Following a catastrophic second-half meltdown last Sunday, what should we expect from the Cleveland Browns' offense in Week 7?
Scoring zero points and securing a single first down over the final two quarters in a loss to the Detroit Lions let yet another strong opening 30 minutes by the Browns slip away. In fact, Cleveland has led going into halftime every game this season.
If there was ever a good weekend to have to travel into Green Bay to face the Packers, this may be the one to do it.
Aaron Rodgers and company are decimated with injuries on both sides of the ball.
The Browns' offense will not need to worry about linebackers Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and possibly Brad Jones. In theory, this should mean that Brandon Weeden is not going to be overly challenged by Green Bay's typically aggressive pass rush.
However, the Packers run defense remains sterling (ranked fourth), and although they possess depth in the secondary, they are 28th against the pass.
What Must Improve?
1. The Browns need to transfer their overall crisp play-calling and execution when they have possession from the first half into the third quarter.
In his Wednesday press conference, head coach Rob Chudzinski commented,
The thing that I feel strongly about is it’s not a matter of emotions or energy coming out the in the second half because that’s there. It’s a matter of being able to jump back into the game at the same speed that you left it. We’ve been stressing that with our players, as well as being able to get them going again physically.
2. Stick with the running game.
Whatever amount of rust was on Willis McGahee after his long knee surgery recovery is off as he enters his fifth game wearing an orange helmet.
McGahee was part of a 115-yard first half versus the Lions and saw him get his largest per carry average (3.7) since joining the team. The trouble is that he was only called on 10 times and almost never from the third quarter onward.
Mixing in the odd end-around or pitchout to get away from the Packers' run stuffing front three of B.J. Raji, Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett would also be well advised.
Play-caller Norv Turner found success in that to the tune of a 45-yard gain from Travis Benjamin on Sunday, but less effective was Josh Gordon's try that went for no gain.
If Cleveland leads once more after two periods then there is no reason not to mix in a substantial dose of the run in the final 30 minutes.
3. Brandon Weeden and a balanced attack.
The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. We have reached that point with quarterback Brandon Weeden and expecting him carry this club on his back.
He has never led the Browns to a fourth quarter comeback victory and realistically needs to be viewed in a best-case scenario as a game manager.
That means not relying on No. 3 to throw the ball over 40 times like he did in two of his three starts this season. It's all about balance says coach Chud.
"We’ll do some things from a scheme standpoint to accentuate the things he does really well and adjust some of the things we’re doing. I believe in the balance that you want to have as an offense, and that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen all the time, but we want to be able to run the football and throw the football. I think when you get one dimensional, it’s just not going to be in our best interest," courtesy of Ohio.com.
The Browns absolutely need to do everything possible throughout Sunday's matchup to not be in a position late where a touchdown is required to win. In 18 NFL starts Weeden has proven that he just can't be that guy.
A solid combination of rushing, passing and good field position via special teams is what must be delivered to have a chance to pull off the upset at Lambeau Field. That, and no ridiculous, underhanded flicks for interceptions of course.
Key Matchup: Cleveland's Jordan Cameron (TE) vs. Green Bay's A.J Hawk (LB)
Josh Gordon may be Weeden's favorite receiving target, but count on game-changing tight end Jordan Cameron to be utilized in a more impactful way.
With five touchdowns in 2013, Cameron's production cooled down considerably over the past two weeks.
One part of that is surely due to the rest of the league taking notice and scheming to limit his effectiveness. The other portion comes back to Weeden not getting the football out fast enough.
The window closes quickly for catch and run plays over the middle, which means that better decisions and leading the tight end is extremely important. Both of those are not the quarterback's strong suits.
Veteran middle linebacker A.J. Hawk will be relied on as the lone star remaining from an injury riddled Packers linebacking core to handle Cameron on crossing routes.
Hawk has led or been second on Green Bay in tackles six of the last seven years. Cameron hasn't been able to create separation against defenders or get into the end zone the past two weeks.
It is vital that the size difference (four inches in height) between himself and Hawk is exploited. Giving the quarterback a short- to medium-range target would be a huge bonus for the deep passing and ground strategies.
The Packers' defensive coordinator Dom Capers is one of the league's top coordinators so he'll likely get creative by calling upon his deep secondary to help keep Cameron honest.
Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett and Casey Hayward (listed as questionable on Wednesday) are three examples that own the athleticism to shut down No. 84 if he isn't executing perfect routes.
If Cleveland's offense can stay on the field long enough to keep their stout defense fresh then they have a great chance to shock the world and secure the "W".
Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81