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Packers vs. Browns: Five Questions to Ponder Ahead of Week 7

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Packers vs. Browns: Five Questions to Ponder Ahead of Week 7

Wounded but very much alive, the injury-riddled Green Bay Packers (3-2) will welcome the Cleveland Browns (3-3) to Lambeau Field for a Week 7 matchup Sunday afternoon.

A two-game winning streak and 10-game home winning streak are both on the line for a team that has been hit hard by recent bodily harm.

Just this week, Randall Cobb (designation for return) and Greg Van Roten were placed on injured reserve, and four others—Clay Matthews, James Starks, Ryan Taylor and Nick Perry–were ruled out for Sunday. James Jones is doubtful, and three others—Casey Hayward, Brad Jones and Mike Neal—are questionable and only 50/50 to play.

In fact, the injuries are so far reaching that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy worried aloud Thursday if his team would have enough healthy players to field a 46-man roster against the Browns. Such is life in a violent, unpredictable game.

Keep calm and carry on.

Here’s five questions a hurting Packers club need to answer in Week 7:

1. Where Will Green Bay's Pass Rush Come From? 

Dom Capers is in the familiar position of operating without Matthews and Perry for a stretch of games. The same scenario played out last season for the better part of a month, and it required Capers to get creative with his blitz calls. He already showed some of those packages versus the Ravens, attacking the A-gap with the inside linebackers and overloading one side (see: Micah Hyde's sack). With Neal hurting and two rookies looking at significant playing time on the edges, Capers will again need to manufacture pressure. There are still talented inside rushers and effective blitzers on this defense. The trick now is finding ways to get the free runs at Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden.

2. Can the Packers Run Against Another Top Front?

With four straight games of 139 rushing yards or more, Green Bay has mostly had its way with a month's worth of run defenses. Among those have been the seventh (Baltimore) and 10th (Cincinnati) best units at defending the run this season, so this start is no fluke. Another trip from an AFC North team means another tough run defense, as Cleveland is currently tied with Baltimore at just 98.2 rushing yards allowed per game. The numbers still suggest the Packers should be able to run the football Sunday, but the Browns do use significantly more base defense than Baltimore and Green Bay will be without a few premier pass catchers. Might Cleveland actually focus a majority of its defensive game plan towards stopping Eddie Lacy and the Packers run game? Sunday could be Green Bay's toughest test in the trenches.

3. Who is Going to Catch Aaron Rodgers' Passes?

Without Cobb available and Jones unlikely to play, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley both figure to see a big bump in targets. Second-year receiver Jarrett Boykin will also start opposite Nelson and play a significant number of snaps. From there, the Packers are limited in terms of healthy options, especially if Joe Haden takes away Nelson and the Browns double team Finley inside. As a play caller, Mike McCarthy will almost have to revert back to an offense with a number of different looks and personnel packages, including those with two or three tight ends. He could also use Finley as a de facto third receiver, insert Andrew Quarless as the primary tight end and continue rolling with the 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) he's heavily favored all season long. McCarthy's game plan Sunday will be a fascinating case study in how he views the strengths and weaknesses of his current offense. Boykin, above all others, needs to take advantage of the opportunity.

4. Can the Packers Limit Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron?

Just as everyone expected, Gordon and Cameron have developed into one of the NFL's most dangerous receiver-tight end combinations in football. Gordon, a second-round supplemental pick in 2012, is averaging 107.3 yards a game and 17.2 per catch. He's big, tough and fast. Cameron, a fourth-rounder in 2011, has already set career highs in receptions (38), yards (460) and touchdowns (five). This is a dynamic duo who can win vertically, move the chains and score in the red zone. The Packers figure to give Gordon a heavy dose of cornerback Sam Shields, who has the speed to run stride-for-stride with the second-year receiver. Cameron is a trickier matchup, especially if the Packers get blitz happy against Weeden. While A.J. Hawk is currently enjoying his finest season as a pro, Cameron would likely eat him alive if alone in the passing game. In the red zone, the Packers might be better off giving Cameron the Tony Gonzalez treatment, in which a linebacker disrupts his release and a safety or cornerback provides a double team. The Browns offense doesn't get much respect—especially with Weeden back under center—but Gordon and Cameron are legitimate playmakers.

5. Will the Packers Offense Score Touchdowns in the Red Zone?

Not having Cobb and Jones available only further complicates Green Bay's mission to get better inside the red zone. On Thursday, we examined the origin of this offense's inability to score touchdowns upon reaching the opponent's 20-yard line. Drive-killing mistakes, in the form of sacks and penalties, have been a primary factor. Not converting 3rd-and-shorts have been another. Considering their 0-for-6 record in scoring red zone touchdowns, the Packers have been somewhat lucky to beat good football teams the last two weeks. At some point, continuing those failures will have a price. Losing Cobb's quickness and versatility inside and Jones' ability to win on the perimeter will only be magnified in the confined space of the red zone Sunday. The Packers need more sevens and less threes, starting this week.

Prediction: Green Bay 23, Cleveland 16 (4-1)

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 [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (31) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Jamie's picture

Ponder blows

Evan's picture

Yeah, Josh Gordon doesn't scare me - Shields has become a true shutdown corner. Jordan, on the other hand, will pose match-up issues.

C's picture

I have no idea how good Lattimore's technique is in pass coverage but he runs really well for a linebacker. Do the staff trust Lattimore enough to give him snaps in nickle? He could really carry Cameron well underneath with Burnett over the top.

Idiot Fan's picture

Totally agree. Maybe Bush can come back and work his magic on Cameron :).

Idiot Fan's picture

So, if Neal doesn't play, who is the #3 OLB?

hayward4president's picture

Mulumba or Palmer

Jamie's picture

No...they would be #1 and #2.

My guess is Lattimore would be emergency #3 with Barrington coming in at ILB.

Idiot Fan's picture

That's kind of scary. Mulumba and Palmer, please please please don't get hurt!

Jamie's picture

Hopefully Neal plays, and I think it's still possible B Jones plays, either of which gives us a little more of a buffer.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I agree... I really wonder if Neal can't play. If they would go to a 4-3 lineup some... They have a lot more healthy D-line right now. Not for the whole game, but maybe on a handful of plays. Just to give the OLB a break.
They could keep Hawk ILB and Palmer or Mulumba at OLB, and use Lattimore at the other OLB. Its just a thought.

Steven's picture

I wonder if Datone Jones might not get some snaps at OLB?

hayward4president's picture

X-factor ...Franklin. They will gameplan for Jordy...Lacy...and Finley. Our x-factor should be 23.

MarkinMadison's picture

Franklin and Boykin. I'm not giving up on Boykin yet.

Jamie's picture

Me Boykin.

Not excusing his miscues last week, but when you've played 6 snaps in the first 4 games, it's hard to jump right into heavy PT and be all systems go. He got better once he got some snaps.

He'll be primed this week and I project a solid to good game for him.

Idiot Fan's picture

Based on the comments Rodgers had about Boykin in his radio show this week, I'm actually pretty excited to see what he can do.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I agree. I think this will be the first week that McCarthy tries to involve Franklin in the passing game.

Norman's picture

I like that idea. Screens or swing passes to Franklin, let him get YAC. And make Browns fans yack.

Tundraboy's picture

Great hunch. Now that you mention it ,would love to see that.

marcopo's picture

TOP SECRET: The Packer "X" factor: Rodgers.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I agree with you Zach on all 5 points.
Although they all basically revolve around 1 question. How will the Packers do with all the injuries...

'1. Where Will Green Bay’s Pass Rush Come From?'
I think this will have to come from the inside. Browns have very good OT's, and I think to get pressure they have to attack the middle of the line, as well as come up with some good blitzes. Hyde I think could become a huge player in this game, blitzing from the slot.

'2. Can the Packers Run Against Another Top Front?'
If the Packers WR's weren't as banged up I would say yes easily. However with 1 proven WR playing (assuming Jones doesn't play). I think the Browns will stack the box more and sell out more for the run. Which I think will open up the pass game. They will be able to run the ball, but I don't think as effective as the last few games.

'3. Who is Going to Catch Aaron Rodgers’ Passes?'
I think we'll see everyone catch a pass this week. I think we could see, 9 different players catching a pass sunday. Which to me is a good thing. When Rodgers spreads the ball around, he is at his best.
I expect to see a lot of different personnel packages ran.

'4. Can the Packers Limit Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron?'
I would expect to see Shields on Gordon all game. If Shields stays focused I think Gordon will have 3 receptions for like 40 yards at most. If he doesn't, I expect Gordon to have more. Cameron will be tough. I think they will try to double him up with a LB and Safety as much as possible.

'5. Will the Packers Offense Score Touchdowns in the Red Zone?'
I think the injuries might help the offense in some ways. I think they will simplify the offense a bit and use the TE's and RB's more. TE's are traditionally a great redzone targets so I think they will try to get the ball to Finley and Bostick sunday.

Overall I think the injuries will affect them but I think they could benefit some from them as well. Offensively spreading the ball around more, going back to a more traditional west coast offense. I think we will see key contributions from Boykin, Franklin and Bostick this week.

UP-Packer's picture

There are many teams who are dealing with many injuries.

It's becoming the ready-made excuse for anything that's not quite right with the Pack. That's far too easy.

C's picture

Where in the article or comments section is anybody making an execuse?

UP-Packer's picture

Injuries have become topic numero uno for Packer fans. You can decide for yourself if they're being used as an excuse. ---- But if this season goes completely south, guess what will be mentioned as the reason? (overwhelmingly)

RC Packer Fan's picture

When the team might not even be able to fill the 46 man roster due to injuries. That is the number 1 thing to talk about.

When you have 2 of your top 3 WR's out or possibly out, 2 or 3 of your top OLB's out, its reason to talk about it.

Pretty much everything I read, people still think the Packers will win sunday.

So if the Packers lose and its not due to the injuries, then what is it?

UP-Packer's picture

Only way they lose is if they have too many TOs. I don't see that happening.

You missed my point. Closely examine other NFL teams like you would the Pack. You'll find several are hurting injury-wise as much if not more than the Pack. It's just too easy to blame everything on injuries.

At least MM & his staff aren't using it as an excuse (publicly).

Idiot Fan's picture

It's pretty insane how many injuries there have been league-wide this year. I think the reason why we are particularly frustrated is that last year we led the league - far and away - in starts lost to injury, and in 2010 we had to be among the worst-hit in the league. We may or may not be among the worst-hit this year (I think we likely are though), but either way, I'm getting fed up with this crap.

bomdad's picture

Is it coincidence that the Niners had the fewest players on IR last year and they went to the Superbowl? No, so there you go.
Just as simple is to say that limiting turnovers and getting takeaways wins games.

TommyG's picture

and they lost, so there.

Lennysmalls's picture

May I ask what's the point of winning when you're going to be playing your practice squad at the end of the season?

packeraaron's picture

<em>May I ask what’s the point of winning</em>

You lost me right after this.

The TKstinator's picture

I could easily imagine GB winning 31-13.

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