*sigh* A win is a win. It sure wasn’t pretty, but regardless the Browns remain tied for 1st place in the AFC North after Sunday’s 14-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Let’s get the negative points out of the way first.
Baker Mayfield looked shaky. He finished under 50% completions, less than five YPA and generally couldn’t get things going. Rashard Higgins was the lone receiver to catch more than two passes, as well as the only receiver to accumulate more than 30 yards. Simply put, the Browns air attack got shot down and they would need their running game and defense to show up big.
Well, we know the story, as evidenced by the final score. The Browns offense was propelled by their offensive line and running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The offensive line only allowed Baker to get hit three times and cleared the path for Chubb and Hunt to showcase their skills. The pairing combined for 169 yards and a score on the ground, with Kareem Hunt collecting the lone touchdown scored by the Browns on Sunday. Kareem Hunt also had the lone splash play; a 33-yard run. Chubb and Hunt kept the constant barrage of four and five-yarders, setting the tone for Cleveland to control the clock and the game.
The real story of this game is a lot like last week, with the punishing defense containing the red-hot and explosive Vikings offense. Kirk Cousins was made out to be rather pedestrian, completing 20/38 passes for an unimpressive 203 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Greedy Williams lived up to his name and stole a pass from Kirk Cousins in the 2nd quarter. Justin Jefferson squeaked through the cracks on his way to a solid performance (six catches on seven targets, 84 yards and a score), but otherwise, Adam Thielen and the Vikings receivers were stymied by the Denzel Ward-led secondary.
The pass rush was there, albeit not as overwhelming as last week. Alas, the Browns still disrupted the pocket at a respectable frequency, registering two QB sacks, as well as 10 total QB hits. Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward assisted each other on a sack with Takk McKinley recording the other sack on his own. The run defense was top-tier this week, as Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison got stuffed for only 54 yards on 19 combined carries. Rookie LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah made plays all over the field and registered five solo tackles on the day.
The unsung hero of the game is kicker Chase McLaughlin. He nailed a 48-yarder to end the 1st half and a 53-yarder in the 4th quarter to extend the lead to what would end up as the final score, 14-7. McLaughlin hasn’t missed a kick all year and it looks like the dreadful days of 2018 Zane Gonzales’ kicking woes are a thing of the past.
The Browns travel to Los Angeles next week to face the 3-1 Chargers, who have been on fire this season. Their run defense has been their Achilles heel thus far, however, and the Browns rushing attack will likely be a key to victory. It’s a battle of historical underdogs with chips on their shoulders that carries serious playoff implications. It’ll be tough, but if the Browns can shut down Justin Herbert like they have Justin Fields and Kirk Cousins, I like their chances against any team in the league.