Sunday, the Cleveland Browns (3-3, second AFC North) head to Wisconsin to take on the Green Bay Packers (3-2, third NFC North). The Browns are coming off a home loss to the Detroit Lions and a 2-1 home stand. The Packers have won two in a row since coming off of their bye week. Both teams are 3-1 over their last four games.
The Packers have lots of question marks for 2013 because of injuries and free agent losses. Quarterback isn’t one of them. They have one of the best in the league in Aaron Rodgers, and all eyes are on him to see if the Packers can overcome their obstacles in order to see postseason play.
In Cleveland, all eyes are also on the quarterback, but for completely different reasons. When Brian Hoyer went down against the Buffalo Bills, Brandon Weeden came in and played an okay game. Okay was good enough for a Browns win, which was also assisted by a touchdown by the special teams, and a touchdown by the defense.
Last week against the Lions, Weeden started his first game since Week 2, and took up where he had left off. Unfortunately, he left off ugly and his return was no better. The pattern from the first two games re-emerged: Decent first half, atrocious second half. His underhand toss that got intercepted put the game away for the Lions. How, as a Browns fan, do you not see that and say, “Here we go again.”
This time there is no Hoyer cavalry to ride in and rescue you. Hoyer is done for the season. Your best hope now, if Weeden fails, is Jason Campbell, and fans feel no more confident in him than they do Weeden. Apparently, neither does the coaching staff as they leap-frogged him to make Hoyer the starter for Games 3-5.
So all eyes are on Weeden, hoping to see something more from him, but expecting to see the same thing. Again, why shouldn’t they? Weeden has been consistently mediocre this year. If he continues to be the Weeden that’s played so far in 2013, the season is done and we may as well all start planning on 2014. Yep, today’s game is that important in terms of perspective.
Of course, Weeden could come out today and be Weeden, but come out next week and for the remaining games and be Tom Brady, but who knows if he’ll get the chance if he’s bad today. As I wrote on Tuesday, if Weeden is awful, the Browns brass may not want to feed him to the sharks that are the hometown fans when the team returns home in Week 9.
So what about today’s game? Will the Browns win? I’m leaning towards “no.” The reason why isn’t Rodgers. It’s actually the rookie running back Eddie Lacy.
Leading up to last week’s game, I couldn’t stop crowing about the Browns rush defense. I expected them to keep Lions RB Reggie Bush in check, which they did in the first half. The second half, however, was a different story, as Bush and the Lions took control of the game and scored all of the points either team would put up for the rest of the day.
So, here I am, a few days later, seemingly saying the Browns run defense will cost them the game. This is even with Jabaal Sheard returning after missing three games with a sprained knee. Wow, that’s pretty reactionary after one bad game. But that’s not what I am saying.
The Packers have problems at wide receiver because of injuries. If the Browns employ their defensive backs and linebackers properly, they should be able to keep the passing game in check, despite Rodgers’ all-pro ability. That ability and the Browns inability to spare personnel will limit their desire to blitz. But they should do a decent job against the pass, despite Green Bay being ranked fourth in the league in passing.
My guess is this: The Browns will have trouble moving the football, even against a Packers defense that has weakened over the last couple of years and is also the victim of the injury bug. The Browns front seven, because of exhaustion and that inability to spare players in order to keep Rodgers quiet, will weaken against the run and the Packers will control this one.
My prediction for the final score is Packers 27 – Browns 13.