnson's return anytime soon is a realistic possibility.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Browns: The most pleasant surprise for the Browns this season has been running back Reuben Droughns.
Droughns is 132 yards away from ending the NFL's longest streak of rushing futility. The Browns have not a 100-yard rusher since 1985, when Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner both topped 1,000.
Droughns' 166 yards against Miami ignited the offense and helped pave the way to the team's first easy win of the year a 22-0 rout.
"Running backs get into that groove," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said.
Droughns has been the offense's most consistent and best player all year long. Even Crennel admitted the coaching staff might have been a little slow to recognize what it had.
"Anytime you bring a new player in, you don't know exactly what you have,"
Crennel said. "Maybe there might have been a learning curve."
Vikings: The Vikings will face a 3-4 defense for the first time during the regular season when they play host to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at the Metrodome.
Minnesota is very familiar with the look, having used it on defense for a stretch early in the season, but the offense knows it will be a bit of an adjustment seeing it in a game. The Vikings also will go against a 3-4 team next month when they play Pittsburgh.
Quarterback Brad Johnson points out the Vikings did face two 3-4 teams in the preseason, having played the Jets and San Diego.
"We work on those things in training camp and minicamps, and you kind of play against the defense that you are going against (during practice that week)," Johnson said. "It's not a huge adjustment that you make, but they are slight.
"We have all played long enough to recognize those fronts and the things that come with it."
With three down linemen and four linebackers, the Vikings blockers will have to account for the extra linebacker and make sure that player is picked up.
"It is definitely an adjustment, but we're going to go off what the center
calls, and normally the center takes us to where we need to go," running back
Michael Bennett said of the protection schemes. "It's basically the same thing.
You just have one extra linebacker. We'll treat them like maybe if they are out
in nickel or something like that."
13th meeting. The Vikings lead the series 9-3, but they have not played a regular-season game against the new version of the Browns since Cleveland re-entered the NFL in 1999. The last meeting between the Vikings and Browns came in 1995 - the season before the original franchise relocated to Baltimore - when Minnesota won 27-11 at the Metrodome. The Vikings are 6-1 at home against Cleveland, including 2-1 at the Dome.
- The Browns' last victory over Minnesota is memorable, even if it was 16
years ago. They won 23-17 in overtime on a fake field goal from 31 yards
when holder Mike Pagel rolled out with the snap and hit LB Van Waiters with
a touchdown pass. How long is 16 years in coaches' lives? Including interim
coaches, the Browns have gone through Jim Shofner, Bill Belichick, Chris
Palmer, Butch Davis and Terry Robiskie since the Browns beat the Vikings
under Bud Carson in 1989.
- One of the more memorable meetings between these teams came on Dec. 14,
1980, when Tommy Kramer's Hail Mary pass was caught by Ahmad Rashad on the
game's final play to give the Vikings a 28-23 victory over Cleveland at
Metropolitan Stadium. The victory gave the Vikings their seventh NFC Central
title in eight years.
- Led by quarterback Joe Kapp, the Vikings cruised to a 27-7 victory over
Cleveland on an 8-degree day in the NFL Championship Game on Jan. 4, 1970,
at Metropolitan Stadium. That set up the Vikings' first Super Bowl
appearance, in which they were upset 23-7 by Kansas City at Tulane Stadium
in New Orleans. Longtime NFL fans will remember that Kapp, known for his
rugged style and willingness to take on tacklers, knocked 250-pound Jim
Houston out cold when the quarterback's knee collided with the Cleveland
linebacker's helmet in the open field during the title game.
- The last regular-season meeting between these teams occurred on Dec. 9,
1995, when the Vikings beat the Browns and coach Bill Belichick 27-11 at the
Metrodome. That came three games before the Browns franchise moved to
Baltimore. One of the most intriguing exchanges came when Belichick verbally
went after Cris Carter because the Vikings receiver had expressed his
displeasure with a Browns defensive back. Belichick, who is now one of the
most highly thought of coaches in the NFL, didn't have the same respect at
that time. "He used words that I don't agree with, that I don't use when I
talk to another human being," Carter said. "That's probably part of the
reason why his team is in the position it's in. ... You have to treat people
like people. That's one of the things that he's had a hard time doing. He
has a lot of talent, but he has no type of personality to deal with
- The Vikings built up their six-game series edge on Cleveland by winning
six in a row from 1969 to 1983. The streak began with a 51-3 thrashing, the
most lopsided score in the series, during the regular season in 1969.