Three things to watch in the Green Bay Packers’ Week 14 matchup with the Cleveland Browns.
The Packers live on to fight another day, after last week’s 26-20 overtime victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This week, they go back on the road to face the winless Cleveland Browns and they must win to keep their playoff aspirations alive.
Green Bay has won four of its last five against Cleveland. This is the first regular season match-up between the two teams since 2013. Another win will put the Packers closer to the postseason and even closer to the return of Aaron Rodgers.
Here are my three things to watch.
We finally got a taste of what the future backfield of the Green Bay Packers will look like: Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones.
Williams started in his third game of the year and it was his most successful yet. The rookie back ran for a career high 113 yards on 21 carries and one touchdown.
Fellow rookie, Aaron Jones returned to action after suffering a knee injury and made his presence known, the one and only time he touched the ball. Jones scored the game-winning touchdown on a 20-yard run with 5:59 left in overtime.
It appeared Jones was stuffed at the line, but he was able to bounce to the outside and use his speed to burst into the end zone and into the arms of Packers fans waiting for a Lambeau Leap.
The two backs are distinctly different runners and that’s what makes their combination potentially potent. Williams is much stronger and will punish defenders, whereas Jones will use his elusiveness and speed to break away.
The carry ratio between the two was very one-sided last week. But expect those numbers to be a little different this week.
While head coach Mike McCarthy should go with the “hot hand”, he should utilize Williams early and often to beat down on the Browns. Once the defense is worn out, Jones should get the ball and finish them off with long runs that help move the chains.
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The Packers defense could not get off the field at times last week, but did show some life against the Buccaneers.
An area they have struggled with this season has been getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They looked like a completely different unit against Tampa Bay, sacking Jameis Winston seven times, a season high.
Clay Matthews led the team with 2.5 sacks. The last time he accomplished that in the regular season was in 2014, ironically also against the Buccaneers.
Defensive tackle Kenny Clark also contributed with two sacks, his first of the season.
Defensive lineman Dean Lowry also recorded a sack but more importantly, returned a fumble for a 62-yard touchdown. His performance earned him his first ever NFC Defensive Player of the Week award.
According to the official Packers website, this was the longest fumble return for a touchdown by the Packers since Keith McKenzie’s 88-yard return in 1998.
Their ability to make quarterbacks uncomfortable is key to helping the secondary and gives the unit a chance to force more turnovers.
The Browns have struggled protecting their quarterback. They have allowed 39 sacks, third-worst in the NFL. They have also thrown the most interceptions in the league, 21, and are at the bottom of the league in points scored, averaging only 14.7 a game.
Green Bay should have a very successful afternoon in Cleveland. Their biggest challenge will be Josh Gordon. But, other than Gordon, there is no true threat and the defensive unit will have rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer under constant duress.
Containing Josh Gordon
One of the more talented wideouts in the NFL is back in the league. Gordon was reinstated from his suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy in November.
Gordon’s difficult upbringing and struggle to stay clean has been communicated since his latest suspension.
He played in last week’s matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers and he was targeted 11 times, catching four passes for 85 yards. It was his first regular season game since 2014. Chargers defensive back Casey Hayward praised Gordon’s ability in his first game back.
Gordon is a dynamic wide receiver. In 2013, he led the league with 87 receptions and 1,646 yards in only 14 games. He also found the end zone seven times that season.
One thing that Gordon has proved is it doesn’t matter how terrible the Browns are or who is throwing him the ball, he will make an impact.
The third-year playmaker has a favorable matchup against the Packers secondary. Even though the group has been playing better, they will have their hands full.