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Friday, September 16, 2005

Game Preview: Browns @ Packers

by Thomas Pyc
PackerChatters Staff

The Cleveland Browns (0-1) at the Green Bay Packers (0-1)

After a disappointing opening weekend at Ford Field the Green Bay Packers might be getting just what the doctor ordered when the Cleveland Browns arrive at Lambeau Field. The Packers not only managed to not manufacture a single touchdown with a penalty prone attack they also lost their star wide-receiver, Javon Walker, for the year to a devastating ACL injury. Cleveland enters this game in full rebuilding mode complete with a new coaching staff, general manager, defensive scheme, defensive personnel, starting quarterback, and starting running back. The Browns’ enter this season with 26 new players on the roster in total.

The Packers’ Offense vs. The Browns’ Defense

The Browns’ have worked all summer to put new head coach Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defensive scheme (three defensive linemen and four linebackers) into place. The glaring problem with the Browns’ defense is the lack of talent it can put on the field. The three starting defensive linemen were very ineffective versus the Bengals mainly because they are undersized. Defensive tackle Orpheus Roye is arguably the Browns biggest defensive threat but with little else to worry about he will constantly be double-teamed this year. Behind the front three is a group of linebackers with some excellent athletic ability but have more working against them (the small front line and new scheme) than with them. A good combination of time, practice and better players in front of them will eventually allow this unit to thrive but probably not this week. In the secondary the only thing close to a household name is cornerback Gary Baxter (signed from Baltimore this offseason) but he remains questionable for Sunday after suffering a concussion during the preseason. A familiar foe for Packer fans is free safety Brian Russell (formerly a Viking) who is now starting for the Browns but has not quite cured the problem of missing tackles.

Without Javon Walker on the field for the Packers’ offense the two wide receivers out of Texas A&M are going to have to showcase the talent that got them drafted into the NFL in the second round. Fifth year veteran Robert Ferguson and rookie Terrence Murphy will get an excellent opportunity to start getting in tune with Brett Favre this Sunday. Ferguson made several comments this offseason regarding his readiness to become a legitimate number one receiver in the NFL. Now’s the time number eighty-nine!

The only thing that should restrict the Packers from getting a decent amount of work with the two Aggies is going to be the irresistible opportunity to control the ball (and clock) by running right at Cleveland’s defense. The standard way to attack a 3-4 defense is to run right at them. And with the lack of size on Cleveland’s front line it only makes sense to maintain that standard. In addition, Ahman Green averaged 4.8 yards per carry last week against Detroit before the running game was prematurely abandoned by the offensive playcallers.

The Browns’ Offense vs. The Packers’ Defense

Former Giants’ running back from the 80s, Maurice Carthon, has more to work with talent-wise than the other side of the his team’s depth chart. Of course, that’s including quarterback Trent Dilfer who has won as many Super Bowls as Brett Favre. Outside of that Super Bowl season Dilfer has never been more than a serviceable backup and has thrown more interceptions in his career than touchdowns (96 TDs to 107 INTs). New GM, Phil Savage, picked up two impact players in the offseason in running back Reuben Droughns (1,240 yards for Denver last year) and wide receiver Antonio Bryant who possesses solid receiving ability is starting to blossom. The Browns’ offensive line is adequate and consists of mostly veterans with the exception of second year center Jeff Faine who has not lived up to his first round stature. Last week the Browns tried to spread out the Bengals defense using three or more receivers which was a curveball from the two-back sets they had been using during the preseason. Who knows what’s in store for the Packers’ defense this week?

The bright spot (if you saw one) last week against the Lions’ last week for the Packers had to be the overall play of the defense. But do not start thinking that onlookers will see the same performance from this unit this week because last year’s ‘new’ defensive scheme also looked good during the first week of the season but failed miserably in the long run. If defensive coordinator, Jim Bates, wants to win over Packer nation he’s going to have to keep this unit performing on a consistent basis with the solid fundamentals he preaches. Both middle linebacker Nick Barnett and safety Mark Roman racked up 11 tackles last week and might have had their best games as Packers.

But to go along with the good is the bad. The unanimous decision is in and cornerback Ahmad Carroll was definitely the ‘bad’ last week. Whether you place the blame for his four-penalty performance on him or his reputation with the referees is your call but the Packers can ill afford to let that continue. The Packer depth chart still appears undecided between Carroll and fellow second year corner Joey Thomas. The logical choice is clear after Week 1. A couple other changes showed up on the defensive side of the depth chart this week, Cullen Jenkins is the other starting tackle next to Grady Jackson and recent acquisition, linebacker Robert Thomas, has moved into the starting role for the weakside linebacking position. Time for episode two of the Jim Bates’ experiment.

The Bottom Line

The Packers cannot afford to let the Browns think they can play with them at home, especially not this early in the season. The majority of the NFL analysts have went on record saying that Green Bay is in decline and after losing Javon Walker the chance of that being a legitimate claim only increases. Head coach Mike Sherman needs to realize that he abandoned the running game too early last week and he can control this game by sticking with it from start to finish. The aforementioned undersized defensive line of the Brown’s will only get worse as the game goes on and they start to wear down from the Packers front line (who could also use a confidence boost). Overall, there’s several ways Packers can outshine the Browns but the most beneficial way is going to be with Ahman Green’s legs
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