1. Fumble mars red zone improvement
A week after settling for field goals in three second-half trips into the red zone at Chicago, the Vikings converted on three of five trips against the Browns in a 31-27 loss. They had 16 snaps inside the Cleveland 20-yard line, running the ball seven times, throwing it eight and taking one critical strip-sack fumble that ended the first half and prevented what would have been a 28-yard field goal attempt.
Adrian Peterson ran it five times for 17 yards, including a 2-yard TD to cap the opening drive. Christian Ponder ran it twice for 14 yards and two TDs. The first run, from 6 yards out, appeared to be a designed quarterback draw to take advantage of a defense spread out to cover a four-receiver set. The second run appeared to be a scramble when Ponder saw the middle open up.
2. Who needs a running back?
So what do you do four days after you trade away Trent Richardson, the star running back you drafted third overall 18 games ago? Well, for starters, you throw the ball 54 times and run it 17. You forget that your quarterback, Brian Hoyer, was your No. 3 a week ago and you focus on a Vikings secondary that’s in the process of losing two starters (Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford) and a key backup (A.J. Jefferson). You target Josh Gordon, a promising but sometimes troubled youngster who could be the next A.J. Green if only he realized it, 19 times and he catches 10 of them for 146 yards. And one of those catches is an early 47-yarder that alerted the Vikings to the fact that this wasn’t going to be the laugher we all thought it would be.
3. Bad pattern
If you sensed a pattern of first-down incompletions followed by a basic dive play to Adrian Peterson between the tackles, these stats are for you. The Vikings had 11 first-down incompletions. Eight of them came when there wasn’t a hurry-up situation at the end of the halves. Following seven of those incompletions, Peterson carried the ball between the tackles. The Browns caught on after a while, holding Peterson to gains of 1, 1, 2, 4 and 0 on five consecutive second-and-10 situations. The average third-down distance after those seven runs: 7 yards.
4. Reps increase
Although it ranks about 2,345th on the Vikings’ current list of things to do, at least they did, as promised, get rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson more involved in the offense. After playing only 11 snaps on offense the first two weeks, Patterson played more than 15 snaps against the Browns. He was targeted four times —once more than he was in the first two games combined — and caught two passes for 49 yards, including a team-high 37-yarder that helped set up the Vikings’ second touchdown. Patterson also ran an end-around for no gain.
5. Pressure late in coming
The Browns came into the game having allowed league highs in sacks (11) and quarterback hits (27). The Vikings got to Hoyer, but it sure took a while. The Browns already had settled into a rhythm and were tied 14-14 when Hoyer was knocked down for the first time nearly 22 minutes into the game. The Vikings blitzed more than they’re accustomed to in the second half. That resulted in three sacks, two by linebacker Erin Henderson and one by left end Brian Robison. The Vikings had five additional knockdowns, including one by linebacker Chad Greenway. End Jared Allen had no tackles, no sacks and only one knockdown playing against Browns All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas. Rookie tackle Sharrif Floyd had what would have been a key knockdown had the Vikings won. He hit Hoyer’s arm as he was throwing from his own end zone. The ball fluttered until Henderson picked it off and returned it to the Cleveland 9, setting up a game-tying touchdown late in the third quarter.