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Minnesota Vikings: 5 Things to Watch in Week 3 vs. Browns

The Vikings Face a Must-win at Mall of America Field Against a Browns Team that Appears Overmatched

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COMMENTARY | The Minnesota Vikings will face the Cleveland Browns in a battle of 0-2 teams at Mall of America Field during Week 3 of the National Football League season.

The Vikings are coming off a game which they should have won at Chicago. They returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, had four takeaways and took a fumble to the house for good measure. However, Jay Cutler drove the Bears down the field late and sent Minnesota to their second loss.

The Browns are in a state of shock after sending Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick. To make matters worse, they'll be relying on backup quarterback Brian Hoyer to lead an offense that struggled even with one of the NFL's top playmakers in the backfield.

On paper, it looks like an easy win for the Vikings, but a deeper look reveals many things that need to be watched closely.

1) Cordarrelle Patterson's Snaps

Patterson was the guy that ran the opening kickoff for a touchdown. After doing something like that, a normal offensive coordinator might think that it would be a good idea to keep him on the field and make plays.

That didn't happen.

Instead offensive coordinator "Wild" Bill Musgrave decided to play Patterson for just six snaps in the loss to the Bears. That came off of the opening game where the first-round pick played just five snaps in a loss to Detroit.

Head coach Leslie Frazier stated in his Monday press conference that he wants to "rectify" Patterson's snaps. That is a similar situation to what played out with the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1 as T.Y. Hilton was widely underused and exploded with six catches and 124 yards in a Week 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Patterson has the talent to make a similar impact, but he needs to get the opportunity first. This game would be a great time to give it to him.

2) The Defense Takes on a Bad Team

The Vikings are dodging bullets left and right when it comes to taking on the Browns offense.

First, the Browns announced that Hoyer would be the starting quarterback. He was a career backup for Tom Brady in New England, and now he gets to throw his sub-par arm into an offense that loves to throw downfield. This is a recipe that could see the Vikings come close to their four takeaways from a week ago.

Then came the Richardson trade. The Vikings had been destroyed by opposing backs in the first two weeks to the tune of 444 yards and three touchdowns. Replacing a top running back with Bobby Rainey (assuming that new signee Willis McGahee isn't ready to go), should help the defense immensely.

In the first two weeks, the Vikings have given the opposing team's punter the day off by letting the offense march up and down the field. This is an opportunity for the defense to regroup and become the dominating unit they had from a season ago.

3) Can Adrian Peterson Get Loose?

Peterson opened the season with a bang after going for 78 yards and a touchdown on the first offensive play of the season, but he hasn't been able to find much running room since. This means the offensive line has a challenge to get him going against the Browns.

While the Browns offense is as exciting as watching paint dry, their defense has been quietly solid through the first two weeks. Phil Taylor has been a monster in clogging up the middle of the line and Desmond Bryant has been a matchup nightmare for teams with his length and athleticism.

With solid linebackers behind them to finish off the job, the Vikings offensive line will have to return from summer vacation in order to make Peterson become the beast that tore up the NFL during the 2012 season.

4) The Fans vs. Christian Ponder

Week 3 marks the home opener for the Vikings, and their fans are not happy with the team's 0-2 start. A lot of that anger has been thrown in the direction of Ponder.

A week ago against the Bears, the third-year quarterback seemed reluctant to hang in the pocket and make throws downfield. He was gun shy for most of the game, but began to string something together toward the end of the fourth quarter.

As Patrick Ruesse mentioned in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Vikings had a chance for Ponder to be a hero if they let him throw the touchdown pass that would hypothetically give them a ten point lead and their first win in Chicago since 2007.

Alas, the Vikings ran it unsuccessfully with Peterson, and the fans immediately asked why Ponder didn't go for the throat in the final drive.

A slow start for Ponder could mean that fans will jump on him and scream for backup Matt Cassel, but a fast start will silence those critics and let them see what their young quarterback can do.

5) How Desperate Will the Vikings Be vs. The Browns?

0-2 starts are never good news in the NFL. However, they're not as bad as an 0-3 start. That's why this game is crucial if the Vikings want to contend for the NFC North championship.

In a situation like this, you want to see aggressiveness from your team. A week ago, that scenario would have included going for a ten-point lead rather than a field goal and possibly going for it on fourth down to do so.

This week, the Vikings will have to come out for a team starving for victory in a game that they will be the better team. If they don't play like they want to avoid 0-3, then they'll wind up dropping a game that should wind up in the left-hand column.

Chris Schad is a lifelong Vikings follower that has seen triumph and heartbreak for the franchise over 27 seasons. His work has also been published on Bleacher Report and Pro Football Spot. You can follow him on Twitter @crishad.

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