Was the Packers' 26-0 whomping of the Lions last Sunday an indication of solid progress, or was it frustrating that the score didn't end up more like the Patriots' 59-0 shellacking of the Titans? Frankly, I don't know. I do know that this Packers team should (I repeat, should) beat the Cleveland Browns handily on Sunday. Let's face it. The Browns looked terrible in their one win this season. If you win and can't complete more than two passes the whole game, you're either a bad team playing a worse team or you're running Georgia Tech's option offense.
I'm actually having trouble finding interesting matchups for this game, so instead of trying to go over numbers and personnel to come up with some, I'm just going to talk about three players in this game that I will be watching closely.
1. LT Joe Thomas
It's well-documented that I love keeping up on former Badgers in the NFL, and I have as big a man-crush on Thomas as I've had on any football player since that guy in the Sears commercials started having trouble deciding on his television (also how and when to end his career). (For the record, former Badger goaltender and current Ottawa Senator Brian Elliott will always be my #1 man-crush. But I digress.) Thomas grew up in Brookfield, WI, which is minutes away from my parents' residence in New Berlin. He was an All-Everything left tackle at Wisconsin, where I had the privilege of watching him play for two years. In Barry Alvarez's last game coaching the Cardinal and White, the 2006 Outback Bowl against Auburn, Thomas played both left tackle and defensive end because of injuries across the defensive front, and promptly suffered a torn ACL, only to come back healthy for his senior season just 8 months later and win the Outland Trophy as the best O-lineman in College Football. He's a consummate professional, and, I would argue, the best left tackle in the league. I LOVE THIS GUY. I just feel bad for him that he has to play for the Browns. Plus, just look at the guy. How could you not want that guy on your team?
2. LT T.J. Lang
With Chad Clifton likely out for the game on Sunday, the responsibility for covering Aaron Rodgers' blind side falls to Lang. The 4th round pick has shown some solid progress filling in for Clifton already this year, and I"m anxious to see what he can do with some extended playing time. Specifically, I want to see that "nasty" side of Lang that people are talking about. Getting in against the Browns should be a good way for him to show his potential. NFL.com's analysis says his strength and work ethic are his best attributes, and I look forward to seeing how they translate to the field this week. Plus, just look at the guy. Do you see the fire and hatred in his eyes?
3. OLB Clay Matthews III
I think we can difinitively say that Matthews has broken out over the last two games. He caught national attention for his strip-n-score of Adrian Peterson on Monday night three weeks ago, then was a true force playing every down against the Lions last Sunday. After examining the Browns' offense, I see no reason to believe that anything will change against the Browns. In college at USC, Matthews was best at rushing the passer, but he clearly showed his potential against the run last week--the play on fourth and one in the first half jumps immediately to mind. This kid looks (for now) like he can be what I wish A.J. Hawk would be: a dynamic, versatile OLB who can change games. I expect him to continue his recent strong play this week and make some big plays against a questionable Browns offense. Plus, just look at this guy. Any chance I can get arms like those?