Twickenham played host to the fourth and final NFL match in London this season. With the 5-2 Minnesota Vikings going up against the 0-7 Cleveland Browns, I think many people were expecting another one-sided match. However at the halfway point, the Browns led 12-13 before going on to lose 33-16 – still the closest result of the season over here. Unfortunately I was unable to watch the match live due to being at work, so it has taken me a few evenings to catch up, so apologies for the delay in writing this.

 

Rating the rookie

It’s been a while since the Browns had someone under center who could legitimately be considered a franchise Quarterback. Is DeShone Kizer that man? Only time will tell. The former Notre Dame QB did enough to allow the Browns to release Brock Osweiler and won the starting berth in preseason ahead of Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler. However he was benched midway through Week 5 in favour of Kevin Hogan, got the starting gig back in Week 7 but was again benched during the game (this time in favour of Kessler).

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The Browns and 49ers are the only NFL teams without a win this season – Image from http://www.nfl.com

Kizer played the full game in London, but his stats weren’t great. Against a tough Vikings defense, Kizer completed 18 of 34 passes for 179 yards and while he didn’t throw any interceptions (his tight end probably saved him on one play in the redzone) he also didn’t throw any touchdowns either. Staying on the ground, he also rushed 5 times for a total of 18 yards, including one QB sneak for a touchdown from about a yard out.

Jared Goff has shown us this season that it is possible to come back from a bad rookie year and the Browns offense is definitely not chock full of weapons, but I get the feeling that Kizer is just another in the long list of stopgaps while they find their franchise QB. This looks even more likely now I read that the Browns attempted to get AJ McCarron from the Bengals on a trade – only for the trade deadline to pass before they could complete the process! At this moment, I can’t imagine Kizer being a starting QB next season, in fact I’m not even sure he’ll keep the starting spot for the rest of this season.

Next man up

The Vikings are having Quarterback issues of their own this season, but still to a much better degree than the Browns. The man touted to be their franchise QB, Teddy Bridgewater, has not played since the 2015 season due to an injury picked up in August 2016, but could be back soon. The man the Vikings brought in as injury cover, Sam Bradford, put up career-best figures last season and was great in Week 1 of 2017, but (as has often been the case in his career) has struggled with injury since. So the Vikings are currently playing with third string QB Case Keenum, who lost his job to an underwhelming Jared Goff last season.

Much like Bradford last season, the Vikings seem to be getting the best out of Keenum and they are still managing to put themselves in with a chance of winning the division now that Aaron Rodgers is out injured. At Twickenham, the Browns frequently kept at least 1 safety deep to dissuade the Vikings from going deep. Keenum duly went for predominantly short and intermediate length passes, finishing 27/43 for 288 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.

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Tight End Kyle Rudolph finished with 6 receptions for 27 yards and a touchdown – Picture from Flickr – Jack Kurzenknabe

With a receiving corps containing Kyle Rudolph, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, there are plenty of options in the passing game to go alongside a rush game that still looks good with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon (Dalvin Cook is out for the season with a torn ACL). With the NFC North as it is, this supporting cast should be enough to get the Vikings to the playoffs regardless of which of the 3 QBs is playing.

The Vikings declined Bridgewater’s fifth-year option on his contract in May. I very much doubt that all 3 of these QBs remain on the roster in 2018. If Keenum can continue his good play I think he gets one of the QB spots as a backup/potential starter, it then becomes a matter of who the Vikings feel will be better for the organisation out of Bridgewater and Bradford. Given Bridgewater hasn’t played for so long and Bradford’s injury history, I wouldn’t be overly surprised if Keenum is the only one retained into 2018.

Flagging defense

Last week I wrote about the importance of turnovers and points from turnovers. While The Vikings won the turnover battle 2-1, both teams totalled 6 points from turnovers. What really cost the Browns on Sunday was the Time of Possession. The Vikings finished with 37 minutes 52 seconds of possession, while Cleveland could only manage 22:08. This was a very equal game in the first half, but as the game went on the Cleveland defense tired and could not get off the field. When they finally did, the offense would go 3-and-out and they would be straight back in.

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After 8 games, the Vikings are looking favourites for the NFC North title – Image from http://www.nfl.com

To make things even worse, as the defense tired, they began to give away penalties. Over the game, the Browns gave away 5 penalties for 74 yards, many of which proved crucial. A pass interference call in the endzone led to a 1 yard rushing TD for Jerick McKinnon – who then also rushed for the 2 point conversion. On the very next drive, they gave away a whopping 3 penalties (roughing the passer, pass interference, defensive holding) on the way to Kyle Rudolph’s receiving TD that Kai Forbath converted. 2 drives, 4 penalties, 15 points.

It is a bad situation as penalties keep the defense on the field, so they get tired and make mistakes, including giving away more penalties. It is a hard cycle to get out of and really needs an offense that can chew up the clock on a sustained drive in order to give the defense a rest. Unfortunately, the Browns just don’t have that right now and will struggle to get a win as a result.

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