Blair Walsh (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Blair Walsh is looking forward to the solid footing of the Metrodome and giving the Browns no opportunities for a return. Plus, get the rankings, both team and individual, for the Vikings and Browns.
There’s no debating that the Vikings are glad to finally be playing with the home-field advantage of the Metrodome. But perhaps nobody is more thankful than kicker Blair Walsh.
In the regular-season opener at Ford Field, none of Walsh’s kicks were returned. In rainy conditions in Chicago, all but one of his kicks was returned and Devin Hester was on his way to a record-setting day.
Suffice it to say, Walsh is more than a little bit pleased about being back at home in the Metrodome – to the point that he and Jeff Locke paid a visit to their home base of operations while the rest of the team prepared for an inclement indoor practice.
“Jeff and I went down to the Metrodome (Thursday) to get some practice in,” Walsh said. “It’s inside, but you want to get that comfort level that you need when the crowd is there and everything is more hectic. The best thing is that we won’t have the footing problems that we had in Chicago.”
As difficult as the field conditions were, they were even more pronounced for the special-teams coverage players, all of whom count on solid footing and quick cuts to prevent big returns. None of that was available in Chicago on Sunday.
“It’s not fun,” Walsh said. “The ball doesn’t travel as far and you can’t really get a firm footing. You probably lose about three or four yards on everything you hit. That’s not fun, but we tried to do the best with it.”
Things got so bad that, with the Vikings nursing a six-point lead in the final minutes, in order to avoid yet another long kickoff return, Walsh was asked to pooch a kick. It came down on the 20-yard line and was returned to the 34, giving Jay Cutler a short enough field to traverse for the game-winning touchdown.
“Honestly, we were trying to just prevent the big return,” Walsh said. “The conditions played a huge factor – even for the covering. We had multiple guys slip trying to break down and get him. I think we did it just to limit their return, honestly. I’m OK with that.”
Just as his teammates are looking to erase the annual ugly memory of going to Chicago, the light at the end of the tunnel is that the Browns will be challenged to return any of Walsh’s kickoffs Sunday because he intends to bomb them out of the end zone to eliminate the possibility of returns.
“I would expect you will see them going a little farther this week,” Walsh said with a smile. “There isn’t going to be rain on Sunday and, hopefully, we won’t be news this week.”
VIKINGS-BROWNS BY THE NUMBERS
The Vikings have the 20th-ranked offense in the NFL (10th rushing, 20th passing) and the 28th-ranked defense (26th rushing, 25th passing).
The Vikings are averaging 340 yards a game (226 passing, 114 rushing). They are allowing 440 yards a game (320 passing, 120 rushing).
The Browns have the 28th-ranked offense (29th rushing, 23rd passing) and the sixth-ranked defense (4th rushing, 12th passing).
The Browns are averaging 275 yards a game (219 passing, 56 rushing). They are allowing 286 yards a game (226 passing, 60 rushing).
Christian Ponder is 31st in interceptions per pass play. Only Eli Manning has a worse interception percentage.
The Vikings defense is last in the league in sacks per pass play. The Vikings have only one sack. A play that was originally ruled a sack for Allen in the season opener was taken away from him.
Thanks to Devin Hester’s monster day last week, the Vikings are last in kick return defense, allowing an average of 43.8 yards per return – well above what is viewed as acceptable.
Only Jacksonville has scored fewer points than Cleveland’s 16 points.
The Browns defense is first in the league in average yards per rush. Opponents have run 59 times for just 119 yards – a paltry 2.0-yard average.
The Browns have been outscored 31-3 in the second half of their first two games.
The Vikings are tied for 19th in giveaway-takeaway ration at minus-1 (six takeaways, seven giveaways). Cleveland is also tied for 19th at minus-1 (two takeaways, three giveaways).
Only Seattle (7) has more takeaways than the Vikings, but only the Giants (10) have more giveaways.
The Vikings are 25th in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on two of five red zone trips (40 percent). The Browns are tied for 27th at 33.3 percent (one TD in three red zone opportunities).
Minnesota is tied for ninth in red zone defense, allowing five touchdowns in 10 red zone trips (50 percent). Cleveland is tied for 18th at 60 percent (three TDs in five trips inside the 20).
The Vikings are tied for the most defensive red zone opportunities at 10. Surprisingly, they tied for last with the 49ers.
The Vikings offense has converted just nine of 26 third-down opportunities (32.1 percent) – well below the league average of 39 percent. Cleveland is the worst in the league, converting an anemic 17.2 percent (five of 29) – by far the worst in the league.
The Vikings have allowed opponents to convert a whopping 48 percent of third downs (12 of 25) – nine percentage points above the league average. Cleveland is even worse at 50 percent (13 of 26).
Through two weeks, almost two out of every three kickoffs (205 of 323) have been touchbacks in the NFL.
The Vikings are last in the league in opponents’ average starting position, at the 31.8-yard line – four yards worse than any other team and 10.5 yards above the league average.
Through two weeks of the NFL season, there have been only nine 100-yard rushing games, including one by Adrian Peterson.
Christian Ponder is ranked near the bottom of the quarterback rankings in just about every category, including 27th in attempts (58), 27th in completions (34), 26th in completion percentage (58.6), 23rd in yards (463), 23rd in touchdowns (2), 31st in interceptions (4), 32nd in interception percentage (6.9) and 30th in passer rating (67.0).
Brian Hoyer hasn’t thrown a pass, but it didn’t take a thumb injury to consider benching Brandon Weeden. He was one of only four quarterbacks with a worse passer rating than Ponder. The not-so-Fab Four are Josh Freeman (63.0), Weeden (62.0), Geno Smith (55.2) and Blaine Gabbert (30.8).
Ponder is 27th in fourth-quarter passer rating (62.5) and 15th in third-down passer rating (85.2).
Adrian Peterson entered Week 3 third in rushing yards with 193 yards, trailing only Doug Martin (209) and LeSean McCoy (237). Considering that McCoy ran for 158 yards, his three-week total is 395 yards – meaning Peterson will have to run for 203 yards to take over the league lead, unless Martin comes up big against New England.
Nobody who will be playing Sunday for Cleveland has a rushing attempt – Trent Richardson had 31 carries and Weeden had the other two.
Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron is tied for 10th in receptions with 14. The Vikings don’t have anyone in the top 50 in receptions. Jerome Simpson is tied for 59th with nine catches.
Cameron is tied for 12th in receiving yards with 203. Simpson is 16th with 189 yards.
Cleveland’s Davone Bess is tied for sixth in third-down receptions with sixth. Greg Jennings and Simpson are both tied for 20th with four.
Peterson is tied for second in scoring with three touchdowns (18 points). In two games, San Diego’s Eddie Royal has tied a career single-season high with five TDs.
Walsh is tied for seventh in scoring among kickers with 18 points. Cleveland’s Billy Cundiff is 26th with just 10 points.
Walsh is tied for 16th with six touchbacks. He was 5-for-5 on touchbacks in Week 1, but, as he explained, had just one touchback in the rainy conditions at Soldier Field last week.
Peterson is 12th in total yards from scrimmage with 218 (193 rushing, 25 receiving). After a big night from McCoy Thursday, he has 514 total yards – almost 300 yards ahead of Peterson.
Jeff Locke jumped up the punter rankings after a good week in bad weather in Chicago. After being near the bottom of the punting yardage stats after Week 1, Locke is now 10th in punting average at 47.6 yards. He is 17th in net punting average at 40.5 yards.
Fourteen players have enough kickoff returns to qualify for the league leadership and both of them have a Vikings connection. Cordarrelle Patterson is second with a 40.6-yard return average, thanks to a 105-yard kickoff return to open last Sunday’s game. He trails only Devin Hester, who blistered the Vikings last week and is averaging 46.7 yards per return.
The Vikings have scored 24 and 30 points in their first two games. Cleveland has scored 10 and six points in its first two games.
Minnesota has allowed 34 and 31 points in its first two games. The Browns have allowed 23 and 14 points.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.