On a cold, rainy afternoon on Sunday, the resilient Green Bay Packers showed they are still way too good for the Cleveland Browns, and in doing so, put themselves on top of the NFC North.
15:00 1st Quarter – If it wasn’t bad enough for the Browns that the Packers are in their pool-ball uniforms, which means an ass-whooping is about to commence, it is also raining. For the first time in Aaron Rodgers’ tenure, the Packers have a team that is built for Lambeau Field in inclement weather, being ranked in the top five both for and against the run.
The Packers win the coin toss and defer, as expected. The Browns follow with a quick three and out.
The Packers play their base defense with the wall of Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and B.J. Raji in on first and second down. On 3rd and 9, the Packers send in their nickel with Mike Daniels and Datone Jones rushing, with Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba. Brandon Weeden has plenty of time to throw, steps up, and throws it well over the head of a wide open Greg Little.
12:22 1st Q – The Packers are #1 in the NFL in yards per play, and it only takes four plays for them to go 40 yards for a TD to take the 7-0 lead.
The Packers started at the Cleveland 4o thanks to a short punt that Micah Hyde took in stride and went straight up the field for 18 yards.
Expected to lean on their running game, the Packers do the opposite and start with four passes. On 2nd and 10, Rodgers rolls right and finds Jermichael Finley on the cross from the left slot. Finley breaks a tackle and gains 26 yards. Two plays later, Rodgers hits Finley on the short out from the same spot. Finley pulls out a spin move, dump trucks a defender, and runs through another to finish off a 10-yard TD catch, one of the best of Finley’s career.
9:30 1st Q – After a foolish and rare roughing the kicker penalty gave the Browns a second chance, they drove to the Green Bay 37. Besides the 15-yard penalty, the majority of the Browns’ drive was a 19-yard completion to Greg Little against zone coverage.
Facing 4th and 1 from the 37, Weeden tries a short out to Devone Bess. Devon House undercuts the route, and the pass hits him right in the pool ball. He returns his first career interception for 11 yards. The Packers start their second drive from their 44.
3:45 1st Q – The Packers go 56 yards in 11 plays to jump out front 14-0. This drive features more of what was expected, as the Packers run the ball on seven of the 11 plays.
On 3rd and 8 from the Green Bay 46, Rodgers flicks a 15-yard stop to Jarett Boykin that he goes high in the air for. That moves the ball to the Cleveland 39, and the Packers would run it from there.
On 3rd and 3, Rodgers alertly runs out of a quickly collapsing pocket and slides for 5 and the first down.
On 3rd and 5 from the Cleveland 22, the Packers surprise the Browns with a draw to Lacy. Lacy bursts through a hole created by the pass rush and gets 13 before being dragged down.
On 1st and goal from the 9, the Packers run a sweep around the right side with T.J. Lang pulling to lead the way. Lacy gets the corner, breaks a tackle and slides down at the 1. He is briefly disappointed, but no matter. On the very next play, the Packers run the stretch left — a favorite of the Houston Texans who are a zone blocking team that is very effective running in the red zone. The Browns flood the left side, but Josh Sitton and David Bakhtiari hold their blocks long enough for Lacy to dive between them for the TD.
1:15 1st Q – The Browns would miraculously pull off two three and outs in the same series. After the first, they are in punt formation on 4th and 1. They snap the ball to the up man and run for it. He appears short, tackled by Jerron McMillian. The referee however marks it as a first down by a couple inches. The Packers rightly challenge it, as replay seems to show the proper mark was a foot or two short of that. Wrong. Jeff Triplett assures us that the call was correct, regardless of what the damn replay would seem to show.
The Browns fail to gain another yard and punt anyway.
14:02 2nd Q – The Packers’ offensive momentum would seem to die at this mark. Rodgers finds Finley on a cross. He gets up the sideline for a 22-yard gain, down to the Cleveland 26. However, the referees call holding on Don Barclay. The Packers end up punting for the first time in the game.
5:12 2nd Q – The Browns go 60 yards in 12 plays to at least get on the board at 14-3. They also ran off most the remainder of the half in doing so. Highlighting the drive for the Browns was a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Tramon Williams, and a 15-yard pass to Jordan Cameron on 3rd and 7. A Mike Daniels sack would force the field goal.
0:05 2nd Q – The Packers once again perfectly set themselves up for consecutive series by taking up the rest of the half in going 64 yards in 14 plays.
The drive is a nice balance of short passes, runs by Lacy, and dumps to Lacy. The Packers best chance for a touchdown was first down from the Browns’ 23. Rodgers spotted Johnathan Franklin running up the sideline by himself, but overthrew it. On 3rd and goal from the 8, Rodgers rolled right to find no one on that side of the field except for Franklin, who turned to block instead of trying to get open. The field goal still makes it a 17-3 game at half.
11:01 3rd Q – Rodgers looks sharp coming out of the half, and the Packers drive rather easily into Cleveland territory before the drive comes to naught.
Rodgers hit Boykin on consecutive passes for 18 yards before hitting Nelson on a deep slant for 17 more, quickly moving the ball to the Cleveland 27. However, from there, a run to Lacy got nothing, Rodgers threw it away on second down, and then on 3rd and 10, the Browns blitzed five and sacked Rodgers for a 7-yard loss. The sack made it a 52-yard field goal try in the direction kickers have struggled to kick in. Mason Crosby leaves it short, and the Packers get nothing.
5:03 3rd Q – The Browns go three and out, but the good field position provided by the missed field goal allows the Browns to punt the ball to the Green Bay 11. A holding call on Andrew Quarless promptly moves the ball back to the 6. Don Barclay almost causes a sack when he loses Barkevious Mingo on second down. Rodgers saves him by escaping and throwing the ball away. After a dump to John Kuhn on 3rd down, Tim Masthay again struggles to punt north. It is a 32 yard punt and the Browns get to start at the Green Bay 46.
The Browns would have one successful play from there — a sack. A 15-yard facemask penalty is called on A.J. Hawk on the play when his hand slid off Weeden’s shoulder to catch the bottom of the mask. That’s all the Browns would get, but it’s enough for them to kick a 44-yard field goal to make it 17-6.
1:10 3rd Q – The Packers drive it again into Cleveland territory before having to punt again. Rodgers has found the dump off to Lacy and mixes those with runs by Lacy and a 15-yard out to Finley to move the ball near midfield. From there, Rodgers hits Boykin in the middle of the field for a 21-yard gain down to the Cleveland 26. Wrong. A holding call on Bakhtiari moves the Packers back to their side of the field. They punt shortly after.
That’s three holding calls stopping three Packers drives as penalties have really been the story in the second half.
11:15 4th Q – Packers fans know its the fourth quarter because the opposing team is beginning to run successfully. The Browns use short passes and solid runs to move the ball to the Green Bay 26. On 3rd and 10 from there, Weeden throws a 6-yard pass to Cameron that is quickly tackled by Chris Banjo. There is an illegal formation penalty on the play, and McCarthy takes it to push the Browns back.
It is a smart move because after another incomplete pass by Weeden, the Browns decide they are too far back to kick a field goal and instead go for it on 4th and 15. The Packers get a great pass rush by Daniels who decks Weeden as he lets it go. It still makes it out to Josh Gordon who appears to be open for a big gain, but House knocks it out of Gordon’s hands. Packers’ ball.
8:30 4th Q – It only takes the Packers five plays to go 65 yards for a touchdown that makes it 24-6.
Unfortunately, the second play of the drive is a 10-yard slant to Finley where safety Tashaun Gipson flies up to hit Finley, putting his shoulder into Finley’s lowered head. Finley lies on his side for several minutes before a stretcher finally comes out to take him away.
As damaging as this hit was, and we hope Finley has a quick recovery, per the current, oft-misunderstood, NFL rules, I fail to see how the hit was a 15-yard penalty. It is illegal to hit a “defenseless” receiver in the head or neck area, such as the hit that caused Finley’s concussion, which wasn’t flagged. However, Finley is not defenseless on this play. He has caught the ball, taken three steps, and actually lowers his head in anticipation of the hit. Since he is not defenseless, it is perfectly legal to hit him in the head.
Now, the defender cannot lead with the top of his helmet and make helmet-to-helmet contact, but that clearly does not happen on this play, as the replay shows.
The referees have been instructed to err on the side of safety, making the missed flag on the hit causing Finley’s concussion that more egregious, and clearly this is a play that is too quick for the referees to call correctly a large percentage of the time. That is why the NFL should allow coaches to challenge these penalties or the lack thereof. It would allow for player safety while taking some pressure off of the refs to get the calls right.
A couple plays after the disaster with Finley, the Packers had 2nd and 9 from the Cleveland 4o. The Browns, in order to slow down Lacy, have been showing eight in the box with a single safety deep. This leaves both corners on an island with the outside receivers, and Rodgers takes advantage. Boykin shakes Skrine on a deep out, both Skrine and Gipson fall down when Boykin cuts back, Boykin leaps them, and gets to the 1-yard line before being tripped up.
On first and goal, Rodgers throws the quick slant to Nelson, working against Joe Hayden. Touchdown.
6:10 4th Q – Though they are running out of time, the Browns try to make it interesting again when Travis Benjamin takes the ensuing kickoff 86 yards, down to the Green Bay 20.
The Browns need seven plays, including a fourth down conversion, to score, but they get it done with a bullet to Cameron over the middle to make it 24-13.
3:52 4th Q – The Browns attempt an onside kick twice, but can’t pull it off without a penalty. Ultimately the Packers get the ball at their own 46. From there, they move 54 yards to put the game away at 31-13.
Eddie Lacy starts the drive by taking a pitch, waiting for blocks, and then bursting up the middle for 11 yards. Two plays later, Rodgers misses Boykin up the far sideline, but a soft pass interference call gives the Packers 21 yards. Two plays after that, Rodgers finds Boykin on the deep out again. Boykin stretches into the end zone for his first career TD.
On his Lambeau Leap, Boykin mistakenly leaps too far into the stands and has to be pulled out by staff.
31-13 would be the final score after the Browns have one final drive that turns it over on downs.
As expected, the Browns played more base defense than the Packers usually see and concentrated more on stopping Eddie Lacy. They were relatively successful at that. However, even with many of his best receivers down, Aaron Rodgers must love the sight of single coverage on the outside receivers. Rodgers played solid and did enough to put up 31 points.
Eddie Lacy and the offensive line have completely changed the Packers’ offense. The Packers ran the ball on more third downs in this game and ran the ball in the red zone. Both were effective. The Browns were able to slow Lacy, but they left opportunities on the outside by doing so.
I would like to see Franklin utilized more. He is a playmaker that isn’t being used. Giving Lacy a little more rest could make him stronger. I have been calling for both Franklin and Lacy to be thrown the ball more, and Rodgers finally did that in this game. Both of them can be weapons for a passing attack that could use them.
David Bakhtiari has improved as a pass blocker, and he has become a better run blocker than I thought he would be. He and Josh Sitton have turned into a formidable duo on the left side of the line. Don Barclay has struggled enough with pass blocking to leave the door open for Derek Sherrod. I believe the Packers saw Sherrod as more of a left tackle, but if he can pass block better than Barclay, then he should be in the running for the right tackle spot.
No doubt Barclay is an excellent run blocker, but you have to be able to protect Aaron Rodgers in the passing game to be a tackle for this team.
Brandon Weeden was terrible in the first half of this game, and that leaves it difficult to really judge the defense. I like what I saw from Nate Palmer, who even spent more time across from Joe Thomas than Andy Mulumba did. However, I figured the Packers pass rush would suffer a little in this game, and it certainly did. Palmer and Mulumba both held up the edge adequately, but the Browns really lack a back who can exploit it.
Jamari Lattimore had 12 tackles and a sack. He and Hawk make up the best inside tandem that the Packers have had this season. Both are playing with aggression on every play. Devon House is playing well enough on the outside to stay there. That actually leaves Tramon Williams vulnerable to losing snaps on the inside if Casey Hayward ever comes back.
Jarrett Boykin stepped up for the Packers offense. The Packers may need Brandon Bostick or Andrew Quarless to do the same. As long as Rodgers is healthy and the line is doing its job, the Packers’ offense should continue to score points.
This certainly appears to be a very young, resilient and deep Packers team. Or in other words, your basic Ted Thompson/Mike McCarthy club.