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Browns vs. Packers: NFL Week 14 Preview and Prediction

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Against a backup cornerback and reserves in the secondary, can the Browns go 1-0 in the John Dorsey era?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Green Bay Packers in Week 14 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation


Quarterback

  • One more win...just get us one more win. That has to be what Packers fans are thinking about Brett Hundley, before Aaron Rodgers could make a return the following week against the Panthers. Hundley’s overall body of work in his first year of playing time has not been spectacular, despite notching a few wins if you’re looking to compare him to DeShone Kizer.
  • I did see one really good game from Hundley, and that came two weeks ago in prime time against the Steelers, when he threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions. In his other six games, he’s thrown 2 touchdown passes and 8 interceptions.
  • Our Packers affiliate says that his biggest flaw is “holding onto the ball a league high 3.12 seconds average on average,” and taking too many sacks. Sound familiar? Many of the quarterbacks Cleveland has struggled with get the ball out quickly. Hundley has shown the ability to take off and run. In October, he ran 3 times for 44 yards against the Saints, and last week against the Buccaneers, it was 7 times for 66 yards.
  • Kizer's best throws this season have been the intermediate ones up the seam, where seems to play to the strengths of David Njoku straight up the seam and then Josh Gordon on in-cutting routes. If Kizer can't hit the long ball -- especially in cold and windy weather again -- then those throws could remain in his money zone. It’ll be interesting to see which quarterback finishes with the better day of work.

Running Back

  • It feels like it's been awhile since the Packers have had an established running back for the entire season. 2017 is no different -- they started with Ty Montgomery (injured reserve) before going to fifth-round pick Aaron Jones. Over the past four weeks, fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams has been the team’s lead back, due to Jones battling an injury. Williams has been a bit of a spark plug, but Jones received one carry last week: it went for a 20-yard touchdown in overtime to win it for Green Bay.
  • So, who do the Packers go with between Jones and Williams this week? Our Packers affiliate just dove in to that topic in depth at their site. “Jones is more explosive on the ground and has averaged 5.5 yards per carry compared to Williams’ 3.7 YPC,” they note. Williams has played more of a role in the passing game than Jones did, though.
  • I know the pass-run ratio can be difficult for Hue Jackson to balance when his team gets down at the end of a game, or a run doesn’t work on an early down play, but by this point of the season, you’d expect some better adjustments.
  • We still haven't seen Jackson allow Isaiah Crowell to crack the 20-carry mark once this season. Despite receiving fewer carries last week (10), he still averaged 4.1 YPC. I believe in the Browns’ backs more than the Packers due to experience, but this is the week I relent and call it “even” due to the utilization of each.

Wide Receiver / Tight End

  • The Packers' top three receivers are Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb. They’ve all had 1,000+ yard seasons in the past, but have been far more pedestrian under Brett Hundley, particularly Nelson. Over his past 6 games, Nelson has 18 catches for 120 yards.
  • Adams has been Hundley’s go-to receiver with 31 catches for 405 yards and 2 touchdowns during the game stretch of time. Cobb, during the same six-game stretch, has had 17 catches for 217 yards and 1 touchdown. Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers are the team's tight ends after the release of Martellus Bennett, but neither one averages more than a catch per game.
  • Josh Gordon looked great in his first game back last week, but knows that opportunities were left on the field. He wants to make up for it against the Packers:
  • It was a disappointing week for Corey Coleman to have an empty stat line last week. Cleveland needs to find a way to get both Gordon and Coleman involved as a tandem, and I think that requires keeping guys like Ricardo Louis and Rashard Higgins on the sideline. Let your best players work.
  • Tight end David Njoku had one of his best games as a pro last week, perhaps benefiting from the coverage being played on Gordon. He’s already done OK for a rookie tight end, but finishing the season on a really strong note would be a great sign for 2018.

Offensive Line

  • The Packers’ starting offensive line features LT David Bakhtiari, LG Lane Taylor, C Corey Linsley, RG Jahri Evans, and RT Jason Spriggs. The Packers’ strength is at left tackle, where Bakhtiari currently ranks at the top left tackle in the NFL:
  • Due to a combination of injuries and shuffling of backups, Spriggs is the fourth different right tackle the Packers have featured this year. The interior play of their line has been steady; Hundley holding on to the ball as long as he does has sometimes given them a bad reputation.
  • I wonder if the Browns would consider experimenting with a different alignment on their offensive line -- like having Joel Bitonio at left tackle and moving Spencer Drango in at guard. The Browns’ superior guard play evens up with the Packers’ strength at left tackle. J.C. Tretter will be going up against his former team, so hopefully that gives him an edge by knowing his opponent.

Defensive Line

  • The Packers run a 3-4 defense featuring DE Dean Lowry, NT Kenny Clark, and DT Mike Daniels. Lowry is coming off being the NFC Defensive Player of the Week, when he logged 1 sack and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Clark has been a good run stopper in the middle, and then Daniels has done the same on the outside, with each being able to offer a decent pass rush too. Green Bay might not have Pro Bowlers up front, but all three combine for a consistent and solid unit.
  • The Browns are already hurting from missing DE Emmanuel Ogbah, and now DT Danny Shelton was idle in practice all week (questionable for Sunday). If DE Myles Garrett is neutralized by the Packers’ stud left tackle, then you’re really looking at DT Larry Ogunjobi to step up — problem is, he probably won’t receive enough reps to do so. A healthy Cleveland group would get the edge here, but instead, I settle with the Packers.

Linebacker

  • The Packers' starting linebackers are OLB Clay Matthews, ILB Jake Ryan, ILB Blake Martinez, and OLB Nick Perry. I guess I never realized how few tackles Matthews gets, but he's up to 6.5 sacks on the year after a big 3-sack performance last week. He’s still the Packers’ best overall defender, and Perry on the other side has added 7 sacks so far.
  • Our Packers affiliate praised Martinez as an underrated defender; he leads the team in tackles. Per PFF, Martinez thrives against the run, but can be exposed in coverage:

He’s been excellent in the run game this season (88.7 run-defense grade), but his 44.8 coverage grade ranks 55th of 79 qualifying linebackers.

  • The Browns’ coverage against tight ends from this unit continues to be a liability. The Packers don’t use tight ends as receivers in their current offense, so maybe the weakness will be masked. But the linebackers need to step up with improved play after a few mediocre weeks, so I give the Packers the edge for their pass-rushing work.

Secondary

  • The Packers’ cornerback situation is in chaos. Davon House and Damarious Randall are their regular starting outside corners, with rookie Kevin King playing the slot. King, the team’s No. 33 overall pick this year, just went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. House is doubtful with his own injury.
  • Randall, a first-round pick in 2015, will likely draw the assignment of Josh Gordon. He has 4 interceptions this year. Josh Hawkins should start at the other spot. He’s an undrafted free agent from 2016 with one career start. Safeties Morgan Burnett and Jermaine Whitehead are expected to play a role when Cleveland goes to three-receiver sets as the nickelbacks. Green Bay’s safeties include Burnett at SS and FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. ddd
  • The Browns have to do some of their own figuring out in the secondary against the Packers. Jason McCourty hasn’t been as stellar the past two weeks, Jamar Taylor has been mediocre at best, and nickelback Briean Boddy-Calhoun is questionable with an injury. Jabrill Peppers is doubtful to play, so Kai Nacua will likely get the start at free safety. Because of the injury issues on both sides, this position gets the even ranking.

Special Teams

  • Mason Crosby is the Packers' kicker. He's connected on 13-of-17 field goals (76%) and 27-of-29 (93.1%) on extra points. He's 50% in his career from beyond 50 yards, and only has 2 makes from that distance over the past two seasons. He still gets the reliability edge over rookie Zane Gonzalez, who is 12-of-17 (70.6%) on field goals and 18-of-19 (94.7%) on extra points.
  • Justin Vogel is the Packers' punter. He averages 44.9 yards per punt and a 42.8 net average. Britton Colquitt's average is still good (48.3), but his net average has dropped to 40.8, thanks to the coverage units allowing 381 punt return yards, third most in the NFL.
  • WR Trevor Davis returns punts and kickoffs for the Packers. He's not afraid to bring the ball out on kickoffs, with 22 attempts on the season, the fourth most in the NFL. His longest return has gone for just 34 yards, so Cleveland has a chance to force him into a mistake by taking it out. He's better on punts, averaging 9.1 yards per return. Cleveland will go with RB Matthew Dayes on kickoffs, where he’s averaging 26.6 yards per return. The Browns will likely have Bryce Treggs active to handle punt returns with Jabrill Peppers out.

Predictions

Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.


Chris Pokorny: “I will be at this game again, and I remember how poor some of DeShone Kizer’s throws were the last time it was cold and windy (against Jacksonville). The Packers feature a much worse secondary than them, though, and I think the gameplan will be designed to allow Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman to get the ball quickly in their hands with some yards after the catch opportunities. I predict Brett Hundley to flat out have a bad game, including a turnover that goes the other way as Cleveland win their first game rather comfortably.” Browns 24, Packers 14.


Matt Wood: “Browns get rolled. Hues comments about "doing the best with what he's got" led to an ugly second half. Williams goes off on the ground. Good news is that Gordon goes for 175.” Packers 38, Browns 17.


Mike Hoag: “If DeShone Kizer doesn’t complete 60 percent of his passes or better, I can see Hue Jackson going to Cody Kessler at some point in this game. It's possible the coach has lost faith in Kizer, and that Sashi Brown may have been forcing the issue behind the scenes. Whatever happens, if the Browns quarterback is not winning against the 26th-ranked Packers pass defense, the Browns have little chance to win this one. Injuries are piling up for Gregg Williams' defense, which may limit what he's able to do in order to disrupt Brett Hundley. The Packers certainly don't scare many teams without Aaron Rodgers, but they still have weapons in Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. It'll be cold, probably low-scoring, and probably another Browns loss this weekend.” Packers 15, Browns 13.


Andrea Hangst: “With the Green Bay Packers coming to town headed by disastrous quarterback Brett Hundley and without leading rusher Ty Montgomery, Cleveland's defense is being handed an early holiday gift. The only question is whether Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer will out-(poorly)-perform Hundley on Sunday. What is clear is that the Packers are a bad team when Aaron Rodgers is injured and the Browns are in the perfect position to take advantage and earn their first win of the season. Just run the ball, control the time of possession and wait for Hundley to make an inevitable mistake and the Browns can emerge victorious in a low-scoring and rather ugly-looking game.” Browns 12, Packers 9.


Joshua Finney: “Feels like the Browns best chance to win a game. I don’t put a crappy game past this group, but this seems like the first matchup I would *think* they win, this year. That said, the Colts game had that feel too, and it took an insane comeback to make that game look winnable.” Browns 21, Packers 20.


rufio: “Somehow, some way, the Browns win a close one. Maybe we get a gifted turnover or blocked kick and we are ahead at the end of the game for a change, meaning we don't need Kizer to lead a 2 minute drill to win. The defense makes enough plays to get us the ball and we kneel out the clock.”


Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.

Poll

Who do you think will win, Browns or Packers? Pick the one closest to your prediction.

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Browns by 7+
    (117 votes)
  • 35%
    Browns by 3
    (213 votes)
  • 15%
    Packers by 3
    (92 votes)
  • 29%
    Packers by 7+
    (179 votes)
601 votes total Vote Now