Key matchup: Potential Hall of Famers clash

Jared Allen is used to being doubled, but the Browns may not have to with their best offensive player, Joe Thomas, lining up across from Allen. Thomas will be protecting for a quarterback without a pass for the Browns and running back without a rush for the Browns.

In a week where the Vikings defensive game plan has been torn up and reshaped twice – once when it was announced that Cleveland starting QB Brandon Weeden would miss the game with a thumb injury and then when word got out that running back Trent Richardson had been traded – there isn't a lot that remains the same as it was Tuesday night when the coaching staff was preparing to install the weekly game plan.

But when the Browns and Vikings line up Sunday, what likely would have been the marquee battle of the game will remain – as Vikings defensive end Jared Allen and Cleveland offensive tackle Joe Thomas butt heads in a Pro Bowl version of the matchup to watch.

Allen has only played Thomas once, when the Vikings and Browns met in Cleveland in 2009. Thomas was part of the 2007 draft class that included Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson. There was some speculation that the Browns would have used the third pick of the 2007 draft on Peterson (which would have rendered taking Trent Richardson with the third pick of the 2012 draft moot), but instead they selected Thomas. Perhaps only Detroit and Cleveland aren't kicking themselves for passing on A.P. because both of them found themselves a Pro Bowl player who has become a franchise foundation point.

For his part, Allen has become friends with Thomas because, while the Vikings and Browns don't meet but once every four years, he and Thomas have met one another in Honolulu for the Pro Bowl and have built a mutual admiration.

"I've got to know Joe over the years," Allen said. "He's a good player, a good dude and I'm excited. I think the biggest thing is you can anticipate some one-on-ones. First of all, we've got to stop the run. Honestly, it doesn't matter if we can't get in third-and-longs, then we're not going to have pass-rush opportunities. But it is a game like this where you're going up against a fellow Pro Bowler and a guy that I know and have built a relationship with over the years. I'm excited to see who's going to win on each given play."

With the Browns running a makeshift offense that will include No. 3 QB Brian Hoyer, making just his second NFL start, and a running game without its franchise running back, Thomas' protection becomes even more critical. In the first two weeks of the season, the only Browns that had any rushing attempts were Richardson (31) and Weeden (2). Every pass attempt will come from a QB who hasn't thrown a pass for the Browns and every rushing attempt will come from someone who has yet to have a carry for Cleveland. As such, the Browns are going to be leaning heavily on the team leaders that remain – and that list starts with Thomas.

There are going to be a slew of things that are new in Cleveland this week and the Vikings are sure to be bringing the kitchen sink in the form of blitz packages to stuff the running lanes and force Hoyer to try to move the Browns offense with his arm. If Allen can win his game-long battle with Thomas, Hoyer's job goes from being difficult to nearly impossible.

It's likely going to be a long season for the Browns, who are clearly building for the future – a future that starts in 2014. The present is going to be a matter of the team taking its lumps and sending a message to players that, if Richardson can be sent packing, nobody on the roster is safe. They will have to play with a sense of urgency because the trade of Richardson sent a signal that not only is the new regime in Cleveland cleaning house of the Mike Holmgren roster, but that every player is on notice to get the job done or they could be the next to go.

That process starts Sunday against the Vikings. Every player will be held accountable, from the 53rd man on the roster to a perennial Pro Bowl player like Thomas. The Vikings will be looking to make the Browns one-dimensional on offense and rush the passer. Nobody does that better than Allen, who rarely gets to play a game without facing double-teams and chips from tight ends and running backs. Thomas has built a reputation of being able to handle the game's top pass rushers one on one. That likely won't change Sunday, which will make this battle of likely Hall of Famers this week's key matchup.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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