The Green Bay Packers host the 3-3 Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The Browns have had their fare share of struggles the past few years, but this year’s team has shown some promise despite losing their top quarterback, Brian Hoyer, for the season.
They have the seventh-ranked defense in the league and have some young playmakers on offense in Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon. This is not a Cleveland Browns team the Packers will want to overlook this season.
The Packers will be thin at a number of positions, including wide receiver and outside linebacker. To win, Green Bay may have to play a different type of game than they’re accustomed to. Expect another hard-fought game against a tough AFC North opponent.
Here is what Mike had to say about this year’s Browns team. Enjoy his insight.
Packers vs. Browns Q&A with Mike Ristano
1) The Cleveland Browns are 3-1 since trading Trent Richardson. What’s the reason for this, and what are your expectations of the team for the remainder of the season?
You know it’s still hard to believe that a year removed from being the third pick in the draft, Trich, as he was affectionately known as in Cleveland, is gone. I would honestly be lying to you if I said I know why they started winning once Richardson was dealt. Being fair to Trent, even though he has been pretty mediocre since being dealt, didn’t have the luxury those first three games of playing with a complete offense.
The Browns were without number one wide receiver Josh Gordon for the first two games due to his substance abuse suspension. Since he has been back, especially when Hoyer was in, his presence opened up the offense a bit and defenses have to respect the passing game a little more.
2) The Browns’ situation at quarterback has been a bit rocky. What has the loss of Brian Hoyer for the season meant to the team, and how do you feel about Brandon Weeden at the helm going forward?
Hoyer stepped in the week after Trent was traded and everyone in Cleveland believed the front office was throwing up the white flag. What they found out after a couple of quarters was that Hoyer was an efficient quarterback that was able to read the field well, find the open guy and get the ball to him on the money. With that being said, the added bonus was his athleticism allowed him to avoid the rush and either make a play with his legs or buy some time and find the open guy. Unfortunately for him and us, that ability wound up costing him the rest of season.
As far as Weeden, I believe we know what he is at this point and it’s definitely not the franchise quarterback we had hoped he was when drafted. At this point, it’s a forgone conclusion his time in Cleveland is probably up after this year. Maybe a change in scenery will help, but as far as the Browns organization goes I believe they have seen enough and are ready to move on.
3) The Browns are an uncommon opponent for the Packers. Tell us about one Cleveland player on both sides of the ball that we may not know much about but could impact the game.
Great question!! Starting on the defensive side of the ball a name I will throw out there is cornerback Buster Skrine. Playing opposite of Joe Haden is a tough assignment since teams try and stay away from his side of the field. Skrine was thrown in to the fire early on in his career as the nickel back and to say there were some rough patches would be an understatement. Well the experience and short memory paid off and since he has been starting opposite of Haden he has been playing lights out and has been a huge surprise this year opposite Joe.
On the offensive side of the ball, tight end Jordan Cameron has started becoming a household name, but is still relatively “under the radar ” to the casual fan. To opposing defensive coordinators, he is probably enemy number one or two in the gameplan to base their scheme on that given week. Wouldn’t be surprised in the least bit if the Packers assigned a corner to cover Cameron Sunday. It’s a little premature, but he reminds me of Jimmy Graham of the New Orlean Saints, which isn’t a bad guy to be compared to.
4) In your opinion, what are the strengths and weaknesses of this Cleveland Browns team?
Without a doubt, the defense is the strength of this Cleveland Browns football team, especially the front seven which is one of the best in the league anchored by first round draft pick Phil Taylor. The defense as a whole is playing great this year and ranked near the top in the league. Also the emergence of speedster Travis Benjamin returning punts has put teams on notice every time their punter drops back to send one his way.
As far as weaknesses go, you definitely have to look at the offensive side of the ball. The quarterback play with the exception of the three games Hoyer has played, has been mediocre at best. With that being said it doesn’t help that the offensive line which was considered a strength, has been spotty at best so far. The jury is still out on right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, last years second round pick from University of California. Expected to build on his successful rookie year, he has struggled a bit in the new system.
5) What are your thoughts on Rob Chudzinski’s first year as head coach?
Thus far I love the passion and dedication he brings to this Browns team. Most people outside of the Cleveland area don’t realize he grew up outside of the city and rooted for his Cleveland Browns growing up. I believe he will be a successful head coach and win a bunch of games with the Browns when it’s all said and done. The players seem to have bought in to his system and play hard for him.
6) Cleveland’s defense looks tough this season. If your Green Bay’s offense, how do you attack this group?
This Browns defense is a tough, solid group that is very stingy against the run, giving up less than a hundred yards a game all year and ranked eighth in the league. With that being said, the pass defense has been just as good only giving up 214.3 yards a game and ranked eighth in that department as well. In order for the Packers to have success they are going to have to pound the ball with Lacy to wear down the Browns front seven which has given up a bit more yardage lately than they have all year.
Even with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, it might be a little tougher for him to find an open guy with less options than before with the Packers depleted wide receiver core. Overall this season, both of the Packers losses have come against defenses that rank amongst the top of the league – the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals.
7) Finally, what are your expectations this Sunday when the Browns travel to Lambeau? Any final thoughts you’d like to leave with us?
I think the defense will play as good as it has all year for the Browns and with the depleted wide receiver group for the Pack, I think the secondary will make it a bit harder on Rodgers. The front seven gets a much-needed addition back in the form of defensive end Jabal Sheard, which is going to help the run defense big time. At the end of the day, it comes down to what Brandon Weeden can do against this Packers defense. If he finds a way to get a rhythm going he can have a bit of success. If he doesn’t like last week against the Detroit Lions, it could be a long day for the Browns and their fans.
I would just like to add what a great time I had answering questions for the Lombardi Ave site, and even more so really enjoyed getting to know Dan and working with him on this the past week. All of you in Green Bay have a very knowledgeable and great writer at Lombardi Ave in Dan Dahlke. It was a pleasure and look to collaborate in the future.
Thanks everyone and Go Browns!!!
I’d like to thank Mike for taking the time to answer our questions. Check back in at Lombardiave.com for our live gameday chat that starts 15 minutes before kickoff.