It’s only a slight exaggeration to say the Browns could barely field a team in Week 15. An outbreak of COVID-19 put Cleveland in a hole before they even took the field against the Raiders, and a (surprisingly close) loss was the almost inevitable result.
The Browns should be back to full strength this week — or closer to it, at least. But it’s an open question as to exactly who the Packers are going to be facing and what the Browns will look like overall. In an attempt to figure out what kind of Browns team will be showing up in Lambeau Field on Saturday, we turned to Chris Pokorny of Dawgs by Nature. Can Cleveland play Christmas spoiler?
Acme Packing Company: The Browns were gutted by COVID last weekend. What are the chances they’re back to full strength before they head to Green Bay?
Chris Pokorny: They might not be completely back at full strength — rookie cornerback Greg Newsome, who was expected to return from a concussion this week, just went on the COVID list the other day. I’d have to think that everyone else will return...right? I say that, though, and yet as of Thursday morning when I am answering this question, players like quarterback Baker Mayfield, left tackle Jedrick Wills, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney are still on the list. Hopefully that changes by the time your readers are seeing my answer. It’s one of those things where in my head, I’m assuming they’ll all be back for Saturday, but come gameday, I could be saying, “wtf?” to myself if they’re not activated.
APC: Things have appeared a little disjointed on offense for the Browns even prior to their COVID outbreak. What’s the situation there? What should the Packers expect to see?
CP: It’s been very frustrating. I had expectations that Cleveland’s offense would be the type that could average 30 points per game, and be a Top 5 offense in the NFL. Instead, when it comes to putting points on the board, it feels like the team has become the least explosive offense in the NFL. As the season has gone on, I think one of the biggest hindrances has been the realization that our wide receivers are below average at getting separation compared to other groups around the NFL. That has allowed opposing defenses to stack the box against our talented run blocking and running backs, neutralizing it from being the threat that it should be. As is often the case when the losing begins, fans have been a bit frustrated with head coach Kevin Stefanski’s playcalling too. What started as innovative in 2020 has turned to angst in 2021 when the plays aren’t working and adjustments aren’t being made.
APC: Aaron Rodgers said this week that he thinks Myles Garrett should be the league’s defensive player of the year. Do you agree? What’s it been like to get to watch him every week?
CP: I honestly get pretty annoyed when people on Twitter start yelling at each other, trying to debate who the better defender is between Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt. They are both great players who play different roles; so all I can really comment on the matter is that Myles Garrett should certainly be in the running for defensive player of the year. It’s great to watch him because he usually commands a double team, and even if he doesn’t, your eyes are always keyed in on him — because even if he doesn’t get to the quarterback on those first 20 pass rushes, that time he does get there usually ends up being a big play when the quarterback has let their guard down a bit. That led to a fumble, scoop, and score by Garrett against the Ravens a couple of weeks ago, a play that may have been the difference maker. Garrett suffered a groin injury during last week’s game, though, so you won’t be getting the scariest version of Garrett on Christmas Day.
APC: Outside of Garrett, who’s someone on the Browns’ defense that Packers fans should be watching this week?
CP: The other player who Packers fans should watch this week is rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. He is fast and has shown great instincts, closing speed, and tackling ability. It feels like we haven’t seen enough of him in 2021 between a couple of injuries he’s had and being a rotational player at times, but the past two weeks he’s been in a starting role.
APC: What’s your prediction for Saturday?
CP: I think I picked the Chiefs to beat the Browns in Week 1, and have aimlessly picked the Browns to win every game since then. I knew way back when the schedule was released who I’d pick on the Christmas Day game, though — how can you bet against Aaron Rodgers? Cleveland’s defense has been playing very well, so it’d be fantastic if they could somehow hold Rodgers in check, get some surprising turnovers, and then the offense rebounds with an explosive effort, but that’s too many ifs against one of the best in the game. I’ll take Green Bay to win 27-17.