Despite returning five starters on the offensive line, the Vikings couldn't stop the Browns from sacking quarterback Christian Ponder six times.
Line play is offensive: There's no easy explanation for why the Vikings' offensive line play has been so poor in the team's first three games. The group returned all five starters from a year ago, when it was one of the best units on the Vikings' roster. But Christian Ponder was sacked six times on Sunday, and the group was unable to open holes for Adrian Peterson, whose longest carry was 9 yards on an 88-yard afternoon. Whatever the problems are, they stretch back to the preseason, when left tackle Matt Kalil was struggling in pass protection and center John Sullivan botched a shotgun exchange with Ponder.
No pressure on Hoyer: Playing at home and facing an offensive line that had allowed 11 sacks in its first two games, the Vikings figured they'd be able to get to quarterback Brian Hoyer early and often on Sunday. But left end Jared Allen was shut down by Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas, and although the Vikings sacked Hoyer three times, they had to compensate for their lack of defensive line pressure by blitzing more than they usually do -- or probably would like to do. Linebacker Erin Henderson had two of the Vikings' three sacks, and his second one came on a blitz where he followed linebacker Chad Greenway. The Vikings typically are at their best when their front four is causing trouble and shielding whatever issues they have at linebacker and defensive back. But the Browns' max-protect schemes worked, and Hoyer had time to rebound from his mistakes and threw for 321 yards.
Peterson slowed again: Maybe all that chatter about fullback Jerome Felton being overpaid was off-base; the fullback, who got a three-year, $7.5 million deal in the offseason, has clearly been missed during his three-game suspension for a prior drunken-driving arrest. Peterson averaged just 3.5 yards a carry against a stout defensive front on Sunday, and without Felton to open holes for him, the running back has looked out of sorts, seeing holes close up when he's trying to turn decent gains into game-changing runs. Felton returns this week against the Steelers, and as much trouble as the Vikings have had putting Peterson in control of a game, they'll be happy to have their Pro Bowl fullback again.
Embarrassing day for special teams: Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer was upset enough about his group allowing Bears kick returner Devin Hester to rack up a NFL-record 249 yards in Week 2. One can only guess what he's saying to the Vikings' special teamers this week after defensive back Josh Aubrey gained 34 yards on a fake punt and punter Spencer Lanning threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron on a fake field goal that turned out to give the Browns their margin of victory. Coach Leslie Frazier said after the game that the Vikings simply "didn't recognize" the fake field goal, and Aubrey wound up being the Browns' leading rusher because of the fake punt. One can make the argument that those two plays cost the Vikings the game.