MINNEAPOLIS — Adrian Peterson saw a challenge in the Cleveland Browns’ defense entering Sunday.
Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings offensive line hadn’t played to their usual high standards through two weeks and were facing a Cleveland defense that had allowed a league-low 2.0 yards per carry through two games. Peterson likes a good challenge.
When the dust settled Sunday, the Browns defense was legitimized and Peterson was left frustrated and trying to move past another game with less than 100 yards rushing in Minnesota’s 31-27 loss.
“It’s a little frustrating,” Peterson said. “But the way I look at things, I can’t be frustrated about it because it’s not going to help me. I have to move forward. Just got to learn from this and try to focus on the things that are going to help us get better instead of being frustrated and being down. It sucks, don’t get me wrong. But it’s all about how you respond to it.”
Peterson had seven carries for 28 yards on the opening drive, finishing with a 2-yard touchdown run. But he had only 19 more yards in the first half and finished with 25 carries for 88 yards and a lost fumble after the Vikings had gotten in Cleveland territory in the third quarter.
Peterson averaged 3.5 yards per carry Sunday.
“They did a pretty good job on run defense and coming in we knew they were pretty stout up front,” Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said. “Didn’t really create the holes we were hoping to, and credit to their defense, they did a good job.”
Cleveland’s defense has been a surprise this season, ranking sixth in the league in terms of fewest yards allowed coming into Sunday after facing Miami and Baltimore the first two weeks. The Browns 3-4 defense is led by a front that includes three 300-plus pound players and noted run stoppers in nose tackle Phil Taylor and inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
But Peterson is coming off a 2,000-yard season and the league’s MVP award, the biggest test Cleveland will face all season.
Minnesota’s running game with Peterson hasn’t been the same efficient unity that pushed the Vikings to the playoffs last year though. Peterson entered the game with 193 yards rushing and averaging 4.4 yards per carry after tallying 6.0 yards per carry last season.
“Guys are definitely stacking the box a little more,” Peterson said. “Those guys on the other side of the ball are pretty good as well. You’re not going to have that game every week where 50 here, 40 there. You’ve got to come out and famine, famine, feast. A lot of those short runs for 5 and 6. That’s what you ask for as far as the run game being efficient.”
Peterson hasn’t had the running lanes and the offensive line, expected to be a strength entering the season, has struggled to block for the run and pass.
“It’s a tough one,” Frazier said. “We’re counting on our offensive line to play well for us every week. It sure seemed like Cleveland was in our backfield a lot, put a lot of pressure on our passing game with their four guys rushing or sometimes five. It’s going to be hard to function as an offense if we can’t protect better. But how to explain it, it’s hard to explain. We’ve got to get it fixed somehow, get it fixed, like, right now.”
Minnesota’s offensive line returned all five starters that started 16 games together last season.
“We think we’re pretty experienced and know what it takes to win,” left tackle Matt Kalil said. “No one’s really freaking out. We’ve still got a lot of games to play. We’ve still got 13 games to play. We’ve just got to dig ourselves out of this hole, and I think we know what we have to do.”
Faked out: Cleveland executed a fake punt and a fake field goal, two big plays that helped the Browns pull out Sunday’s win.
On the fake punt, Cleveland rookie Josh Aubrey took the snap and had open running room for a 34-yard gain, the biggest run of the day for the Browns. Aubrey led Cleveland in rushing on the day.
On the next drive, the Browns lined up for a field goal and Minnesota didn’t account for tight end Jordan Cameron who was hiding near the Cleveland sideline. The Browns snapped the ball quickly and holder Spencer Lanning completed an 11-yard pass to Cameron for a touchdown.
“We didn’t recognize it,” Frazier said. “We didn’t recognize that he was over there hiding out and they did a better job of executing there. We didn’t see it.”
Depth in secondary takes a hit: Three players in Minnesota’s secondary were injured Sunday and not able to finish the game.
Cornerback Chris Cook left the game early with a groin injury and was replaced by A.J. Jefferson in the base defense. Jefferson was beat for a touchdown by Josh Gordon and then left with an ankle injury. Safety Jamarca Sanford was lost with a hamstring injury.
“When you get muscle pulls in the secondary, that’s affects you,” Frazier said. “You don’t want to start getting into your depth this early in the season. Losing Jamarca and Chris, and potentially A.J., that’s a concern. We’ll have to see how they progress over the course of the week. It just means other guys have to step up and play well for us.”
Marcus Sherels ended up playing most of the game at cornerback and Andrew Sendejo replaced Sanford.
“I thought Sherels did a good job,” Frazier said. “He made some plays, got his hand on some balls, really competed hard like he always does, and put himself in good position. Thought, Marcus did a good job. Thought Sendejo did some good things as well when he got in there. Those guys, they stepped up and tried to make some plays.”
Officials miss proper penalty: After a muffed punt late in the first half, the Vikings recovered the ball and tried to return the recovery for a touchdown. Officials ruled linebacker Larry Dean, who recovered the punt down immediately, and the touchdown didn’t count. Muffed punts can’t be returned by the recovering team.
“The ruling on the field was that there was no possession by the receiving player, therefore it was a muffed kick and could not be advanced by the kicking team,” official Bill Leavy told a pool reporter.
But Frazier threw a challenge flag on the play trying to get the result of the touchdown, but an NFL rule states coaches can’t challenge those types of change of possession calls, which are automatically reviewed. Officials incorrectly charged the Vikings with a 15-yard penalty, when they should have taken a timeout from the Vikings and not pushed them back 15 yards.
“A timeout should have been charged instead of a 15-yard penalty,” Leavy said.
But Frazier lamented throwing the flag too.
“It turned out to be a muff, which you can’t review,” Frazier said. “It should have been a timeout. They walked off 15, I’m not sure why. But I can’t throw the red flag in that situation.”