I don’t know about everyone else, but I was on the edge of my seat most of the Cleveland Browns-Kansas City Chiefs game. From the back and forth action to a missed helmet-to-helmet hit on a goal-line play that caused a fumble to the opportunity for Cleveland to come back after Patrick Mahomes went down for a majority of the second half with a concussion, it was a fun game to watch as a neutral party.
While watching this game, I came away with a few lessons that the Minnesota Vikings could apply next season to improve their disappointing 7-9 campaign this year.
Lessons Learned from the Chiefs
Despite the win, the defending champions didn’t have the cakewalk you would expect. Even though they went into the half with a 19-3 lead, in part due to an egregious missed helmet-to-helmet call, which probably cost the Browns a touchdown and allowed Kansas City to tack on a field goal, Cleveland still was able to stay in the contest.
The real shakeup came when superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes was concussed on a 3rd and 1 quarterback sneak. So much of Andy Reid‘s offensive philosophy relies on Mahomes’ ability to air the ball out, and I thought that his absence would surely sink the K.C.’s season.
Despite this, the Chiefs were able to win the game with journeyman Chad Henne leading the offense. After watching Andy Reid calling plays for Henne, I learned two important things that Mike Zimmer and the Vikings coaching staff should emulate.
Stick to the Game Plan
Watching Henne come in the game, I was sure that Andy Reid would shift his gameplan to running the ball and playing conservatively so Henne wouldn’t lose them the game. Much to my surprise, Reid decided to put faith in his backup quarterback, allowing him to air the ball out down the field and make throws to Tyreek Hill in tight windows.
There have been times when we see Zimmer completely ditch a game plan when missing certain players. Everyone remembers the Atlanta Falcons game this season when Dalvin Cook was out. The offense, which had leaned so much on the run, decided to air the ball out, and things went haywire.
Kirk Cousins ended up throwing three interceptions in the first half.
Don’t try to be what you aren’t. Reid probably realized that trying to go to a ground and pound offense wouldn’t help the Chiefs win the game since they hadn’t had much success running the ball all season.
This ties in with No. 1 one, but Kansas City won this game by being aggressive and forcing Cleveland to make plays.
After Henne threw an interception that was essentially an arm punt, nobody would have blamed Reid for deciding to take the ball out of Henne’s hands and play not to lose. But Big Red threw all caution to the wind and stayed aggressive until the last set of downs in the game.
Instead of running it to give Cleveland the ball back with 80 seconds and no timeouts, Ried decided to attempt passes and 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th down. Yes, technically, only one pass was attempted, the gutsy 4th and inches out-route to Tyreek Hill to seal the deal, but the intent behind down is what mattered.
The Chiefs never rested on their laurels and always pressed the issue.
I will give Zimmer credit where it’s due. He got more aggressive as the season went on, most notably when he decided to go for it on 4th and inches vs. the Seattle Seahawks, but if the Vikings want to progress as a team, they have to play aggressively.
Lessons Learned from the Browns
Despite being on the end of a rough loss that probably would have been worse if Mahomes didn’t get hurt, the Browns put up a valiant effort. Led by former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland made the postseason for the first time since 2002. They won their first playoff game since 1994 when Bill Belichick beat Bill Parcells and the New England Patriots.
I came away with one thought that is now clearer than ever after watching Stefanski’s Browns.
Invest in the Offensive line
Cleveland’s success on offense has been predicated on how good their offensive line has been, which should be a surprise to nobody if you look at their moves this offseason. They spent their first-round pick on left tackle Jedrick Wills and acquired Jack Conklin on a 3-year, $42 million deal. They also traded for guard Wyatt Teller for a 5th and 6th round pick.
These moves all paid off instantly, with Conklin making first-team all-pro and Teller and Bitonio finishing second-team all-pro.
The Browns showed that a run-first offense where you ask your quarterback to play error-free football can work. The difference between the Vikings and the Browns is the offensive line and how much time Cleveland gave Baker Mayfield vs. how much time the Minnesota o-line gave Kirk Cousins.
I know picking a guard or tackle in the first round might be the sexiest pick, but the Vikings need to invest more in the offensive line for the offense to move forward.