(Three points of interest in today’s game)
A HALF ISN’T WHOLE
The Browns have outscored opponents 78-43 in the first half and have led all six games at halftime. They are only 3-3 because they’ve been outscored 82-40 in the second half.
“There’s a drastic difference in the second half and that’s what we’re working on,” defensive coordinator Ray Horton said.
The problem came to a head last week in a loss to the Lions. The Browns led 17-7 at halftime, only to be outscored 24-0 in the last 30 minutes. Coach Rob Chudzinski said halftime adjustments aren’t the problem, but he spent the week tweaking practice and the halftime itinerary to make sure the players get back up to full speed for the start of the third quarter.
The issues have been on both sides of the ball in the three losses, as the Browns have been outscored 55-3 after halftime. Third down has been the primary problem. The offense can’t stay on the field and the defense can’t get off. That must change today, or Aaron Rodgers will eventually make the plays that win the game.
“It’s just a matter of us coming out and playing the way we start out,” linebacker Paul Kruger said. “It’s really a momentum thing. We’ve just got to learn how to sustain it.”
Outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard was missed in his three-game absence with a sprained knee. Sheard can be overlooked among the big names on defense, but he shouldn’t be. He’s made the switch from defensive end without blinking and is a force rushing the passer and stopping the run. He has 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in less than three games.
“Having him back is a lot more important than I think a lot of people realize,” Kruger said. “He’s an explosive player, big-play type of guy. You can’t run on his side. He’s a dominant player.”
The Browns will need a boost from Sheard against an unexpectedly stout Green Bay rushing attack. The Packers are no longer only Rodgers and his receivers. They have four straight games with at least 135 rushing yards, average 5.18 per carry and three backs have 100-yard games. Rookie Eddie Lacy of Alabama has become the featured back with 99 and 120 yards the last two games and a 4.4 average for the year.
“He’s pretty explosive once he gets going,” Sheard said. “He knows how to find the hole. They do a good job of passing the ball and then coming back and running the ball and that creates big plays for them.”
Cleveland’s run defense was outstanding early but has been vulnerable the last two weeks, allowing a long run each game. Rookie Barkevious Mingo was attacked on both, so Sheard’s return should help solve the problem.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden compared Green Bay’s Lambeau Field to baseball’s Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. There aren’t many football stadiums left with a history, and Lambeau’s can’t be beat — frozen tundra or not. Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Paul Hornung, Brett Favre, the Ice Bowl.
“I think it’s a thrill for everybody in the locker room,” said left tackle Joe Thomas, who was born and raised in Wisconsin. “It’s one of the most historic, legendary places to play in the NFL. I’ve been to almost every stadium and nothing really compares. It’s really like a family, community atmosphere.”
The aura isn’t all the Browns must deal with. The Packers have won nine straight at home, outscoring the opponent 271-139, and 22 of 23 in the regular season. They will have their 314th straight sellout crowd.
“This is a great challenge, and our guys have tended to respond to challenges when they come up, and this is no different,” Chudzinski said.
Yards gained by Green Bay, the most in franchise history through five games.
NFL team ranked in the top five in rushing and passing offense. The Packers are fifth rushing, fourth passing.
Yards gained by Green Bay and allowed by Cleveland on first down. The Packers’ offense ranks first, the Browns’ defense second.
SCOTT PETRAK’S PREDICTION
Brandon Weeden bounces back and has a good day. Aaron Rodgers has a better one. Packers 23, Browns 19.