The Vikings used a number of different defensive looks with their starters in the third preseason…
Key matchup: Allen vs. Thomas
The battle between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn has raged for more than a year. After waiting until days before the season opener with the Vikings, head coach Eric Mangini named Quinn the starter. For how long is another question. For Quinn to keep the starting job, he is going to have to perform well or face being benched. As a result, he will be on a short leash and can't make mistakes in the passing game. Charged with protecting Quinn's blind side and preventing catastrophe in the backfield is left tackle Joe Thomas, whose battle with Jared Allen is this week's matchup to watch.
Of all the teams that kicked themselves for not taking Adrian Peterson with one of the first six picks of the draft, about the only one that can make a case for doing the right thing was Cleveland, who took Thomas with the third pick in the 2007 draft. In his rookie season, Thomas made the Pro Bowl and, while he didn't show the same level consistently last year, he is viewed as one of the top young left tackles in the game with the potential of being a dominating presence for the next decade.
Vikings fans learned all about what Allen could do last year, as he played through injuries to both his shoulder and knee and recorded 14.5 sacks – the most by a Viking since John Randle's 15.5 sacks in 1997. He was the game-changing type of pass rusher the Vikings defense had lacked for years and his presence converted the Vikings defense from one of the worst statistically in the NFL to one of the best.
This matchup will be one that will bear monitoring all game long. Allen's motor never stops running and he never takes a play off. Even if Thomas plays him perfectly on 90 percent of the snaps, Allen will still have a chance to get into the backfield and pressure Quinn in hopes of causing a turnover or getting a sack that will kill a drive.
There will likely be more pressure on Thomas to produce in this matchup than Allen. The Browns offense didn't score a touchdown in its final six games of the 2008 season and that collapse led to the firing of head coach Romeo Crennel and the hiring of Mangini. The quarterback controversy that erupted last year spilled over, as the new coaching staff started from scratch with both players. Although Quinn won the job to start the season, it is clear that he and Anderson aren't necessarily Nos. 1 and 2 on the Cleveland depth chart, but rather Nos. 1A and 1B. If Quinn fails, the hook will likely come quickly to insert Anderson in the lineup.
Given the Vikings' consistent ability to stop the run, especially against between-the-tackles bangers like Jamal Lewis, if the Browns are going to beat the Vikings, it will have to be the result of success in the passing game. For Quinn to get anything downfield, which many view as his primary strength, he will need time in the pocket to allow plays to develop and his receivers to find an opening 15 yards up the field or more. Seeing as the vertical game is expected to be a big part of the offense, for that to succeed, he is going to need time, which will fall on Thomas to provide. Allen's ability to mix and match his pass rush moves will put Thomas to the ultimate test. Whoever wins this battle could help determine the team that comes away with a Week 1 "W."
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