On Sunday, the Vikings travel to Detroit, where the Lions will be playing their second game with Jim Schwartz as their head coach. On Sept. 27, Minnesota's home opener comes against San Francisco and head coach Mike Singletary, who was promoted to the head post midway through the 2008 season. Last Sunday, the Vikings' regular-season opener came against Cleveland and Eric Mangini, who is in his first year as the Browns' head coach.
What the coaching carousel means is that the Vikings are having to prepare for what the players and coaches call "unscouted looks," plays they haven't seen on film from that team before. That meant different things on each side of the ball Sunday in Cleveland.
The Browns' offensive playbook was what the Vikings were expecting, according to CB Antoine Winfield.
"They did everything we saw on film. I think they would have been a little different if they would have put (Derek) Anderson in, a little more experience," said Winfield, who attended Ohio State and had 130 friends and family members attending the game on his dime. "But with Brady Quinn, it was surprising that they ran all the same stuff they ran in preseason. It was a pretty easy game for us in the back end."
It was the philosophy employed by the Browns that surprised Winfield, who said he was told by Braylon Edwards that the game plan for Cleveland was to run at the Vikings … even with a defense that ranked first against the run each of the past three seasons.
But when the Vikings were on offense, it took them some time to adjust to what Cleveland was doing on defense. That was especially true when it came their use of nose tackle Shaun Rogers, who didn't play at all in the preseason.
"It took us a minute to (adjust), not having seen Shaun Rogers in the preseason," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "You know what kind of player he can be. They utilized him a little bit differently. Just trying to figure out how they wanted to utilize him took us a minute to kind of calibrate."
That made the biggest difference for center John Sullivan, who was not only responsible for the calls along the offensive line but also had to take on the 350-pound Rogers.
"They showed us a lot of stuff on tape that we hadn't seen in the preseason, which I'm sure was no mistake. I'm sure they just weren't putting it out there. But the coaches made some great adjustments, especially at halftime and we came out – 24 points in the second half I believe is pretty solid," Sullivan said.
"Shaun didn't play at all during the preseason, but we saw a lot more movement out of the nose guard this game than we had seen the entire preseason. I don't know if that was because Shaun was in there and he's a quicker guy, but there was a lot more going on with the defensive front than we were anticipating."
Childress said Rogers was actually playing off the line of scrimmage more than the Vikings had projected, and then the Browns blitzed more often.
"We anticipated them going to blitz with some of the blitzes they gave us, but pretty much they gave it to us on every down. They were trying to get an extra guy in an extra gap, whether it was a free safety late, or a strong safety late," Childress said.
Sullivan was making his first start in the NFL and drew the unenviable dual task of mentally trying to diagnose the Browns' unscouted looks and physically trying to hold down the point of attack against Rogers. Sometimes, however, Sullivan got a break, at least on the physical side of things.
"There was some weird stuff like (Rogers at end), but there is nothing that a team can do that we haven't seen at some point, so we're prepared for everything," Sullivan said. "The coaches say that all the time: Be prepared for unscouted looks because you can only practice certain things during the week. There is only so much time. I think we were prepared really well."
They will need to continue that trend for the next two games as they face teams with relatively new head coaches as well.
ANOTHER GOAL-LINE STAND
The Vikings defense has been building a reputation as stout against the run for three years now, but their ability to make goal-line stands seems to be more frequent the last year. It happened again Sunday against the Browns after a pass interference penalty gave the Browns first-and-goal at the 6-yard line.
"Holding them to three points with that goal-line stand was huge," Childress said. "(There were) a couple of great efforts on the third-down play by both Kevin Williams and Ray Edwards to stop that thing."
On first down, Jamal Lewis rushed for 3 yards, but the Browns tried to get tricky with WR Joshua Cribbs taking the direct snap on each of the next two plays that netted only 1 yard.
"Any time you can get a goal-line stand, I think it's big for your defense and momentum. That way you're taking away momentum from their offense and putting it back with your team," Edwards said. "In that way, the goal-line stand was big."
"Any time you can hold their top two receivers … to 22 yards, you got a chance to win most of those games," Childress said.