This Sunday, the depleted Packers hope to survive a visit from the 3-3 Cleveland Browns. Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature was kind enough to answer some questions about the Browns and provide some insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: The Browns have a young roster with a lot of players that are unfamiliar to many fans. Is there a player on Cleveland that Packers fans might not know but who could play an important role this Sunday?
I'll go with starting cornerback Buster Skrine. Joe Haden gets all of the attention in Cleveland (and rightly so), but Skrine has been very good the past several weeks in coverage. Skrine was thought of as a poor starting cornerback because he struggled in that role last year, but defensive coordinator Ray Horton has him playing at a high level. Skrine has been a sound tackler and has batted away a lot of passes without drawing all of the pass interference calls that he had a year ago.
APC: Every national pundit declared the Browns' season over and the team in tank mode after the September trade of Trent Richardson to the Colts. Since then, the Browns have won three of their last four games while Richardson has struggled to find his footing with Indianapolis. Are the playoffs a realistic expectation for the Browns, and what do you think of the trade a month later?
When the news first came out, I never thought the Browns were giving up on the season. In fact, I stated that I felt Willis McGahee could perform better (or at the very least, just as well) in the offense in 2013. To this point, I've been right, so I am thrilled that the organization was able to get a "mulligan" of sorts for spending a first round pick on Richardson in 2012.
I would call the playoffs a realistic possibility for the Browns this season, but not an "expectation." The key will be whether Cleveland can win their division games. They played the Ravens close, but defeated the Bengals. The defense is talented and deep enough to beat anyone in the AFC North on any given Sunday, so it will come down to whether Brandon Weeden can make the big throws late in a game. So far, he is basically 0-3 in that department.
APC: Brandon Weeden seemed to have lost the starting QB job to Brian Hoyer during the Browns three game winning streak. That changed when Hoyer tore his ACL against the Bills. How has Weeden played since then, and should he still be viewed as the quarterback of the future for Cleveland?
The thought of Brandon Weeden being the quarterback of the future for Cleveland has pretty much completely evaporated. I don't know if you can find a fan who doesn't think we'll draft a first-round quarterback in 2014.
As far as how Weeden has played, let me add one disclaimer to my assessment: let's remove that ridiculous "flip pass interception" from the equation, so I can describe how he's played besides that play.
Weeden has been the same player he was last year: a guy with a strong arm who can make some great throws if he has time to throw. When teams get any form of pressure, the play is basically a wash, which has particularly hurt the Browns on third down. In other words, Weeden certainly has the ability to make defenses pay; he's not worthless in the least. He just hasn't shown that "it" factor in the fourth quarter, whereas a guy like Brian Hoyer had two fourth quarter moments in his two starts with the team.
Honestly, Josh Gordon might be one of the top three receivers in the AFC. There really aren't many limitations to the routes he can run - he can stretch the field deep, do post-flags, out routes, dig routes, quick slants, screens, etc, and do it all effectively. He has a good combination of speed, strength, and quickness to go along with good hands.
Jordan Cameron is more of a guy who just makes athletic catches at will, and I don't know if he's dropped a pass all season. I will say this about both players (although it applies to everybody in our offense) - nobody seems to make adjustments to their route if a heavy blitz comes. In other words, if a streak route is called, they will continue with that even if they really should break off their route.
The best way to defend either player is to double team one of them, and then find a way to get pressure in Weeden's face.
APC: This offseason, the Browns added Paul Kruger in free agency and Barkevious Mingo in the draft. Through six weeks, who's contributed more to the defense's success and which should the Packers be more concerned about this Sunday?
It's hard to mention those two without bringing up Jabaal Sheard, who was our best outside linebacker the first couple of games before suffering a knee injury. Sheard was a defensive end in the 4-3 defense last year, and made the transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker this year. The transition went far better than expected, and he looked dominant against both the run and the pass. He is supposed to return to the lineup this week.
While he has been out, Barkevious Mingo has filled in and done an "ok" job. His speed has allowed him to make a lot of high-impact plays. When he isn't making those high-impact plays, though, I think it goes under the radar that he struggles against the run. It'll be nice to see him back in a backup role this week so he can be used more exclusively as a pass rusher.
Kruger started off the season on fire, but seemed to slow down a bit once Sheard went down. Last year, Kruger had the reputation of thriving when Terrell Suggs was opposite him, but struggling when Suggs was injured. I have to wonder if the same situation happened with Sheard this year. In conclusion, I'd be more concerned with Sheard out of the three, but Kruger out of the two new additions.
We'd like to thank Chris and Dawgs By Nature for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Browns. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for our comprehensive game day coverage of Browns vs. Packers.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He also currently serves as a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. His work has previously appeared on Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe.