CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – For the first time in franchise history the Browns will play a regular season game overseas when they host the Vikings Sunday afternoon at Twickenham Stadium in London.
Here’s what we’re watching for.
4 Quarter Kizer – Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer hasn’t played a full 4 quarters since the Week 3 31-28 loss at Indianapolis. He was pulled the following week with the Browns down 31-0 to the Bengals, in the second half of a 17-14 loss to the Jets, benched for a 33-17 thrashing at Houston and benched again in the third quarter of a 12-9 overtime loss at home to the Titans. Head coach Hue Jackson will likely have Kizer, who has thrown a league-high 11 interceptions this season while completing just 52 percent of his passes, on a short leash once again unless he’s able to compensate for mistakes with more points. Should Kizer get the hook again, Cody Kessler will be ready to go in, again.
Tall Task – Unfortunately for Kizer he’ll face one of the best defensive units in the league Sunday in the Vikings. Minnesota is Ranked fifth allowing just 17.0 points per game while the Browns score an NFL-worst 14.7 points per game on average. The Vikes’ D is ranked fourth in total defense – 283.0 yards per game while the Browns are 24th at 304.9 – and third at stopping the run – 76.6 yards per game vs. the Browns’ 92.3 average rushing yards per game which ranks 25th.
Getting Defensive – Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ unit is one of very few bright spots for the winless Browns and they’ve shown the most regular improvement. Despite missing two starters in their secondary a week ago, the Browns’ defense did not allow touchdown for the first time since a 24-3 win at Cincinnati on Nov. 6, 2014 that included an impressive goal-line stand from the 1. Cleveland’s run defense is ranked sixth allowing just 83.7 yards per game and they’re ranked ninth in total defense. While defensively they are improved, Williams still has work to do especially crating more turnovers – tied for 19th with 8 – and red zone defense – 14 touchdowns and 3 field goals allowed in 18 opportunities. They’ll be tested Sunday by the Vikings who have 7 scoring drives of 80-plus yards this season.
Penalties A-plenty – Besides turnovers, penalties are a big reason why the Browns are winless. Cleveland has been flagged an NFL-worst 58 times this season which have killed numerous offensive drives. Fewer penalties would go a long way to helping their cause in trying to finally get in the win column.
Beat Up Browns – For first time since Dec. 31, 2006, someone other than Joe Thomas will play left tackle for Cleveland after the 10-time Pro Bowler suffered season-ending injury last week, ending his consecutive snaps streak at 10,363. Thomas had surgery on Tuesday and will need 6-9 months to recover. Spencer Drango has the unenviable task of replacing Thomas. Rookie defensive end Myles Garrett was placed in the concussion protocol this week and he did not make the trip overseas. The top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft has a team-leading 4 sacks in 3 games after missing the first 4 with a high right ankle sprain. Cornerback Jason McCourty, who leads the team with 3 interceptions and 9 pass breakups, is listed as doubtful after being unable to practice this week. Rookie safety Jabrill Peppers is questionable with a toe injury that kept him out of last week’s loss to the Titans.
Run for Your Life – Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen is third in the NFL with 9 sacks, including at least 1 in each game this season. He’s 1 of just 6 players in NFL history with a 7-game sack streak to start a season – Dwight Freeney last did it for the Colts in 2009. Jackson was asked what advice he has for Kizer on Friday in London What To Watch For Sunday In London When The Browns Host The Vikings to deal with Griffen to which he told reporters, “run for your life.” That’s pretty sound advice.