The Cleveland Browns were able to outlast the Minnesota Vikings 14-7 to retain a share of the AFC North lead. Cleveland’s defense held Minnesota to 268 yards of total offense as Baker Mayfield struggled. Mayfield was notably inaccurate and antsy in the pocket. The Browns had opportunities to put that game away much sooner.
Why the Browns won
Cleveland’s ability to slow down the Minnesota run game is why it emerged victorious. Minnesota was held to 65 yards rushing on 23 carries (2.8 YPC) despite Dalvin Cook returning from injury. Cook was held to 34 yards on nine carries. It is difficult for that style of offense to successfully work in the play-action if the ground game isn’t doing its part. The Browns did not have to respect the play-action or screen game because they were winning the line of scrimmage. Jadeveon Clowney is mocked for his lack of sack production but his influence in run defense is quantifiably important.
Why the Vikings lost
Minnesota was unable to string together completions or achieve anything on the ground. For those reasons, it was going to be impossible to sustain a drive beyond its scripted opening possession. Meanwhile, the Browns were rushing all over the Vikings. They rolled over 184 yards on 38 carries (4.8 yards per carry). When Mayfield was unable to prolong drives with his arm, the run game took over. They were responsible for big first downs and draining the clock at the end.
The game was separated by one score for the duration of the game. It was up for grabs when every series began. Cleveland was stopped on fourth down with 1:33 remaining in the first half but Eric Kendricks was flagged for defensive holding in the end zone, which led to a fresh set of downs for the Browns’ offense. Three plays later, Hunt punched it in and the Browns converted a 2-point try after a Vikings penalty for what turned out to be the game-winning score.
Play of the game
With 11:39 remaining in the second quarter, Cousins dropped back and found wide receiver K.J. Osborn for a 20-yard completion down the left boundary. Osborn turned and twisted his body while simultaneously high-pointing the football over Browns cornerback A.J. Green. The play was reviewed and upheld.
In the grand scheme of things, it was a rather unimportant play in the outcome of the game. The team account did not even tweet it out. Minnesota would turn the ball over on downs later in the drive.
Cleveland will travel to Los Angeles for next week’s showdown with the Chargers. It is the beginning of a tough stretch of games that includes the undefeated Cardinals and Broncos. The Browns currently have a share of the AFC North lead alongside Cincinnati. Baltimore has a chance to join them with a win over Denver.
The Vikings fall to 1-3. They have a potential get-right game against Detroit next week before a brutal six-game stretch against the Panthers, Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers, Packers and 49ers. A loss to the Lions would essentially end all hopes of a playoff berth.