Friday, October 18, 2013

Lambeau not so friendly anymore

The last time the Browns paid a visit to Green Bay to play the Packers, they slinked out of Titletown with a victory.

The date was Sept. 18, 2005. The final score was 26-24. Brett Favre was the Packers’ quarterback. He threw 343 yards and three touchdowns that day, but two interceptions did him in.

Trent Dilfer was the Cleveland quarterback. It was to be the only season he played for the Browns, He threw three touchdowns passes also for 336 yards. But he had no interceptions.

The Browns, despite a furious 17-point fourth-quarter comeback by Green Bay, improved to 1-1 for the season and handed the Packers their second straight loss. They wound up 4-12 that season; the Browns checked in at 6-10. Favre was gone after the 2007 season, finally giving way to Aaron Rodgers.

And after a rocky 6-10 start in 2008, Rodgers has been virtually unbeatable at Lambeau Field. Four of those 2008 victories were at home, foretelling just what was in store for fans of the smallest home to a professional sports franchise.

Since that 2008 season, the Packers are 30-4 at Lambeau, losing only to Cincinnati and Minnesota in 2009, Miami in 2010 and San Francisco last season.

And now here come the Browns, coming off perhaps their worst game of the season. They had 10 days to prepare for the Detroit Lions – at home, no less – and played miserably for three quarters.

The Browns these days can’t seem to put a complete game together. If it’s not the offense causing problems, it’s the defense. And vice-versa as coach Rob Chudzinski attempts to right the ship.

The defense, for the first time this season, sprung more than a few leaks against the Lions and the offense it will face Sunday is far better than the one it faced last Sunday. Rodgers is the linchpin.

As he goes, so goes the Packers’ offense. And that offense can hurt you in so many different ways, not just through the air as has been the case the last several seasons as the Packers couldn’t find anyone to furnish a running game good enough to complement Rodgers’ passing and take pressure off him.

They finally found him at the bottom of the second round of the college football draft last April. Eddie Lacy, who succeeded Trent Richardson as Alabama’s lead back last season, landed neatly in the Packers’ lap.

He has rewarded them with 270 yards in four games – he missed the third game of the season with a concussion – with most of those yards coming between the tackles. He’s Richardson, only with more speed.

As a result, the Packers, who average 450 yards of offense, have been able to trim the pass-run ratio to 55-45 in an effort to achieve a more effective balance. The result has been a 141-yard average on the ground, fifth-best in the National Football League.

And with the Browns’ run defense showing the effects of being on the field too long lately, they most likely will see a lot of Lacy. Look for the Packers to probe Cleveland’s front seven early and often.

Rodgers, meanwhile, has had a lot of fun playing pitch and catch with Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley, who have caught 67 passes for eight touchdowns. Until last Sunday, that list included Randall Cobb, whose right leg met the shoulder of Baltimore safety Matt Elam and landed him on injured reserve with a broken fibula.

The Browns’ only hope to even have a chance to win this game lies with the offense, which has been inconsistent this season. The Packers’ defense has been less than reliable this season, surrendering an average of three touchdowns a game.

Most of that damage was courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals, each scoring 34 points in handing Green Bay its two losses. The Packers have given up only 46 points in the three victories.

However, the Browns won’t have to face the nastiness of outside linebackers Clay Matthews III (broken thumb) and Nick Perry (broken foot) and inside linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring), which should be good news for offensive tackles Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz. Matthews and Perry have six of the club’s 17 sacks and caused four fumbles.

Most vulnerable is the Green Bay secondary, which has produced only one interception. The other belongs to defensive end Mike Neal. It gives Brandon Weeden the opportunity to dial up the long distance passing game with Josh Gordon in the crosshairs.

The Packers’ defensive front seven, led by defensive end B. J. Raji and inside linebacker A. J. Hawk, allows just 78 yards a game on the ground, but the secondary has been ripped for nearly 300 yards a game. That’s most likely going to be the focus of the game plan.

So what’s the likelihood the Browns again walking out of Lambeau with smiles on their faces and climb back over .500? About as likely the Packers losing their fifth home game since 2009.

This one will be over early and it won’t be a pretty sight. Rodgers, getting little to no pressure from the Browns, will have his best day of the season. We all saw last Sunday what Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, who rates well below Rodgers on the talent scale, could do with that kind of resistance.

The pitch-and-catch game continues between Rodgers and his talented receivers, while Weeden, yet again, has trouble figuring out just what Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is throwing at him. Even without Matthews, Perry and Jones, this one should be a romp for the Packers. Make it:

Packers 41, Browns 13

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