Four Downs: Packers-Browns preview
Four Downs is back in its alternate uniform for a color-coded discussion of Packers-Browns and, for the most part, things other than injuries. As always, comments and questions are welcome here or on our Facebook page. ‘Like’ us, if you would.
1. Magenta, or, the color of change and transformation, the letting go of old standbys, of self-improvement. Recent history shows the Cleveland Browns as a turnstile of coaches, general managers, presidents – we see you, Mike Holmgren – and even owners, the current one, sadly, turning out to be a money-hoarding and customer-scamming business-troll. So it goes, it seems, for the Browns.
Because through all these potential identity changes, the Browns of today have steadily remained the Browns – meaning it’s been a struggle. We’re not here to dive into the easy Woes Of Cleveland stuff, because it’s boring and, more importantly, not a situation we’d wish on too many fan bases, especially one as loyal-through-the-pain as Cleveland’s has proven to be.
This season under first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski, the team’s fourth head coach since 2008, Cleveland has shown signs of possible change for the better. Real transformation came suddenly, when the team dealt former franchise running back Trent Richardson a little over two weeks into the regular season. For many, it signaled a preemptive pull of the ripcord on the 2013 season and an investment, once again, in the eternal Next Year.
But after splitting six games the Browns are well-positioned in the middle of a muddy survivalist AFC North division with a clear strength – their stifling defense. Cleveland does appear to be transforming into something solid, something that can be built upon. And, while the future always waits ahead for that construction, they haven’t stopped competitively chiseling away at this season either, seeing what can be made from it.
2. Red, or the color of strength and danger or, the Browns’ defense. The unit is upper-echelon-good, allowing 312.5 yards per game, seventh-best in the league, and 20.8 points per game, just outside the top 10 at No. 11. Cornerback Joe Haden is the guy the Browns leave alone on his little island of the field, then watch all the nothing happen. With the Packers’ retooled passing game, he’s probably going to try erasing Jordy Nelson for the afternoon.
Last week against Detroit, however, as Haden was blanketing Calvin Johnson – who wasn’t completely healthy, but still – a squishy, weak spot emerged and was hit again and again as the Lions rallied in the second half. Browns middle linebacker Craig Robertson allowed 8-of-10 completions to receivers he was covering for a total of 104 yards and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus.
In this case, much of the damage was caused by Lions tight end Joe Fauria. One of the Packers’ few starting receiving targets not currently hampered by injury is tight end Jermichael Finley, and there’s a good chance Green Bay sees this doughy middle as a potential way through Cleveland’s smothering defense. But, again: the Browns want to win by way of their defense keeping things annoyingly unpleasant. It’s not the easiest group to face for an offense that might have to stumble their way through some of these early drives like the first few clumsy steps out of bed on a dark morning.
3. Yellow, or, the color of caution or anxiety. You may have heard or seen, but we present quarterback Brandon Weeden’s back-handed flip to the sidelines. This long pass to the side of the field is usually tough to complete using a more-conventional throwing motion – note the majestic way the ball instantly loses its life the moment it takes flight, flopping like a water balloon towards its doom – and while we sort of admire Weeden’s loopy Favre-ian confidence and ingenuity on this play, well, there’s a reason the Browns sorta need to win via defense first.
And it’s another shame for Cleveland with Brian Hoyer drumming up optimism, then tearing his ACL and being lost for the season during the team’s three-game winning streak. Now it’s back to angst-watching Weeden and what must be the good-enough-to-be-hopeful yet still-generally-terrifying wonder of what will happen next. The Richardson trade may well work in Cleveland’s favor in the future, but now it puts even more onus on the passing game: the Browns, somehow, have attempted the second-most passes in the NFL this season.
(A few more stats of Browns’ weirdness: they’ve led every single game this season at halftime. But the second half? Not so much: Cleveland’s been outscored 82-40 in the third and fourth quarters, and with Weeden as their starter they’ve been drummed 55-3 in the second half. Slightly out of context but worth mentioning: in a report earlier this week, Chudzinski called halftime adjustments “overrated,” but was also quoted as saying, “We’re going to look hard with what we’re going to do at halftime and if there (are) some things procedurally that we may change.” Omitting adjustments, we are guessing this means skipping the halftime build-your-own-burrito table. That would make us sleepy, too.)
Granted, they’ve got some decent options – tight end Jordan Cameron, receivers Josh Gordon and deep threat Travis Benjamin, to name a few. But if Green Bay’s defense continues mopping up the running game, a one-dimensional Brandon Weeden should, we think, be an advantage for the Packers.
4. Light blue, or the color of health and healing. We don’t want to discuss them much more, because injuries are sad and unavoidable all-around, but we can’t help but agree with the Next Man Up stuff in the sense that, offensively-speaking, we believe Aaron Rodgers-plus-anybody can equal good things. Receiver spots on the field will be filled, be it by Jarrett Boykin or Myles White or whomever, and we just see production being available for the taking because Rodgers produces. This new and dependable running game is great to have and needs to keep being so, which’ll help too. But someone’s got to catch the passes because they’re coming regardless of who’s lining up, is what we’re saying.
The defense will miss Nick Perry like it already misses Clay Matthews, and we hope Mike Neal’s bothersome shoulder doesn’t sideline him again. But Casey Hayward is inching back, and getting healthy in a responsible manner is all you can ask, and the Packers are smart when it comes to making sure this happens.
Against a hodgepodge of firm defense and curious offense, and with the quick promotion of reserve players to bigger roles, the Packers may need to chop up the game and put it back together as uneven, mangled parts making up a win. But you can find value in any football game. If you’re looking – as this exercise certainly proves – you can probably find meaning in any color. And pretty or ugly, they ultimately look however you want to see them.
(On the following scale: Ted Thompson is a tough guy to read. In an attempt to pay homage to his flat style of delivery, we will couple our pick with a 1-5 rating scale of our confidence translated into Thompson Confidence, which, we feel, is just as ultimately silly and tough to derive meaning from as choosing a score.)
Honorary Ted Thompson ‘I feel confident’ scale of confidence: 4.91 ‘I feel confident’-s out of 5.