>>Get over the Trent Richardson trade. The Browns’ locker room has understandably been reeling since Wednesday’s out-of-the-blue trade that sent running back Trent Richardson to Indianapolis. Players no doubt are feeling at least some sense of loss over a prominent teammate, but their larger concern is the message that has been sent to the entire team that no one should feel his place on the roster is secure during a 0-2 start on the heels of a 5-11 season. Either way, there is no time for dwelling. How any player or coach feels about the trade makes no difference. Those who orchestrated it fully expect the highest level of performance, and that is more than reasonable in the bottom-line, results-oriented business that is the NFL.
>>Brian Hoyer must write the script to an amazing story. The stage is set. After a tumultuous week, the hometown boy can become a hometown hero by leading the hometown team to a much-needed victory. To do so, Hoyer, in taking over at quarterback for injured Brandon Weeden, doesn’t necessarily have to give a lights-out performance. But he does need to be exceptionally efficient and resist the temptation to do more than he is physically capable of doing. Hoyer is not blessed an exceptionally strong arm, so it makes no sense for him to risk interceptions by forcing too many deep throws or attempting to squeeze too many passes into tight spaces. He just needs to allow the game to come to him, hitting receivers in stride on short and intermediate routes so they can maximize their yards after catch. The key for Hoyer is not to put too much pressure on himself, although that is much easier said than done because he knows he is not being merely viewed as a stopgap. If he plays well enough, he could keep the starting job even after Weeden is cleared to return from his thumb injury.
>>The defense needs to play its best game of the year. That’s asking a lot, because this group has played well enough the past two weeks to, at the very least, allow the Browns to be competitive. But it needs to find yet an even higher level of performance, especially against the run (which seems nearly impossible given that it allowed only 20 rushing yards against Miami in Week 1 and held the Ravens to 2.8 yards per carry last Sunday). The Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, the best running back in the league, has been unhappy with his production so far and will no doubt be looking to make amends in his team’s home-opener. The Browns’ defensive front, which has easily been the team’s strength, should be a little bit stronger with the expected return of lineman Ahtyba Rubin from a calf injury. But it already is getting dominant play from Desmond Bryant, and strong run-stuffing contributions from Billy Winn and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen.
>>Josh Gordon has to hit the ground running … and caching. After serving a two-game suspension, the Browns’ top receiver should have fresh legs and be highly motivated to make up for lost time. With only one touchdown in two games, the Browns’ offense has sorely missed Gordon’s big-play impact. Expect him to be the focal point of an offense that will have a new-look running game in the form of a committee of backs: recently signed veteran Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya, and Bobby Rainey. Gordon needs to show immediately that the Vikings won’t be able to handle him with single coverage, and that should, in turn, help create more pass-catching opportunities for tight end Jordan Cameron and Davone Bess, who replaces Greg Little as a starter at wide receiver.
>>Secondary must hold up in coverage as the front focuses on stopping the run. Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is off to a slow start, with two touchdown passes and four interceptions. As usual, he will be looked upon to try and take advantage of a defense that will crowd the line of scrimmage to try and minimize Peterson’s rushing impact. Joe Haden has been playing well at one cornerback spot, but Buster Skrine and Chris Owens have struggled on the other side and at nickel back. All three have to be at their best to help the Browns’ defense get off the field on third down enough so as to not be worn down by Peterson. The Vikings’ most dangerous receiving threat so far has been Jerome Simpson, who is averaging 21 yards per catch. They also have their prize offseason acquisition, Greg Jennings, and tight end Kyle Rudolph, despite his quiet start to the season, is a constant threat near the goal line.
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