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Cleveland Browns vs. Green Bay Packers: Week Seven Preview
The Cleveland Browns travel to Wisconsin this weekend to take on the Green Bay Packers at historic Lambeau Field. This game will be the biggest challenge of the year so far for the 3-3 Browns as the Packers (3-2) are a multifaceted team who can score points quickly and in bunches. The Packers have won 22 of their last 23 games at Lambeau; their last home loss was on opening day of last season (30-22 loss against the 49ers). Needless to say, the Browns will have their work cut out for them in Green Bay this Sunday. That’s not to say a win is impossible. Here are this week’s keys to the game for the Cleveland Browns.
Attack the Secondary
The Packers might be the most complete team the Browns will face this year. Statistically, they are ranked in the top five in passing yards per game (309.4 ypg), rushing yards per game (140.8 ypg), points per game (27.4) and rushing yards allowed per game (78.2 ypg allowed).
Their one glaring weakness, however, has been passing yards allowed per game. Currently, the Packers are 28th in the league, allowing 293.6 passing yards per game. While part of this undoubtedly is because other teams are forced to throw on them to keep up with their high powered offense (in theory more attempts equals more yards), the Packers secondary can be beat. Teams have had success passing on Green Bay’s cornerback duo of Tramon Williams and Sam Shields.
For the season, Williams has seen 20 passes come into his coverage, allowing 13 receptions for 196 yards. While those numbers are respectable, it’s important to note two things. One, the total yards allowed aren’t inflated by one long passing play. The longest pass Williams has given up has been 32 yards, so it’s very possible to chip away throwing at him. Two, he doesn’t have an interception this year and has only broken up two passes. Quarterbacks have an average QB Rating of 113.8 when throwing into his coverage this year.
Starting free safety M.D. Jennings hasn’t seen a lot of passes come his way but he hasn’t exactly stopped much either. He’s only seen nine passes come into his coverage, but he’s allowed seven receptions for 88 yards and three touchdowns in 318 snaps. Backup strong safety Jerron McMillian has only played 189 snaps this year, but if he is on the field at all Sunday Brandon Weeden should go right at him. McMillian has seen 19 passes come into his coverage and has allowed 14 receptions for 218 yards and three touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks have an average QB rating of 150.9 when throwing at McMillian.
Tight End Mismatch
In addition to a weak secondary, or perhaps because of it, Green Bay has struggled to stop opposing tight ends. Using their DVOA rating system, Football Outsiders ranks the Packers defense 26th in the league when it comes to stopping tight ends, as they have been able to gain an average of 78.7 yards per game on the Packers. While Josh Gordon has the potential to have a big day against a suspect Packers secondary, Jordan Cameron could have equally as good of a day against a Packers defense that has allowed 31 receptions, 386 yards and four touchdowns this year to opposing tight ends.
Attack Left Tackle
The Packers have one of the better offensive lines in the league. In five games Green Bay’s line has only allowed 49 QB pressures on Aaron Rodgers, who helps the line with his ability to scramble and get rid of the ball quickly (average time to throw 2.58 seconds for Rodgers). While this is a solid unit there is one weak link, rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari.
Bakhtiari is the only Packers lineman who has received a negative grade from Pro Football Focus, an overall grade of -7.3 and a -6.8 mark in pass blocking. In five games he has allowed 15 QB pressures, including four sacks. While this isn’t terrible, a review of game film will tell you Bakhtiari can be overwhelmed at the point of attack and struggles with quicker pass rushers, like Barkevious Mingo. It won’t be easy, but the Browns need to find a way to pressure Rodgers. Overwhelming the rookie left tackle might be the best way to do so.
Play a Complete Game
The Browns at times have been their own worst enemy this year. They’ve had the lead going into halftime in every game this, however come out flat to start the third quarter. For more on the Browns second half struggles, click here. If they have any hope of beating Green Bay the Browns will have to play a full and error free game. What exactly does that entail?
First and foremost, if the game is close at halftime the Browns cannot abandon the running game. In their three losses this year the Browns have only ran the ball 15 times combined in the second half. Compare that to 35 total rushes in the three wins and you begin to notice a pattern. It should be noted that while the Packers are 3rd in the league in rushing yards allowed they’ve also seen the second fewest overall rushing attempts this season (116).
Secondly, the Browns defense is going to have to get off the field. While they’ve played well overall this year, the Browns defense has allowed the opposition to convert on 44.1 percent of their third down opportunities (41-of-93) which is 29th in the league. If they allow Rodgers and company to stay on the field and sustain drives this game can get out of hand quickly.
The offense must play a strong game, especially in the second half. The Browns have scored 78 points in their first half this season, but only 33 points in the second half (through six games). This isn’t to say Weeden has to mirror Rodgers throw for throw, frankly that’d be impossible. But the offense has to sustain drives and put points on the board in the second half of the game.
Lastly, and in line with the previous point, the coaches must do a better job of adjusting at the half. While the players have failed to execute in the second half of games this year part of the blame rests with the coaching staff. Green Bay is too good a team to not make impactful adjustments.
The Browns have their work cut out for them. They’ll be aided by injures to the Packers as they’ll be without WR Randall Cobb, OLBs Clay Matthews III and Nick Perry as well as RB James Starks. Additionally, WR James Jones and ILB Brad Jones are questionable to play. Even still, the Packers have playmakers on both sides and present matchup problems all over the field. Weeden doesn’t have to be an all-star, but he will have to be smart and efficient.
In the end, the Packers will be too much for the Browns to handle. Green Bay will win the game by a score of 30-17.
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