Winless Browns take on Vikings in London (Oct 29, 2017)
The Cleveland Browns have had no success in North America this season, so maybe their luck can change on a different continent.
The Browns will play a regular-season game in London for the first time in franchise history when they oppose the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Twickenham Stadium.
Both the Vikings and Browns are on a roll, but they are rolling in opposite directions.
The Vikings (5-2) have won three straight games and are in first place in the NFC North.
The Browns (0-7) are last in the AFC North. They led only once, 7-3 over the Jets in the fifth game, and that advantage lasted only 5:06 before New York moved ahead for good.
"We have to keep pushing and keep getting this group better," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "That's just where we are. I'm not going to run from that. We work at it every week, but obviously, we're not getting it through like we need to. Nobody in this locker room is hanging their head. We're going to keep fighting and keep getting better."
The Vikings and the Browns both have a bye next week. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer does not want his players thinking about vacation a week early. He is emphasizing they should not take Cleveland lightly despite the Browns' woeful record.
"I think our team will believe that (the Browns) are a good team," Zimmer said. "Really, they're not that far away. They're really good on defense. They just turn the ball over offensively.
"It's going to be about us and how we play, and that's usually how it is every single week. Do we prepare the same way? Did we play at the same intensity? Do we play as a smart football team -- understand the things we have to do to beat this particular team? And I think that's the points of emphasis that we'll be making this week."
Both teams are hoping key players will return from injuries. Browns starting cornerback Jason McCourty (ankle) and safety Jabrill Peppers (toe) missed last week's game against the Tennessee Titans. Both missed practice Wednesday, but they are "making progress," Jackson said.
Cleveland rookie defensive end Myles Garrett is in the concussion protocol. The Browns have not ruled him out for the game with the Vikings.
Browns defensive tackle Trevon Coley (neck) and defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi (groin) also missed practice.
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who leads Minnesota with four touchdown catches, is expected to return, Zimmer said. Diggs was limited in practice Wednesday due to a groin injury.
Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford again missed practice Wednesday with a knee injury. The Browns are preparing for Case Keenum, Cleveland linebacker Christian Kirksey said.
Minnesota tackle Riley Reiff (knee), guard Jeremiah Sirles (knee) and defensive end Stephen Weatherly (knee) also missed practice.
The Vikings have ridden a stingy defense to the top of their division. No opponent has scored 20 points on them since the Pittsburgh Steelers thumped them 26-9 in Week 2.
Vikings right defensive end Everson Griffen has been a huge part of that success with nine sacks in just seven games.
"First of all, Everson is a great person, a tough competitor," Zimmer said. "He's going to give you a full day's work. He has power, strength and speed. He has excellent hands, excellent get off. Here we kind of work on sacks as a team, and Everson is getting them this year."
Protecting quarterback DeShone Kizer from Griffen would be challenge enough for the Browns if Joe Thomas were still in the lineup, but he isn't. The 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle is on injured reserve recovering from surgery to repair a torn left triceps.
Spencer Drango, a fifth-round draft choice in 2016, will start at left tackle, which means he will have to deal with Griffen.
Drango practiced as a backup until now, which means he worked at a variety of positions each week. This is the first time he has been able to work at one position.
"I just go out there and do my best, stay calm and play as hard as I can for the guys around me," Drango said. "I'm excited, nervous, all of them. I think it is good to be nervous. Even Joe told us he still got nervous before games. You have to embrace it and use that as fuel."
Jackson said the Browns have contingency plans to help Drango block Griffen. Matt Lengel, a blocking tight end, was elevated from the practice squad on Wednesday to fill the roster spot vacated when Thomas was placed on IR.