Three pregame topics of note
The Vikings left Chicago with an 0-2 record and a feeling of frustration after blowing a chance to split their two-game road trip to start the season. The good news is they play their home opener against the Cleveland Browns, who are likewise 0-2 and clearly looking ahead to 2014 based on their moves Wednesday. Here are three things you should know:
1. The Browns are pretty much a mess at this point — they promoted No. 3 quarterback Brian Hoyer to starter and traded starting running back Trent Richardson to the Colts on Wednesday — but at least their run defense has been stingy through two games.
Cleveland is tied for fourth in the NFL in rushing defense and has allowed a league-best 2.0 yards per carry. The Browns' strength on defense is their front seven.
"Cleveland's defense — that is not the area they've struggled," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "They are playing very, very good defense. They're not giving up yards in the run game, doing a very good job in pass defense. This is a very stout front seven that they have. I don't think there's a sense of overconfidence at all."
One thing to remember though: Adrian Peterson rushed for 180 yards and three TDs against the Browns in the 2009 season opener.
2. The Browns offense — what's left of it anyway — received some good news this week with the return of wide receiver Josh Gordon from a two-game suspension. The NFL suspended Gordon for violating the substance abuse policy.
Gordon emerged as a big-play target for the Browns as a rookie last season. His five touchdown catches averaged 46 yards. He averaged 16.1 yards on his 50 catches.
"I think he'll help, but he's not going to be the savior," Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. "We have to improve in a lot of areas, but it'll help getting a guy that's been able to make plays on the field."
The Vikings secondary already has faced two All-Pro receivers in Calvin Johnson of the Lions and Brandon Marshall of the Bears, so a tough matchup is nothing new.
"Since I heard about those guys, I pretty much figured I'd be playing against them someday in the NFL," rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. "You have to be confident you can do it."
3. The Browns have more to worry about than their quarterback and running back issues. They have given up 27 quarterback hits and 51 pressures in two games, by far the most in the NFL. The team's 11 sacks allowed are tied for the most.
The Browns' inability to protect the quarterback should give the Vikings a decided advantage, particularly at home where their pass rush is even more effective.
Since 2008, the Vikings have compiled 119 sacks in 38 games at the Metrodome. They have 98 sacks in 42 road games in that same span. That difference underscores the effect of crowd noise has on opponents in trying to contain Jared Allen and Co.
Teams routinely rely on quick-hitting passes to neutralize or slow down the Vikings pass rush. The Browns haven't applied that tactic too often the first two weeks, according to Frazier, but he expects that could change this week.
"I would not be surprised if that changes," he said. "They've taken a lot of sacks so I would not be surprised if that changes coming into our ballgame."