The Cleveland Browns will celebrate Christmas on Saturday as they travel to Lambeau Field for a game against the Green Bay Packers.
Cleveland is coming off a loss to the Las Vegas Raiders where the COVID-ravaged team fought to the end before dropping the game. The Packers, meanwhile, clinched the NFC North Division with a win over the Baltimore Ravens and are looking to stay perfect at home this season.
The Browns got several players back from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday, including quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Jarvis Landry, as they look to keep their playoff hopes alive for another week.
Here is everything you need to know as the Browns look to bring some holiday cheer to Northeast Ohio with just their second win at Lambeau since 1956.
Records: Cleveland is 7-7. Green Bay is 11-3.
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m.
Stadium: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
TV: FOX, NFL Network, Amazon Prime
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (sidelines) and Tom Rinaldi (sidelines)
Radio: 92.3 The Fan (WKRK), ESPN 850 WKNR and WNCX (98.5)
Announcers: Jim Donovan, Doug Dieken, Nathan Zegura (sideline reporter)
Last meeting: The Packers won the last regular-season matchup, 27-21, in overtime in Week 14 of the 2017 season. (Boxscore)
All-time series: The Packers lead the all-time regular season series, 13-7. The Browns last win on the road against Green Bay came in Week 2 of the 2005 season.
Weather: 31 degrees and mostly cloudy, with a 7 percent chance of precipitation and 5 mph winds from the north. (weather.com)
Uniform: The Browns will be wearing their 75th anniversary uniform set.
Playing on Christmas Day with some style! ❄️ pic.twitter.com/Tgu9eeuxzY— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 24, 2021
Injury report*: Browns - Questionable: Defensive end Myles Garrett (groin) and defensive tackle Malik Jackson (knee). Out: Safety John Johnson III (hamstring), running back Kareem Hunt (ankle) and cornerback Greg Newsome II (concussion). COVID-19: running back Kareem Hunt, offensive tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., center JC Tretter, wide receiver JoJo Natson, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, defensive tackle Malik McDowell, linebacker Mack Wilson Sr., linebacker Tony Fields II, cornerback Troy Hill, safety Ronnie Harrison Jr., safety Nate Meadors and kicker Chase McLaughlin.
Packers - Questionable: tight end Dominique Dafney (ankle). Out: left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), linebacker Ty Summers, wide receiver Malik Taylor (shoulder) and right tackle Billy Turner (knee).
*Subject to change before game time.
The line: Browns +7.5
A Few Things to Watch For
Can the defense step up? - The Packers come into the game averaging 25.6 points per game and have broken the 30-point mark in each of their past four games.
Cleveland’s defense, however, has only allowed more than 17 points twice in the past eight games. But the defense is dealing with several issues this week, thanks to injuries and players being out with COVID.
Defensive end Myles Garrett says he is a go despite his groin injury, but the Browns will be without defensive end Takk McKinley (season-ending Achilles injury), and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and defensive tackle Malik McDowell are still on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
The secondary is also hurting as cornerbacks Troy Hill and Greg Newsome II, along with safety John Johnson III are out; and cornerback Denzel Ward is dealing with a groin issue.
Going up against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers — who has thrown for 506 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in two career games against the Browns — with a full defense is enough of a challenge, but doing so with several key players doubtful could make for a long day.
Where is the offense? Cleveland’s offensive point production has mirrored that of the defense as the Browns have only scored more than 17 points once since Week 5. (That is accounting for Garrett’s defensive touchdown against the Ravens two weeks ago.)
Nothing seems to be working on a consistent basis for the offense, not even the running game, which has slipped to fifth in the league rankings with an average of 139.6 yards per game and are currently third with an average of 4.9 yards per carry.
Those are still very respectable numbers, but the last three weeks have seen the Browns struggle to get the running game going as they have rushed for 40 yards, 100 yards and 89 yards.
Even when it appears that the ground game gets going — like with running back Nick Chubb’s 24-yard run and touchdown against the Raiders — it still feels as if the Browns are stuck in neutral, especially when they need to gain yards on the ground.
There are several culprits here, from injuries to the offensive line, opposing defenses not respecting Cleveland’s wide receivers, the quarterbacks not being able to make the defense pay for mistakes, and some strange play calling.
Having two weeks off should theoretically help quarterback Baker Mayfield with his various aches, and the expected return of wide receiver Jarvis Landry and left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. will provide a boost.
The Browns still need to work on the passing game, but rediscovering their mojo in the run game when they need it the most could be the key to making one final run at the playoffs this season.
No pressure kid - The Browns placed kicker Chase McLaughlin on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday, which in a vacuum is not the worst news. (As long as McLaughlin stays healthy, of course.)
After a strong start to the season, McLaughlin has missed four of his last six field goal attempts and six of his last 12. For the season, he is only four-of-10 on field goals between 40 and 49 yards, which is problematic.
With McLaughlin out, the Browns will turn to Chris Naggar, an undrafted rookie who did not make the cut with the New York Jets this summer before landing on Cleveland’s practice squad.
Naggar kicked in college at Texas from 2016 to 2019 before transferring to SMU for the 2020 season. He did well enough that year with the Mustangs, earning AAC Special Teams Player of the Year honors after converting 17-of-21 field goals (81 percent) and 43-of-46 extra points (93.5 percent).
The game against the Packers may not come down to a crucial kick, but the final two games of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals just might, so it would be nice if someone would settle the kicking situation while there is still time.
A final quote
Defensive end Myles Garrett (via a team-provided transcript):
“I do not have a choice but to be great. You have to step it up. Three is no way around it and no excuses to be made. We have three games. We have one coming up very soon, and I have to put my very best foot forward and give us a chance to win.”
These are just a few things to keep an eye on; now it is time to have your say. What are you looking for from the Browns in Saturday’s game against the Packers?