The Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers will do battle at Lambeau Field for the first time since 2005 when the Browns were victorious 26-24. The Browns will be looking to bounce back from an extremely disappointing loss to the Detroit Lions at home.
In that loss, the Browns held a 17-7 halftime lead only to be outscored 24-0 in the second half. While pretty much everything went wrong for the Browns in that game, they were still competitive with one of the better teams in the NFC.
This week, the Browns will face a Packers team that has struggled somewhat to find their identity this season. The normally high-flying offense has been hampered by injuries and inconsistent play from their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
If the Browns can snag one of the next two games on the road, they will enter the bye week at least at .500. That should be good enough to keep them competitive throughout the rest of the season.
The Competitive Edge
Aaron Rodgers is as good as it gets in the NFL. He learned from Brett Favre, he has a championship under his belt and he has the benefit of a cast of stars on offense. Despite all the injuries to his wide receivers, he also has a stud running back, Eddie Lacy, who is just finding his footing in his rookie year.
Edge: Green Bay
Eddie Lacy is coming off his best game of the year where he rushed for 120 yards on 23 carries in a win over the Baltimore Ravens. Since returning from concussion, he has showed the burst and playmaking ability that prompted the Packers to select him 61st overall in the 2013 draft.
Edge: Green Bay
The Packers receiver corps is decimated by injuries right now. Randall Cobb was just diagnosed with a fractured fibula and was placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list. Meanwhile, Josh Gordon has been spectacular for the Browns. He now has 25 receptions for 429 yards and 2 touchdowns in just four games.
It has been a quiet two weeks for Jordan Cameron, but he still has elite playmaking abilities to match any other end in the league. One of his equals, however, is Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley. The six year vet is a former Pro Bowl player and still has the skills to change a game from his position. With all the injuries to Green Bay, there will be a heavier emphasis to get him the football.
While the Browns have given up the second most sacks in the league, they have played much better the last two weeks. They finally opened up holes for running back Willis McGahee to run through, as well. Green Bay’s line is also playing better, though, allowing just 14 sacks on the year and blocking much better the last two weeks for Eddie Lacy.
The Browns' line is one of the best in the NFL, but it has been beaten up a little over the last two weeks. The Packers' line has allowed less rushing yards per game and gotten just two less sacks than the Browns. The Packers boast a similar rotation to the Browns; they have a number of players who can sub-in on the defensive line throughout the game.
It is tough to beat a linebacker corps that has both Clay Matthews on it. He is having another stellar year with three sacks, two forced fumbles and 18 tackles through just four games. The Browns' outside linebackers have not been able to create the pressure they did early in the year. They should get a boost of life if Jabaal Sheard is able to return this week.
Edge: Green Bay
With the way Joe Haden and Buster Skrine are playing, there will not be many teams who will have a better defensive backfield than Cleveland. Skrine is really coming into his own and making plays all over the field. So much so that teams have gone back to trying to make plays on Haden. Who would have thought?
While Packers kicker Mason Crosby has one of the most consistent legs in the NFL, they just lost their punt and kick returner in Randall Cobb. The Browns have a weapon on every punt in Travis Benjamin. The trick now is stopping the Packers on offense and making them punt.
Browns Offense vs. Packers Defense
The Browns' offense will have to establish the run to keep pressure off of Brandon Weeden this week. That is easier said than done as Green Bay is allowing just 78 yards per game and has only allowed one rushing touchdown.
If the Browns cannot establish any kind of run game, it will be on Weeden to win the football game. While the Packers give up a ton of yards through the air and make quarterbacks look good, it is always a risk asking Weeden to make plays the entire game.
Opposing quarterbacks have had a 108.2 QB rating against Green Bay, which is the worst in the NFL. They have also intercepted just two passes all season.
If Weeden can stay away from throwing interceptions, he should have an opportunity to make big plays all day versus a very porous Green Bay pass defense.
Browns Defense vs. Packers Offense
Green Bay has had to adjust on the fly and change their offensive identity. Long gone are the days when they threw the ball 50 times a game and racked up 40 points. Now, they will have to grind out yards with Eddie Lacy and set up play-action passes to wide receiver Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley.
This plays right into the Browns' hands. They have one of the best run-stopping defensive lines in the league and usually can stymie any rushing attack through the first half. The issues start when they are on the field the entire second half of the game.
This is where the offense needs to help the defense. If Weeden and the offense can sustain drives in the second half, then the defense will be able to maintain their dominance.
The pass rush should also get a boost from Jabaal Sheard’s likely return Sunday.
The Packers lost one of the better returners in the NFL in Randall Cobb and now will have to look to his backups Micah Hyde and Jonathan Franklin. Neither of them should be too much of a threat in the return game.
The Browns have an elite punt returner in Travis Benjamin, but other teams are going to try and take him away any chance they get. They need to find a way to mix him in on kickoff returns as well.
Mason Crosby is a much better kicker than Billy Cundiff, even though Cundiff has been very solid this season so far.
What they’re Saying
“It’s apparent to me without even needing to ask that, that it’s there. I don’t see any issue with that. This team has rallied behind Brandon and will again.”
--Browns’ head coach Rob Chudzinksi asked if he needs to ask the team if it’s still behind Brandon Weeden
“In times like that where your mental toughness is tested, your toughness comes out. Anybody who has played this position has made throws like that or decisions like that.”
--Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the criticisms of Brandon Weeden after last week’s game
Browns’ Wednesday Injury Report
Did not participate: Defensive lineman Billy Winn (quad)
It looks as though Billy Winn is still a week or so away from returning to action. He has not been ruled out for this week but is still not practicing.
Limited: Linebacker Brandon Magee (oblique)
Brandon Magee is a non-factor on game day. While he does see some snaps on special teams, he gets zero playing time on defense. Either way, he looks to be on track to play Sunday if needed.
Full Participation: Outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (knee) and defensive back Chris Owens (finger)
Jabaal Sheard was practicing last week and even warmed up before the Lions game but was still inactive. All indications are that Sheard is on track to play Sunday in Green Bay. This will be a huge help to the depth at outside linebacker.
Not only was Sheard productive when on the field, but having a deeper rotation allowed those guys to rush the passer more efficiently.
Chris Owens should be fine to resume his normal outside corner position in nickel defensive formations.
This Week’s Game Stats and Facts
Cleveland is one of three teams to rank in the top 10 this season in rush defense, pass defense and total defense.
The Browns and Houston are the only teams to have not allowed a 100-yard rusher or a 300-yard passer in a game this season.
Jordan Cameron’s 38 receptions are the most by a Browns player in the first six games of a season, and his receiving yardage (460) is tied for fourth.
Josh Gordon has registered 429 receiving yards in four games this season, the second-highest per-game average (107.3) in the NFL.
All quotes and observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Game stats and facts are courtesy of the Browns’ communications department.