A coin flip
Based on the results thus far this season, it really makes no difference who plays quarterback against the Browns this season.
Whether it’s the solid play of reliables like Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and Matthew Stafford, or the really-should-have-beaten-them types like Jacoby Brissett, Case Keenum, Blake Bortles, Josh McCown and Marcus Mariota, it all adds up to the same thing – a Browns loss.
There is no discrimination. Good, bad or otherwise, opposing quarterbacks always emerge victorious against a Browns team careening this season toward inglorious National Football League history.
And Sunday, the Green Bay Packers roll into Cleveland for the penultimate home game of the 2017 season with their future Hall of Fame quarterback a week away from returning from a broken clavicle suffered a couple of months ago,
Aaron Rodgers will be a spectator as he watches Brett Hundley, who has kept the Packers in contention, albeit barely, for the postseason, take on a winless football team that has not won a game in 352 days.
It is also a team that has lost 13 straight games, 27 of the 28 games played under the current head coach, 29 games in a row played on a Sunday and 45 of its last 49 games.
An optimist, if there are any still left after this inexcusable streak of losing, would think the Browns have caught a break with Rodgers not in uniform. The statistics more than back up that contention.
The Packers under Rogers won four of their first five games. With Hundley under center after relieving Rodgers early in a loss to Minnesota, they are 2-5. It was 1-5 after six until the Packers knocked off Tampa Bay in overtime last week.
The Green Bay offense averaged 337 yards a game with Rodgers; just 284 yards a game with Hundley, a difference of 53 yards a game. Rodgers averaged 245 passing yards a game; Hundley a mere 163 yards a game, a huge difference of 82 yards.
On the surface, it appears as though the Browns have somewhat of a tactical advantage since the Packers have become a run-first team in Rodgers’ absence, an obvious sign Packers coach Mike McCarthy has little trust in Hundley’s ability to throw the ball.
And where do the Browns excel on defense? They rank sixth in the NFL against the run and ostensibly have the advantage, especially against a pair of rookie running backs in Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, who have combined for 727 yards and seven touchdowns in the absence of injury-riddled Ty Montgomery.
The Green Bay offense has displayed signs of life lately. After averaging only 13 points in the first five games with Hundley in charge of the huddle, it has exploded in the last two games for 28 and 26 points.
Hundley flipped three touchdown passes in a 31-28 loss in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago and the running game piled up 199 yards in last Sunday’s overtime victory against Tampa Bay.
If McCarthy chooses to test the weak Cleveland secondary, though, Hundley has some solid options in wide receivers Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Rodgers’ favorite receiver Jordy Nelson. The trio has amassed more than 1,600 yards and scored 15 of the club’s 18 touchdowns through the air.
The Packers’ biggest weakness on offense is the line, which has surrendered 42 sacks, most likely one of the main reasons McCarthy might eschew filling the air with footballs against the Cleveland secondary.
On defense, the Pack’s weakness clearly lies in the secondary, which yields 260 yards a game; the Browns’ give up only 241 a game. It’s a stat pass-happy Browns coach Hue Jackson is likely to take strong advantage of, especially with the return of Josh Gordon. The Packers also allow opposing quarterbacks to complete 68.5% of their passes.
Only one problem there. Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer completes only 52% of his passes. His accuracy has been a concern all season and seemed to frustrate Gordon in last Sunday’s loss in Los Angeles against the Chargers when he several times overthrew the wide-open receiver.
The Pack’s strength on defense, as with the Browns’, lies in their linebackers. Outside backers Clay Matthews III and Nick Perry have combined for 13½ of the club’s 29 sacks; inside backers Blake Martinez (with a team-leading 110 tackles) and Jake Ryan are their main run stoppers.
The key in this one very likely lies in which secondary is worse in an afternoon where the ground game could possibly seem like an afterthought unless weather becomes a factor and alters game plans. The forecast calls for cloudy weather with a few snow flurries or snow showers possible and a game-time temperature of 32 degrees.
Even with Hundley at quarterback, oddsmakers still favor the Packers by a field goal, an apparent nod to their better ground game. But if it turns into an aerial shootout, which would be fun to watch because of the two awful pass defenses, it’s anyone’s game.
This is a coin-flip type of game only because Gordon’s presence has made the Browns a more dangerous team on offense. After watching him last Sunday, there is no question that is the case.
The coin is in the air and it unfortunately has landed in favor of the Packers with Hundley, who has completed 62% of his passes, besting Kizer in a shootout as the losing streaks continue. Make it:
Packers 28, Browns 17