The Green Bay Packers play the Cleveland Browns in Week 7.
Normally, this matchup would be a lopsided one in favor of the Packers, but there are a handful of circumstances that will likely make this a closer game than usual. For starters, Green Bay has seen its season ravaged by key injuries.
The Browns have also been more impressive this season than anyone outside of Cleveland could have guessed. These factors could combine for a rather interesting game come Sunday.
Today we're going to break down exactly what the Packers need to do on both sides of the ball in order to get a win in Week 7.
The Competitive Edge
Advantage: Green Bay
By trading away Trent Richardson, the Browns simply don't have the talent at running back like the Packers do. Despite only being a rookie, Eddie Lacy has proved that he's going to be a huge part of the Packers offense moving forward.
Advantage: Green Bay
Had this game taken place last week, the Packers would have easily had the edge. However, with both Randall Cobb and James Jones injured, Green Bay no longer has depth at this position. That means that the duo of Josh Gordon and Greg Little is enough to give the Browns the advantage.
This matchup is probably the closest out of any. Both Jermichael Finley and Jordan Cameron are talented players who are held back by outside forces. Finley is held back by his lack of concentration at times while Jordan is held back by his own quarterback. The Packers get the slight nod due to the fact that both Andrew Quarless and Ryan Taylor can be productive players.
Advantage: Green Bay
On paper, it would look like the Browns would have a much better offensive line than the Packers. With All-Pro performers like Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, Cleveland boasts one of the best offensive lines in the league. However, the Packers unit has been playing spectacularly this season, especially with its run blocking. Cleveland still has the advantage, but it's much closer than anyone would have thought before the start of the season.
The defensive lines for both teams have been rather impressive this year. While the Packers unit has been a little better against the run, the Browns unit has been quite a bit better at creating pressure on the quarterback. That's what ultimately gives the Browns the edge here.
Not only does Cleveland have more depth and potential at this unit, but right now it also has more talent. If Clay Matthews and Nick Perry were playing (more on that later), this might be a little closer. However, the advantage goes to the Browns in a big way here.
There is little doubt that Cleveland has the single best player in the secondary in cornerback Joe Haden. However, the Packers have just a little more depth at both cornerback and safety to gain just a slight advantage.
Advantage: Green Bay
The good news for the Packers is that cornerback Micah Hyde provided some explosion as a return man last week. However, with Travis Benjamin returning punts for the Browns, Cleveland is better in the return game. While the Packers have a better kicker and punter, Benjamin's ability to make big plays puts the Browns ahead a little.
Packers Offense vs. Browns Defense
The key for the Packers offense is going to be finding enough playmakers to put points on the board.
That means players like Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin, Jermichael Finley and Eddie Lacy are all going to have to have big games. Considering the fact that the Browns don't possess an elite pass rush or incredible ability in pass coverage, the Packers should be able to move the ball through the air on a consistent basis.
The Packers might need their pass game more than ever this week due to the fact that the Browns possess an above-average run defense. While Lacy has been great for the Packers in the past two weeks (99 yards and 120 yards respectively), he could struggle to get things going this game.
Even if Lacy does struggle, the Packers can't become a one-dimensional team. They'll need to continue to pound the ball with Lacy so they can set up the rest of their offense. This happened last week against the Baltimore Ravens, and the end result was a play-action pass to Nelson that resulted in the Packers' lone touchdown in the game.
The Packers clearly have the advantage on the offensive side of the ball, but they'll need players to step up in order to take full advantage.
Packers Defense vs. Browns Offense
Green Bay has been good at certain aspects of the game with its defense while it has struggled with other parts.
The good news for the Packers is that the Browns have been at their worst in the passing game. While the Packers pass coverage has been way below average, the Browns will trot Brandon Weeden out onto the field. This is the perfect game for Green Bay's secondary to finally play up to the potential that it has.
What the Packers will need to do defensively is force the Browns to pass the ball. That means they'll need to put eight men in the box early to discourage the Browns from trying to get their ground game going.
Even if the Browns do try to move the ball with their running backs, the Packers have been truly great at stopping the run this year. As long as they can slow down the run and force Cleveland to move the ball through the air, they should be able to control this game defensively.
The key for the Packers will be keeping the likes of Travis Benjamin from making big plays. He's currently averaging 12.3 yards per punt return and also has one return touchdown on the year. As long as the Packers can keep him in check, they should be able to win the battle of special teams.
Wednesday's Injury Report Analysis
|Jarrett Bush||CB||Hamstring||Full Participation|
|Casey Hayward||CB||Hamstring||Limited Participation|
|James Jones||WR||Knee||Did Not Practice|
|Brad Jones||LB||Hamstring||Did Not Practice|
|Mike Neal||LB||Shoulder||Did Not Practice|
The only real question here is who on the Packers roster currently isn't injured? Along with the players listed above, the Packers will also be without wide receiver Randall Cobb for the next 6-8 weeks.
There were also some surprises on Wednesday's injury report such as Mike Neal and Ryan Taylor. It just seems like whenever one player gets healthy, another is lost for an extended period of time.
The best news from the day came from ESPN's Rob Demovsky about offensive tackle Derek Sherrod:
T Derek Sherrod practiced for the first time in 22 months, since he broke his leg. His 3-week PUP window opened. Was the only PUP guy to go.— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) October 16, 2013
While Sherrod practicing won't mean much for Sunday's game against the Browns, it was a much-needed moral victory for the Packers.
The Packers Will Win If...
They force Brandon Weeden to beat them with his arm. If the Packers can do that, they should have no trouble walking away with this game.
There are two ways that they can do this. First, they'll need to slow down Willis McGahee and the rest of the Browns running backs. While many thought the Browns ground game would suffer after trading Trent Richardson, they've actually performed quite well this season.
While stopping the run will force Cleveland to put the ball in Weeden's hands, there is an even better way Green Bay can accomplish this goal. That's by scoring early and often and forcing the Browns to play catch-up football.
Even though the Packers have struggled offensively their past two games, scoring a combined 41 points, this is still a team that has the potential to put points on the board in bunches. If the Packers can jump out to an early double-digit lead, it'll force the Browns to throw the ball more.
As long as the Packers can force Weeden to be the player to beat them, this game will be over before it even starts.