All eyes will be on Kevin Stefanski as he returns to his employer of over a decade as his Cleveland Browns travel to US Bank Stadium to take on the in-form Minnesota Vikings.
Stefanski held seven roles at the Purple and Gold between 2006 and 2019, making a name of himself most notably as offensive co-ordinator during Minnesota’s most recent playoff season before being named as Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Last year, the two sides had contrasting luck as Stefanski guided the Browns to their first playoff berth since 2002, while the Minnesota Vikings slumped to 7-9 and third in the NFC North.
This will be the first time Stefanski has gone up against the Vikings since the move, and it comes at a pivotal moment in the season for both the Browns and the Vikings alike.
This game sees both sides come into the game with their tails up. The Browns having cruised to their second win in a row, taking down the Bears quite literally with nine sacks the main feature of the afternoon.
Meanwhile the Minnesota Vikings got their first win of the season in great style, overwhelming the Seattle Seahawks in the second half to come back from a 14 point deficit after narrowing losing to the Arizona Cardinals the week before.
Both will feel that they come into the game with great confidence and the ability to go toe-to-toe with anyone that comes across their path, which should make for an exciting game.
Offensive powerhouses of the same kin
Points mean prizes, and that’s definitely the viewpoint of these two quite explosive offenses. The Vikings and Browns are 8th and 9th in the league respectively scoring 29 and 28.7 points per game, while the NFC North side boasts the three greatest yards haul so far at 425 a game. Cleveland isn’t too far behind in 7th (410).
As you can expect, Kevin Stefanski took his blueprint of offensive style he developed at Minnesota and installed it at Cleveland to great effect: using multiple TE sets and strong offensive line and running back play to assist the passing game and move the sticks.
Both offenses have had a similar start too. Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield’s stats are practically identical when it comes to passer rating and completion percentage. The Browns have been able to use the ground game more to their advantage thanks to their explosive one-two punch of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt (2nd best in league with 174.7 yards per game on the ground) while Minnesota have been forced into shootouts the last couple of weeks and made to turn to Alexander Mattison who sparkled in deputising Dalvin Cook who went off injured against Seattle.
Dalvin Cook is questionable for Sunday’s matchup, and may prove a key piece in Minnesota’s gameplan.
Mike Zimmer last year called out his defense as the worst he’s ever had, but this year looks much happier with his set up as Dalvin Tomlinson, Michael Pierce, Patrick Peterson and Xavier Woods joined the side.
While we’ve not seen the results of this just yet with an average of 26 points a game conceded, a lot can be said of the teams played so far (particularly in Seattle and Arizona) as excusable points, and that the defense will gel as time goes on.
The visitors are buoyed by the nine sacks they delivered on Bears’ QB Justin Fields in his debut start last week, and the one net passing yard allowed in that performance as the team looks to show that the unit is starting to gel after the unit was entirely overhauled in the offseason.
The Browns currently lie 3rd in yards conceded (248.7) and 7th in points conceded (20). The Browns are currently also the fifth most efficient in limiting yards in the air and the ground.
Minnesota’s offense will provide a much more challenging prospect than the Texans and Bears however, and we’re likely to be in a shootout where any defensive stops will be gold dust.
If there is a person outside the building who knows what the Vikings are likely to throw up against the Browns, it’s the Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns, and that should help enormously.
Questions over Cook’s availability, as well as the Browns’ proficiency in stopping the run this season will force Kirk Cousins into throwing situations which may or may not be to the benefit of the Vikings.
Minnesota on the other hand, have allowed around 120 yards on the ground so far this year, something that Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will look to exploit, providing an easier task for Baker Mayfield to deliver on key passing downs at what should be a loud and intimidating atmosphere at US Bank Stadium.
It should be a close fought game, and homefield advantage will make things more interesting as these two sides look quite closely matched. However, I do believe that the trenches will swing this game for Cleveland unless the Vikings rushing defense can provide stops.
Cleveland 30, Minnesota 24