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NFL Preview - Cleveland (3-3) at Green Bay (3-2)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Aaron Rodgers is running out of healthy receivers in Green Bay, but it may not matter much this weekend with the mistake-prone Brandon Weeden and the Cleveland Browns coming to Titletown.
The Packers have won nine straight regular-season games at Lambeau Field and 22 of their last 23 overall so with or without star receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones, Green Bay figures to be more than a daunting task for a young quarterback prone to making the game-changing miscue.
The Pack overcame a slightly off day from Rodgers and the departures of both Cobb and Jones as well as key defender Nick Perry to earn a 19-17 victory over the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens last week, becoming the first NFC club to emerge victorious at M&T Bank Stadium since the Carolina Panthers won there during Week 6 of the 2006 season.
Rodgers completed a pedestrian 17-of-32 passes for 315 yards with one touchdown and an interception as he played without Cobb (broken fibula) for all of the second half and fellow wideout Jones (left knee) for virtually the entire game,
Jordy Nelson caught a 64-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter and finished with 113 yards on four receptions, rookie Eddie Lacy rushed for a career-high 120 yards on 23 carries, and Mason Crosby kicked four field goals in the triumph to help Green Bay record its second straight win and deal the Ravens only their fourth home loss in their last 30 tries.
The Packers' defense chipped in as well, coming up with a key goal-line stand along with five sacks of Joe Flacco despite being without All-Pro pass rusher Clay Matthews.
"This is a tough environment," said Rodgers. "(Baltimore) is a team that's the defending champs, great football team, very well coached and great players on both sides of the ball. This is a great team, character-building win."
Cobb was placed on short-term injured reserve on Tuesday, meaning the third-year standout will not be eligible to play until the Packers' Week 15 matchup at Dallas on Dec. 15 if at all.
The injury is a significant blow to Green Bay because Cobb was leading the team with 29 receptions while compiling 378 yards and two touchdowns through the first five games, and also serves as the team's primary punt returner.
Additionally, Perry will join Matthews on the sidelines for this week's clash.
"When injuries happen, I look at it as you have to flip the page," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Really, these injury situations are opportunities for our younger players or any player on our roster to jump up and take the rope."
Cleveland's three-game run was halted last week when Matthew Stafford tossed four touchdown passes -- three of them to undrafted rookie free agent tight end Joseph Fauria -- as the Detroit Lions used a dominating second half en route to a 31-17 win over the Browns.
Weeden, who was inserted back into the starting lineup after Brian Hoyer suffered a torn ACL against Buffalo in Week 5, was 26-for-43 for 292 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Browns, including an embarrassing ill-advised flip pass DeAndre Levy picked off. Josh Gordon caught seven passes for 126 yards.
"Obviously a disappointing loss today with how well I thought we played in the first half," said Cleveland head coach Rob Chudzinski. "We weren't able to close the game out in the second half and that's something we need to learn how to do as a team."
This will be just the third time that the Packers and Browns have squared off at Lambeau Field in the regular season, with the other meetings coming in 2001 and 2005. From 1953-83, the Packers played host to the Browns in Milwaukee five times during the regular season.
The series includes one postseason meeting, the 1965 NFL Championship played at Lambeau Field and won by the Packers, 23-12. Green Bay holds a 10-7-0 edge in the all-time regular-season series. The last meeting between the clubs also came in Week 7, a 2009 contest in Cleveland that the Packers won, 31-3.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This game is all about history, something the Packers seem to make on a weekly basis. Green Bay will be wearing a third jersey that is a recreation of the team's uniform from 1929, the year of the franchise's first world title.
Through Week 6 of this season, the Packers have generated 2,251 yards of total offense, an average of 450.2 yards per game which ranks No. 2 in the NFL. Rodgers, who completed 15-of-20 passes for 246 yards with three TDs and a 155.4 passer rating in his only other start against the Browns, is the reason for that production.
A-Rod is the very definition of a superstar, making those around him better. It's hard to say anyone is playing at a higher level than Peyton Manning in 2013 but as far as consistency goes, you can still make a strong argument that Rodgers is the best player in all of football.
The Packers have posted at least 385 yards of offense in a franchise-record eight consecutive regular-season games and the team has scored 22-or-more points in 18 straight games at Lambeau Field, the longest streak in franchise history.
And for once Green Bay has been balanced this season, rushing for 135-plus yards in four consecutive games, its first time doing so since 2003. Lacy became the third Packers RB to top the 100-yard rushing mark this season against the Browns, joining James Starks (132 yards vs. Washington in Week 2) and Johnathan Franklin (103 yards at Cincinnati in Week 3).
"I'm happy where the run game is, but I'm excited about where it can go," McCarthy said. "There are things we've laid out for the run game we haven't tapped into yet."
Cleveland's strength is its defense, specifically the front seven along with star cornerback Joe Haden, who figures to shadow Nelson especially if Jones can't go.
Nose tackle Phil Taylor is a difference-maker and rookie pass rusher Barkevious Mingo is on his way to becoming one sooner rather than later.
Offensively the Browns hang their hat on Gordon, who has 25 receptions for 429 yards and two TDs since returning from a suspension, along with Jordan Cameron, who leads all NFL tight ends with 38 receptions.
Green Bay isn't spectacular on defense even with a healthy Matthews but it is aggressive and its 14 sacks over the past three games are the most over a three-game span by the club since it registered 15 in the first three contests of the season in 2001.
Problem is fellow linebacker Brad Jones could join Matthews and Perry on the inactive list because of a hamstring injury meaning nondescript rookies Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer could be in the cross hairs.
"You find out about your young players," Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "And I think in the long haul it can help you a little bit later on because of the experience these guys are gaining now."
Weeden, however, doesn't seem like the type to take advantage of any of the absences.
"It really just boils down to those critical decisions," Chudzinski said when talking about his embattled signal caller. "The mistakes that he made (last Sunday), I know he wants them back and would like to have them back."
This is probably an untenable situation for the Browns and Weeden, who is obviously struggling with his self-confidence. It's hard to imaging any scenario in which Green Bay doesn't collect its 10th straight home win
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 31, Browns 16
10/17 13:19:53 ET
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