The Vikings Beat the Seahawks, but This Week’s Matchup With Cleveland is the Real Test

Sep 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn (17) celebrates during the fourth quarter against Seattle Seahawks at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Week 3 was a big win for the Vikings squad to get on track after a rough 0-2 start. However, how much does that win actually mean? The Seahawks have historically been a playoff team in the Russell Wilson era. However, they have not exactly looked like an elite team through three weeks, beating an inferior Colts team before losing to Tennessee and Minnesota. 

Because of that, the question has to be asked: are the Vikings actually back, or was this win just fool’s gold against a sneaky bad team? We don’t really have an answer to that right now, but with this weekend’s matchup against a clear playoff contender in the Cleveland Browns, the answer may reveal itself. In preparation, here is a list of things the Vikings need to continue/start doing well against the Browns in order to prove this team is legitimately ready to contend. 

Pass Protection

After struggling in Week 1, the Vikings offensive line has improved by leaps and bounds over the past two weeks. Kirk Cousins has had time to throw, and it has noticeably impacted his game for the better. Cousins is completing his passes at a near 74% clip, and he has started the year with eight touchdowns compared to zero interceptions. He is the only QB in the league to throw for that many scores without having an interception. 

This week brings the biggest threat the Vikings have faced in terms of a pass rush. Through three games, the Browns have recorded 12 sacks, second most in the NFL. Myles Garrett in particular has been extremely dangerous with 5.5 sacks and nine QB hits. Opposite of him, Jadeveon Clowney has recorded two sacks and seven QB hits on his own. This is going to be a massive test for the Vikings offensive line, and if they succeed, it may be time to officially decide that this group is far superior to last year’s.

Red Zone Scoring

The Vikings offense has been great in the open field, and that effectiveness has led them to being third in total offense. However, things have gotten somewhat clunky once they get closer to the end zone. Of their 11 red zone drives, they have scored seven touchdowns. That is a rate of 63..6%, good for 14th in the league. It’s not bad by any means, but if they want to beat these top tier teams, they’d be far better off getting into the top-10. 

Last week, the Vikings had three second half drives reach past Seattle’s 20, but they couldn’t find the end zone on any of them. On top of that, the Browns have given up just eight red zone drives this season and have allowed just five touchdowns. Again, Minnesota may have been able to get away with that second half against Seattle, but it is unlikely they will have such luck against the Browns. 

Run Defense

The opening week once again proved to be a difficult week for the Vikings run defense, but since that time, they have given up 103 and 106 yards on the ground. Taking into account that they were playing offenses led by Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson, this is very impressive, and is part of why they nearly beat Arizona and did beat Seattle. 

However, Cleveland is an entirely different beast. Led by a two-headed monster of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the Browns have rushed for 524 yards and eight touchdowns. Hunt in particular has put up ridiculous numbers, especially by Next Gen Stats. Currently, he is averaging 1.9 RYOE (rushing yards over expected) per carry. This puts him far above any other RB in the league as second place belongs to Baltimore’s Ty’Son Williams at 1.49 RYOE per carry. 

Last week’s opponent, Chris Carson, sits at 1.19 RYOE per carry, and the Vikings did a decent job of containing him outside of a 30-yard touchdown run. However, this week brings a completely different beast. The Vikings ability to contain Chubb and Hunt will go a long way towards proving how good this defense can really be.

Final Thoughts

The Minnesota Vikings can possibly afford to start the season 1-3 and still put together enough wins to snag the final wild card spot. The NFC North seems very beatable, and their Pittsburgh game gets less daunting by the week. However, Vikings fans know all too well that making the playoffs isn’t the goal at this point. The state of Minnesota is hungry for a Super Bowl, and in order to prove they’re ready to deliver one, the Vikings need to beat the Browns this week.