AFC North: Jared Allen
The Vikings are coming off a last-second loss in Chicago, after which players were venting about the defensive call that led to the Bears’ touchdown with 10 seconds left. Minnesota goes from Minneapolis to London for a date with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Vikings are in dire need of some positive momentum.
The Browns, meanwhile, have scored just 16 points in a pair of losses, and already have made major changes. They will start Brian Hoyer at quarterback this weekend with starter Brandon Weeden out because of a thumb injury. Meanwhile, the Browns traded running back Trent Richardson on Wednesday, parting with their top playmaker in exchange for the Indianapolis Colts' 2014 first-round draft pick.
As the teams meet for the first time since 2009, ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson break down the game:
Goessling: Matt, the last time these two teams faced each other, it was on opening day in 2009, Brady Quinn was under center for the Browns and Brett Favre was playing his first regular-season game in a Vikings uniform. How things have changed since then. The Vikings have their own quarterback issues -- Christian Ponder probably keeps his job for now after a solid second half in Chicago last week, though he’s in serious need of some consistency. With Hoyer at quarterback, Richardson gone to Indianapolis and Josh Gordon coming back from a suspension, what can we expect from the Browns’ offense?
Williamson: I was feeling optimistic about Cleveland's offense going into Week 3 with Gordon returning and the disaster at the right guard position seemingly resolved. But now Weeden is out and Hoyer is in. That doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the loss of Richardson, who should be the foundation of this offense as a runner and underrated receiver. I truly think the Colts got themselves a great young back. But that leaves the Browns in a very precarious situation in the backfield. It is going to be a long year on this side of the ball.
The Vikings had an outstanding rookie class in 2012 and made three picks in the first round of this latest draft. Although there are obvious concerns at the quarterback position, Minnesota has quietly established a fine young nucleus. What roles do you see for its three first-round picks for this game, as well as going forward in 2013?
Goessling: It’s interesting you bring that up, because Cordarrelle Patterson's role -- or perhaps his absence -- has been a big topic of conversation this week. He got only five snaps in the Vikings’ first game, and had just six as a receiver last Sunday, even after he ran the opening kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown. He’s young, and raw, but he might also be one of the most dangerous players the Vikings can put on the field, aside from Adrian Peterson. Coach Leslie Frazier all but called for Patterson to be on the field more during his news conference Monday. The challenge for the Vikings is to either work him into their base offense or go to enough multiple-receiver sets that they can use him, but I don’t doubt we’ll see him more going forward.
That could be especially important considering how good the Browns have been against the run in their first two games. They’ve allowed just 59.5 yards per game -- how will they fare against Peterson this weekend?
Williamson: Well, facing Peterson is obviously the ultimate challenge, and his run blocking, including the tight ends and fullbacks, is quite good as well. But I am very impressed with the Browns’ run defense -- and it starts up front. I believe that Phil Taylor is on the verge of stardom; his battle with John Sullivan, an excellent center in his own right, in the middle of the formation, will be crucial for the success of Cleveland’s interior run defense. But the Browns also have very good size at outside linebacker and do a nice job containing the outside run; their second- and third-level defenders get to the ball carrier well.
I mentioned before that the right guard position has been a nightmare, but the Browns’ excellent set of offensive tackles, Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz, also has struggled much more than would be expected against two formidable defenses. As you know, Jared Allen is still playing at a very high level. But as some might not know, Brian Robison is also excelling this year and Everson Griffen is a highly athletic and intriguing end, too. Could Minnesota’s defensive ends rule the day?
Goessling: They certainly could. They struggled in Week 1 in Detroit, as Matthew Stafford found Reggie Bush on a number of early screen passes before the rush could get home. But the Vikings put consistent pressure on Jay Cutler last week, and Allen caused a Cutler fumble that Robison returned 61 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings also have not played at home yet, which means they will have the advantage of the crowd disrupting the opposing offense’s snap count for the first time this year. Minnesota has enough issues on the back end of its defense that it needs a strong pass rush to cover up for some of those deficiencies, and if the defensive line can get to Hoyer, the Vikings should be able to slow the Browns down and win the game.
To close this up, what’s the biggest thing you think the Browns need to do to win the game? What kind of a shot will they have without Weeden and Richardson?
Williamson: I really don’t like Cleveland’s chances at all, but its defense could keep this game close and limit Peterson’s production. Of course, Ponder could have a very poor game, or the Browns could score on defense or special teams. But I can’t see their offense this week moving the football with any sort of consistency. As Cleveland's front office is doing, it is time to start looking toward next year.
If I had a vote, it would've gone to Suggs. He finished the regular season tops in the NFL with seven forced fumbles and led the AFC with 14 sacks. Where he separated himself was being all over the field. Suggs was the only player this season to record at least five sacks, five passes defensed and five forced fumbles.
But the margin of seven votes suggests not everyone was sold on Suggs as the top defensive player. Allen finished with 22 sacks, one shy of setting an NFL record.
Here is the biggest argument against Suggs: He totaled most of his stats in three games. Suggs recorded nine sacks and six forced fumbles against Pittsburgh (the season opener), San Francisco and Indianapolis Colts. Two of those games were big wins, but it also meant that that he only five sacks and one forced fumble in the other 13 games.
Here is the rebuttal for Suggs: When linebacker Ray Lewis went down with a toe injury, the Ravens won all four games that he missed because of Suggs. He had seven sacks in those games and took over as the leader on that group.
"I want to thank my teammates especially my mentor, my brother Ray Lewis and Ed Reed," Suggs said after receiving the award on the "NFL Honors" show. "I want to thank my coaches for putting the pressure on me every week. And I got to thank the Ravens organization because not all the times I acted like a pro but they stood behind me."
The Ravens outside linebacker recorded five sacks, four forced fumbles and 22 tackles to win the second player-of-the-month award in his nine-year career (November 2010 was the other time). He has been named AFC Defensive Player of the Week three times this season.
Suggs is considered a strong contender for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. His strongest competition will come from Minnesota's Jared Allen, Green Bay's Charles Woodson, New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, Dallas' DeMarcus Ware and Philadelphia's Jason Babin.
The starting defensive end has been solid for the Minnesota Vikings. Edwards recorded 16.5 sacks over the past two seasons in Minnesota, despite sharing the spotlight with talented Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.
Now Edwards, 26, will be looking to cash in and should be one of the top free agents this summer. Cleveland certainly has the money to spend and a big need on the defensive line. The Browns will switch to a 4-3 scheme this season and recently spent their first two draft picks on defensive tackle Phil Taylor and defensive end Jabaal Sheard.
Could Edwards be the final piece to Cleveland's rebuilt defensive line? The Browns started the offseason with little on their front four. But a group with Edwards, Sheard, Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin would be a young and talented nucleus to build around for years to come.
Edwards is an Ohio native (Cincinnati), which also helps. Often, the Browns have difficulties convincing free agents to come to Cleveland when teams in more attractive cities provide similar contracts. Another factor: would Edwards be willing to play for a rebuilding team that's still at least two years away from contending?
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Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Pittsburgh expects to have a healthy Troy Polamalu for the first time since Week 1.|
Browns out: Is this the final game for key members of the Browns? Cleveland has been at the center of trade rumors with the deadline to move players approaching on Oct. 20. Trade talk involving return specialist Joshua Cribbs, tailback Jamal Lewis and quarterback Brady Quinn, who recently put his house on the market, have all made the rounds, but any major trade appears unlikely.
Containing Johnson: One reason the Cincinnati Bengals have won four in a row is because of the team’s ability to shut down top receivers. In back-to-back wins, Baltimore Ravens No. 1 receiver Derrick Mason and Cleveland's Edwards were both held to zero receptions. The Bengals have arguably the NFL’s most underrated secondary, and they will get another test in Houston Texans star receiver Andre Johnson, who had eight catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Arizona Cardinals.
It’s a snap: Keep an eye on special teams this week as long-snapper Clark Harris makes his debut for the Bengals. The past 10 seasons, Brad St. Louis handled those duties but got into a major funk this season that included bad snaps in four of the team’s five games. Cincinnati tried to remain patient but finally moved on after St. Louis had two bad snaps (one called back via penalty) in last week’s win over the Ravens.
Balance in Baltimore: Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron says he has no regrets for the team’s astounding pass-to-run ratio of 84-to-35 in consecutive losses to the New England Patriots and Cincinnati. Starting tailback Ray Rice is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and deserves more opportunities. Backup Willis McGahee also got just one carry against the Bengals. Running this week will be a tall task against the front seven of the undefeated Minnesota Vikings (5-0), who have three Pro Bowl caliber defensive linemen in Jared Allen and Pat and Kevin Williams.
|Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers both want off their current teams.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker
Apparently, being a top-notch defensive lineman in the NFL doesn't guarantee success. With the possible exception of Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers might be the most disgruntled players out there.
Both have made it clear they don't want to stay with their current teams. Although Peppers could make almost $17 million if he stayed as Carolina's franchise player, he and his agent have spent the last few months telling anyone who will listen he doesn't want to be with the Panthers. Peppers and his agent have said he wants to be traded away from the only team he's ever played for and away from the state where he's spent his life.
Rogers has asked the Browns to release him from his six-year, $42 million contract and just recently returned to offseason workouts. Rogers was one of the crown jewels of Cleveland's 2008 offseason, but that was with an old regime. Rogers and Eric Mangini have clashed pretty much since the new coach was hired.
So why are Peppers and Rogers so unhappy? How did these situations get so ugly and how will they play out? ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker take an in-depth look at Peppers and Rogers:
Why are Peppers and Rogers unhappy?
Pat Yasinskas: I'll leave the Rogers situation to James, in part because the Browns are his territory and the Panthers are mine, but mainly because there's so much ground to cover on Peppers alone. Let's start by saying none of us truly know the full reason Peppers wants out of Carolina so badly. He and his agent have been vague about that.
But there's a lot to read between the lines. Peppers has been careful not to single out anyone and the conspiracy theories were flying when defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac and defensive line coach Sal Sunseri mysteriously walked away from the Panthers. But that didn't prompt any change in Peppers' tune.
Peppers still came out and said he wants to play with a team where he'll have a better chance to reach his potential. He also previously turned down an offer from the Panthers that would have made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league.
Let's be blunt here. If it's not about money and it wasn't about the assistant coaches, you have to draw the conclusion that Peppers, whether he's wrong or right, just doesn't want to play for coach John Fox.
|Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images|
|Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Shaun Rogers was miffed at coach Eric Mangini.|
James Walker: Similar to Peppers' situation, Pat, the quandary between Rogers and the Browns involves a lot of variables. This much I know: Rogers was unhappy with the way the new regime treated him, because this isn't exactly what he signed up for.
When Rogers was traded from the Detroit Lions a year ago, he was thought to be the missing piece to an up-and-coming Cleveland team that went 10-6 in 2007. Rogers, 30, had played on awful Detroit teams his entire career. He was finally refreshed, motivated, and playing for someone he liked very much in former Browns coach Romeo Crennel.
A year later all of that is gone. Not only that, new coach Eric Mangini refused to communicate with him, snubbing him on two separate occasions, and reportedly ordered a weight mandate when Rogers never had a weight problem all last season.
From a player's perspective -- a Pro Bowl player's perspective -- Rogers felt this was unnecessary. From a team's perspective, the Browns' loose culture needs to be changed and Mangini is a disciplinarian who is doing just that.
Also, there has been speculation that this is all about money. I'm not 100 percent sure that is the case. Rogers was unhappy in January, months before defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth signed for $100 million with the Washington Redskins. The deal certainly caught Rogers' attention and probably added fuel to the fire. But I don't think it was the start, or even central focal point, for his unhappiness.
Who shoulders the blame?