4TH AND 1: Week 14 Preview

SEAN BLASHE 
December 8, 2017


Fresh off a thrilling 26-20 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Green Bay Packers hit the road to take on the Cleveland Browns as they try to prevent Cleveland from getting its first win of the season.

The 0-12 Browns have won just one game over the past two seasons, but the match up for Green Bay may not be as easy as it seems at first glance. Cleveland boasts a top-10 defense in yards allowed, and has competed with good teams like the Steelers and Titans. The Packers, still with Brett Hundley at the helm, are also not at their best, having won just two games (over the lowly Bucs and Bears) since losing Aaron Rodgers to injury.

But the Packers have a lot riding on the game Sunday. They still find themselves behind the Falcons, Panthers, and Seahawks in the race for an NFC Wildcard, and need to continue to win to keep pace in the postseason push. If Hundley and Green Bay can win, they would improve to 7-6 with the chance for Rodgers to return next week against the Panthers. 

To beat the Browns, the Packers will likely rely on their ground game once again. Hundley continued to struggle last week against the league’s worst passing defense, completing just 13 passes for 84 yards and an interception. That came just a week after he lit up the Steelers’ secondary for 245 yards and three scores.

Hundley has consistently missed open receivers and bailed out of the pocket too quickly, which has led to the virtual disappearance of both Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Only Davante Adams has remained a weapon in the passing game since Rodgers got hurt. Fortunately for Green Bay, its running game has come on strong in recent weeks.  

Rookies Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones have shown a ton of promise in their first year as professionals. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry against Tampa, grinding out hard-fought yards and wearing down the Buccaneers’ defense. Jones sealed the victory with a 20-yard touchdown run in overtime, giving Green Bay a duo of backs that can carry the offense until Rodgers returns.

On defense, the Packers will try to continue making things hard on rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. Kizer has thrown just six touchdowns against 15 interceptions in 2017, and is completing barely over 50% of his passes. Green Bay’s pass rush, which recorded a season-high seven sacks against Tampa Bay, will look to have similar production against a Browns team that has surrendered the third-most sacks in the NFL (39). 

The Packers will also be tasked with shutting down Josh Gordon, who played in his first game in over three years last week against the Chargers. He made four catches for an impressive 85 yards, indicating a possible return to being a dynamic receiver in the league. 

It may be easy to overlook a team that is winless through 13 weeks, but the Packers must come out ready to play on Sunday to avoid giving Cleveland its first victory of 2017. If Green Bay can hold off the Browns, they could set Aaron Rodgers up to make a return and help earn a ninth straight playoff berth. 

Key Matchup: Myles Garrett vs. David Bakhtiari

Arguably the league’s top left tackle, David Bakhtiari will be tasked with slowing down 2017 top overall pick Myles Garrett. Garrett has been a disruptive force in his rookie season, racking up five sacks and frequently rushing the quarterback. He’s also been able to get off blocks and impact the running game. Hundley has not looked comfortable under pressure, so it will be on Bakhtiari and the rest of the Packers’ offensive line to try and mitigate Garrett’s impact.