While the Browns attempt to recover psychologically from a second-half collapse that led to a 31-17 loss against the Detroit Lions and ended their three-game winning streak last weekend at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Green Bay Packers are coping with physical wounds.
The Browns (3-3) need quarterback Brandon Weeden and their defense to rebound from poor second-half performances if they hope to visit Lambeau Field on Sunday and capitalize on significant injuries the Packers (3-2) have suffered.
Wide receiver Randall Cobb, the Packers' leader in catches with 29, will miss the next six to eight weeks with a fractured fibula he suffered Sunday in a 19-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens, Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported Monday. Wide receiver James Jones, meanwhile, suffered knee ligament damage but might be able to face the Browns. On defense, the Packers will be without starting outside linebackers Clay Matthews (fractured thumb) and Nick Perry (fractured foot).
Still, the Packers are favored against the Browns. And they're certainly capable of overcoming injuries because they have the NFL's second-ranked offense led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has a track record of elevating the players around him, and rookie running back Eddie Lacy, who has rushed for 99 and 120 yards in the past two games.
Not to mention, the Browns must regain trust and confidence in each other in the wake of Weeden's backhanded, shovel-pass interception and the defense's meltdown against the Lions, who lost 22-9 to the Packers on Oct. 6.
Dunne discussed the Packers in the following question-and-answer session:
QUESTION: How do you expect the Packers to compensate for Cobb's absence in terms of personnel and strategy?
ANSWER: "You're going to see (tight end) Jermichael Finley more as a wide receiver. In years past, he's kind of done that. He played in the slot. They can split him out wide. So they're going to do that more with him. James Jones, his injury isn't as serious as Cobb's. He's got a chance to play this weekend. Jarrett Boykin and Myles White are two young receivers. One of them will have to step up, too. Probably the biggest thing you'll see is Eddie Lacy just continuing to carry the ball 20-25 times a game. These past few games, he had 23 carries apiece. They haven't had a back like this providing a real, legitimate balance the last two, three years, so they'll probably be using him a lot more as well."
Q: In what ways will Matthews and Perry being out at the same time affect the defense?
A: "(Former defensive lineman) Mike Neal, here's a guy who back in the spring when they started working him a little bit at outside linebacker, you wondered if this was just his last-ditch effort to even make the team. He's been injured his whole career as a second-round pick. He showed a little bit as an inside rusher late last year, but they moved him to outside 'backer, and he's played really well. He's learned quickly. He lost like 25 pounds to get down to a playing weight that he could hold at outside linebacker. I believe it's 270, 275. They're going to need him to be explosive, to be a pass rusher and real disruptive at outside linebacker without Matthews and Perry. And then at the other outside linebacker spot there's Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer. Mulumba's an undrafted kid out of Eastern Michigan who just picked up football a few years ago, and Palmer's a guy out of Illinois State that they liked long before the draft. So they like both young guys. It's just are they ready for this moment? Neither player has played much at this level. They're going to be relying on all three of those outside linebackers. When you replace Clay Matthews, what they always say around here is that he just made those two to three plays a game that just changes things, whether it's a forced fumble, picks, sacks, whatever. At least against Baltimore, the guy who filled that role was (inside linebacker) A.J. Hawk. He really hasn't made a ton of big plays in his career. He's been reliable, a coach on the field, all of that. Now he's kind of getting the green light to blitz more and do more within the scheme. So they're probably going to continue using him like that."
Q: Is there an area in which you think the Packers are vulnerable against the Browns?
A: "They haven't been finishing well in the red zone. They were 0-for-4 on touchdown opportunities in the red zone against Baltimore. It was the same problem against Cincinnati, against Detroit. They're settling for a lot of field goals. So I think if the Browns are able to hold the Packers inside the 20 and keep it a close game, that'd be their best bet. In terms of personnel itself, it's going to be interesting. When you lose Randall Cobb, you lose a lot of creativity. His 67-yard run against Detroit just busted that game open. He might be one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, so it's not going to be easy to replace him. They'll be leaning on Lacy more. Findley can play wide receiver. But Randall Cobb might be the MVP on offense this side of Aaron Rodgers, so it's going to be really interesting to see if somebody else can pick it up."
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