Vikings had gadgets scouted, not defensed

The Vikings say they were prepared for the trick plays the Browns executed on special teams, but they had physical and mental mistakes that allowed 10 points. Coordinator Mike Priefer, LB Erin Henderson and S Jamarca Sanford help break down the breakdowns.

"It's amazing to me, the mistakes that are made, but it's the NFL."

That was Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer after Sunday's 31-27 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Priefer was referring to a mistake made by the officials in assessing the Vikings a 15-yard penalty for challenging a play that, by rule, isn't allowed to be challenged by the coaches. Instead of a 15-yard penalty, the Vikings should have lost a timeout.

The reality is the official made a mistake on that play. The Vikings made many more mistakes and Priefer's special teams were as guilty as any unit, making his quote applicable to the team as well as the officials.

Blair Walsh was solid, per usual, making both of his field goal attempts, from 43 and 30 yards, and rookie Jeff Locke averaged 46.4 yards punting, including a 43.6-yard net average, and one inside the 20-yard line.

It was the trick plays by the Browns that embarrassed the Vikings.

"(The Browns) pulled out all the stops. Kudos to them and their coaching staff for having the guts and the moxie to go out there and call those plays," LB Erin Henderson said. "Those aren't easy situations. I think that fake punt that they ran, they were in negative territory in their own back yards basically, so we come up with a stop there and the offense has great field position."

The first time the Vikings got duped, the Browns were on their own 38-yard-line in the second quarter and facing fourth-and-1. They naturally lined up in punt formation but snapped the ball to Josh Aubrey instead of punter Spencer Lanning. Aubrey found far more open space than defenders.

"I was thinking, ‘Did this just really happen? Did it just open up like that?' When I saw it I just got excited, and was ready to win," he said.

He won, all right.

Aubrey's 34-yard run was the longest of the game. In fact, his one run was more than any other Cleveland Brown had in total rushing.

Priefer knew it was a possibility and said defenders were in place to make the play. Instead, safety Robert Blanton and LB Audie Cole missed on chances at Aubrey in backfield and he put the Browns in field goal range. Billy Cundiff hit the 38-yarder and the Browns took a 17-14 lead.

"They ran the fake two years ago, they ran it last year. We were ready for it. We had guys in the backfield. We had a missed tackle and just (missed) it," Priefer said.

It didn't take long for the Browns to pull another caper on special teams. On their next drive, they had fourth-and-4 at the Minnesota 11-yard line and lined up in field goal formation … except for tight end Jordan Cameron, who was split out wide right.

"It was one of those things that if the Vikings covered it, we would have brought it back in (for the field goal). You try to get set without them seeing it and we got the look that we wanted. It was a good snap, good throw and Jordan Cameron made a great catch in the end zone," said Lanning, who was the holder-turned-passer on what turned out to be an 11-yard touchdown toss.

"All I was thinking was, ‘Do not overthrow him.' I just wanted to get it to him and I did not want to zip one out to him. We had seen some footage of a team doing a similar play and they overthrew the receiver. I just didn't want to be that guy."

Once again, Priefer said the players should have been prepared for that one. Safety Jamarca Sanford backed it up. He said Priefer always tells players to look outside-in for their coverage responsibilities as part of a potential fake field goal.

Sanford, who spotted the issue too late but apparently wasn't supposed to be the one responsible for that coverage, said the Browns hurried up and the Vikings didn't get it covered.

"We had a chance to make that play, and part of our checklist every week for our field goal block is that the corners look outside in and check for hideouts because people do it," he said. "We didn't look out there."

CB Josh Robinson was on that side of the formation, but he didn't see Cameron. Instead, Robinson was left trying to jump up and knock down the pass as Lanning threw it.

Said Henderson: "Coaches called it. They had a hideout play on us on that fake field goal, so kudos to those guys for finding a way to come up with points and create some points."

The Browns, like the Vikings, were 0-2. But they had traded their 2012 first-round draft choice, RB Trent Richardson, last week and were starting their third-string quarterback.

"You know in their situation that it'd be like that, that'd there be some unorthodox moments with the situation they were in and we didn't handle it very well. It cost us obviously," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said.

"We didn't recognize it. We didn't recognize that he was over there hiding out and they did a better job of executing there. We didn't see it."

The Vikings created one big play for themselves on special teams, and that was also in the second quarter.

Jeff Locke punted and Cleveland returner Tim Benjamin muffed the catch. He appeared to recover it but was hit by Marcus Sherels and Michael Mauti and fumbled. Larry Dean recovered the fumble, but wasn't allowed to return it because of the muffed punt.

The play likely would have been reviewed by the booth, but Frazier threw the challenge flag. However, change of possessions can't be challenged by coaches. Frazier should have had a timeout taken away, not penalized 15 yards, and that frustrated Priefer.

Priefer wanted to focus on the positive plays, not the two long kickoff returns the coverage units surrendered last week to Chicago's Devin Hester or the mistakes made against the Browns' trick plays.

"Those two kickoff returns last week, those two fake plays this week, those are crucial when you play 30 plays a game (on special teams). Those are crucial plays for us," Priefer said. "I'm going to focus on the positive and we're going to correct the negatives. I've got good guys. I've got good players and we've got good schemes. I think we're better fundamentally than anybody we play; we've just got to go out and do it play after play after play. We can't have lapses."

Two crucial lapses Sunday were directly responsible for 10 of the Browns' points in their 31-27 win.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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