The Green Bay Packers defeated the Cleveland Browns by a 31-13 final Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field. Below, we analyze whose stock is rising and whose is falling following Week 7′s win:
Sam Shields: A legitimate shutdown corner is developing right before our eyes. Shields, a 25-year-old working on a one-year restricted tender, has—over the last month—all but taken away three of this season’s most accomplished receivers. The elite A.J. Green, ranked third in the NFL in receiving yards, beat him for a second-half score in Cincinnati but finished with just 40 yards. Speedster Torrey Smith, the NFL’s leader in receiving yards, could only manage a pair of catches for 23 yards. And on Sunday, emerging Josh Gordon put up a goose egg with Shields in coverage. Throw in Shields’ impressive 10-game stretch to finish last season, and we’re looking at a cornerback that has a big contract coming his way. If Ted Thompson doesn’t write the check in-season, someone else will next spring.
Evan Dietrich-Smith: The difference between Jeff Saturday in 2012 and EDS in 2013 is as significant an improvement at one position as the Packers can claim this season. On Sunday, Dietrich-Smith added big nose tackle Phil Taylor to the list of disruptive interior players he’s capably handled this season. His list also includes Geno Atkins, Ndamukong Suh and Haloti Ngata. Steady, reliable and growing in confidence, EDS is giving week-in and week-out efforts that would make Scott Wells proud. He needs a new deal, too.
Davon House: Most of the Packers secondary could be considered rising, but House sticks out from the crowd. For the second straight week, the tall, lanky House got his mitts on passes and covered like glue on the perimeter. He was handed his first career NFL pick when Brandon Weeden inexplicably lolly-popped an outside throw under pressure. His length and ability to cover more physical receivers near the boundary will make it hard for Dom Capers to take him off the field, even with so many secondary members worthy of playing time.
Jamari Lattimore: There’s a suddenness and physicality to Lattimore’s game that seems to bring an extra energy to the entire defense. You’d think there would be some hesitation to the game of a young linebacker who is only a couple years removed from college playing defensive end, but not with Lattimore. He reads, reacts and attacks in an instant. And the contact he delivers from play-to-play is typically of the punishing variety. He’s even shown a reliability against the pass. Brad Jones shouldn’t lose his starting job because of an injury, and he has the contract from the Packers to verify his position within the defense, but Lattimore has made a strong, decisive case for continued playing time over his two starts.
Don Barclay: The Packers starting right tackle has had a season of two very different chapters. For the first three games, Barclay handled his business on the strong side with a lunch-pail attitude. His last three have been mostly the opposite, with Pro Football Focus putting Barclay down for two sacks, three quarterback hits and eight hurries allowed over the stretch. Maybe he’s now due for a rebound. But if not, the Packers have Marshall Newhouse (and hopefully, down the road, Derek Sherrod) available.
Special Teams Units: It’s difficult to be too hard on Shawn Slocum’s guys, as injuries have all but decimated his personnel. The injuries at linebacker have been especially difficult to overcome, as that position is typically the heart and soul of most special teams units. But Sunday was mostly a disaster. The Browns averaged nearly 50 yards a kickoff return, converted a fourth down on a fake punt and received another first down after a roughing the punt penalty. An illegal man down field penalty later wiped out a picture perfect punt from Tim Masthay late in the contest, and it took two penalties to save the Packers from disaster on the onside hands team. Slocum’s men have had better days.
Andrew Quarless: Who knows when or if Jermichael Finley will play football for the Packers again. For now, the depth chart says that Quarless is the next man up at tight end. Green Bay needs him to be better than what he’s put on tape to start this season. He has just four catches, and his run blocking has been nothing more than ordinary. The Packers have a raw but athletic option in Brandon Bostick waiting in the wings, and Jake Stoneburner has a mentality and skill set that fits this offense. Both just need time. The clock is now ticking on Quarless making an impact on an offense that needs something from the tight end position minus Finley.
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.